How new Americans in Vermont are handling the COVID crisis

 Francis Magna
Francis Magna (WCAX)
Published: Jun. 11, 2020 at 4:38 PM EDT
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Vermont's response to the COVID-19 crisis evolves as we learn more about the virus and how to keep it from spreading. It's information everyone needs to stay safe and healthy, but there are some new Americans in Vermont who aren't getting it. Our Ike Bendavid takes you to Winooski to see how the Congolese community and state leaders are working together to change that.

Francis Manga is a leader in CCVT, the Congolese Community of Vermont.

"The majority of Congolese people here are refugees," Manga said.

He says there are more than 400 people in his organization and they help each other navigate life in Vermont.

"When we live in this country, we don't have anybody else but us," he said.

Manga says when the coronavirus hit, the state and local government did a good job with prevention but some things slipped through the cracks.

"What we have seen is a lack of communication in terms of reaching out to non-English speakers," Manga said.

To help his community, Magna jumped in to reach those who might have been left in the dark.

"Congo has more the 400 languages, or dialects, so we have made essentially videos to explain how this pandemic is serious and dangerous," he explained.

The state did outreach, too, but Magna says there was still something missing.

"We know that we have the numbers to call if there is a problem," he said, "but how do people who don't speak English-- can communicate or can call those numbers?"

And debunk rumors and educate his community.

"Most people from my community didn't really believe in this pandemic thinking it was for white people They didn't think black people, Africans could die of COVID," Manga said.

The health community acknowledges the language barrier was a problem.

"We needed to get messages out about COVID in different languages because that just wasn't happening," said Alison Segar, who is part of the Vermont Multilingual Coronavirus Task Force.

Like Manga, they have been making videos for COVID-19 awareness in the 10 most popular non-English languages in Vermont.

"We filled a huge gap initially," she said.

Segar says they have done 140 videos since March and people are watching.

"We have had over 12,000 hits, so I'm assuming that they have," she said.

As outreach and community members continue to help educate, Magna says he just wants those who live here to be comfortable and healthy.

"They live here, this is their home. They are not going back home or where they come from. This is their home," Manga said. "They need to be taken care of the same as everybody else."

And Vermont's health care community says they are committed to doing that.

The educational videos about coronavirus were made in the 10 languages-- other than English-- most spoken in Vermont. Those are: Arabic, Burmese, Chinese, French, Kirundi, Nepali, Somali, Spanish, Swahili and Vietnamese.