The Refugee, Our NeighborWritten by admin on Nov 30, 2017 in - No Comments
Every autumn for the past few years, Church at the Well has gathered winter outerwear and small household items to bless our neighbors who have fled persecution or war and are making a new life for themselves in the Green Mountain State. It’s just one small way we can love our neighbors as ourselves. We have collected these items in partnership with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program (VRRP), which is based in Colchester and helps refugees relocating in this area to navigate life in a new culture. Recently, I had a chance to speak with Anna Wageling at the VRRP, and she shed some light on the refugees who share our neighborhoods, schools, and streets.
Entering the United States as a refugee does not happen quickly, Anna made clear. The application process is typically 18–24 months, and refugees spend on average seventeen years in a refugee camp overseas, which means that some refugees in Vermont have waited for up to twenty years before coming to America. Where do the refugees in Vermont come from? Primarily Somalia, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Bhutan, Iraq, Syria, Rwanda, and Burma (Myanmar), with some also from Sudan. In the 2016 fiscal year, the VRRP settled 386 refugees in Vermont, including 224 in Chittenden County. This fiscal year, 280 are expected to be resettled in Chittenden County.
I asked Anna what are the greatest challenges refugees face when they first arrive. Her answer: “Assimilation to how everything works in Vermont and America, which would most likely be the same for anyone starting over in a new country.” With this in mind, the VRRP does not just assist the newcomers in finding housing, but helps them enroll their children in school, navigate the healthcare system, gain proficiency in English, prepare for the citizenship test, learn how to use public transportation, and find and maintain employment that will pay the bills.
When a refugee family arrives, a representative from the VRRP meets them at the airport. An apartment rental has been set up for them and furnished with donations. Volunteers and/or relatives help prepare the apartment, moving in the donated beds, chairs, and couches. “The goods needed add up quickly,” Anna explains. When Anna started working at the VRRP, she was shocked at the amount of coordination necessary for one family’s arrival, but, she remarks, “It is incredible how the staff and community come together.”
Being a refugee is by no means easy, yet Anna says that the refugees she has the honor of working with are the most resilient and positive people she has ever met. I asked her what she, as someone who works alongside refugees every day, would like Vermonters to know about our New American neighbors. She said, “We all have the same goals and values. We all want to be and feel successful. We all want our children to do well in school. We all want to contribute and be a member of society. We all get nervous before we start something new. We all want to understand the minutiae of how to live our best lives.”
This past year, Church at the Well has come alongside our refugee neighbors in a number of ways. During the winter and spring, ten volunteers from the church helped Mark Pettersen teach a citizenship class. In July, the Young Adults gathered on a Sunday afternoon at Pine Island Farm to paint the interior of a house where a Nepalese family lives and farms. And this fall, we are delighted to continue our annual tradition of collecting winter outerwear and household items to benefit those who have been forced to flee their homeland and are transitioning to a new life in Vermont—our neighbors, whom we are called to love as ourselves.
The entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14
If you have questions about the Refugee Donations Drive, which is being extended through Sunday December 17th, 2017, please email Hana at [email protected]
If you’d like to donate items beyond what we are collecting through the drive, here is a list of needed items.
Those interested in learning about volunteer opportunities at the VRRP are invited to attend a volunteer orientation, held on the second Tuesday of every month from 12:30–1:30pm and the third Wednesday of every month, 5:30–6:30pm.