News

Letter From the CVRAN President: Tiny Footholds in the Walls

Dear CVRAN Community,

It was so good to see you a good portion of you this last week, seated – in person! – in a large circle at Christ Church. Twenty-eight of us were there to hear about innovative ideas for fundraising, for welcoming immigrants, and about some needs. We heard from our pro bono lawyer Seth Lipschutz, and from Brian Kravitz of Adult Basic Education. Best of all, we heard from two of our graduating partners about their experiences since coming to Vermont. Ghazi and Jhuly each spoke so profoundly and personally about the stages of their sojourns: arriving feeling broken, lost, and clueless; how much even a small gesture from one person can feel so huge to the recipient; and the warmth and progress they have felt over the length of their stay. The room hushed to hear their messages.

Ghazi’s and Jhuly’s experiences are good reminders of how action can counter despair. We all so often despair over the state of our world, situations over which we have no control, dreadful experiences that cause someone to leave their home country. Yet, walls that seems immense, unsurmountable, and depressingly wrong from a distance, often have tiny footholds of opportunity up close. Each one of the asylum seekers knows this from experience. Their fortitude and resilience in surviving horrors at home and in venturing forth to a new beginning here is inspiring. Once, when I expressed frustration at how little I could change, one asylum seeker counselled me, “Only God is perfect. Only God can control everything.” We, the asylum seekers and the CVRAN members, each look for the small personal footholds where we can step up and act, even when we can’t change the wall.

Along the way there is joy and friendship. Why do we keep coming back with energy for each other? It is the joy of the children: a 7-year-old on her first trip to the dentist hamming it up for her dad as she sat in the dentist’s chair, or her cousin discovering the wonder of a train set at the library at just the right level for a 2-year-old. It is standing at the top of a mountain with a man or a group of boys who can outhike anyone, breathing in the vista and the winds together. It is a brand new baby, racing through a corn maze, long discussions over coffee. It is our struggle to articulate and share one way of life and being immensely enriched by another.

And there is progress. Ghazi and Jhuly spoke to it. We do not know what the future will hold for any of our partners, but we see so many changes along the way. It starts perhaps with saying “thank-you” in English, to reading in a new language, to school, jobs, driver’s licenses, and finding Vermont winters can actually be fun! And for CVRAN volunteers? Progress for us is in learning about the immigration system, housing, jobs, and the impact of a good law or a bad one. And many, many times, we relearn humility by tailoring our offers of service to what our partners choose, and to the unpredictability of what occurs.

So what actions can make the world a little better? It is not a group of Americans welcoming in newcomers. It is not a group of asylum seekers and refugees ready to start over. It is all of us, working together, struggling to find those tiny footholds in the walls.

Mexican Consulate Visit to Middlebury

Flyer describing the Mexican Consulate visit to Middlebury, VT on Oct 29, 2022

The Addison County Farmworkers’ Coalition has organized a visit by the Mexican Consulate to Middlebury, VT. It will be on October 29th, at Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, 2 Duane Court, Middlebury, VT 05753. Call 1(424)309-0009 to schedule an appointment, or go to citas.sre.gob.mx.

A Creative Fundraiser for CVRAN: Recognize Hubbard Tower?

a ruined towern is struck by stylized lightning
Matthew Yezuita’s design showing off a local Montpelier landmark

Like happens to many of us, Matthew Yezuita had an idea in his head that wouldn’t go away. Unlike many, he took the time to make the idea a reality. After designing this poster he decided that since the tower featured in the design was a local landmark he would use the work to contribute back to the local community. He teamed up with Buch Spieler Record Shop in Montpelier to sell the poster and generously donated the proceeds to CVRAN.

Thank you, Matthew Yezuita!

Chef Ghazi Wins the Taste of Montpelier Food Festival

A man in traditional Tunisian dress and a woman serving up Tunisian pastriesOur own Chef Ghazi shared the top prize at the Taste of Montpelier Food Festival. His catering company, Ghazi’s Goodies, had a booth at the festival where he and his partner Sarah Lipton served deserts to a long line of customers. The booth was decorated with the Tunisian flag and Ghazi wore traditional dress. CVRAN is so pleased at the recognition of Ghazi’s talent and hard work!

Help an Afghan Family Get to Safety

When the US troops pulled out of Afghanistan 14 months ago, many were left stranded and in danger, and some fled to other countries, particularly Pakistan, where they have remained in seclusion.  CVRAN was contacted by one such family of four, and the board voted to welcome them if they could get here.  Last October, Hope Crifo, CVRAN Direct Services Coordinator, agreed to be their sponsor.  Seth Lipschutz, a lawyer who volunteers with CVRAN, spent many hours preparing the Affidavits of Support for the family, a teenage girl, her brother, his toddler, and wife.  Seth tracked down multiple officers in the US military to attest to the brother’s character and service during the Afghan war.  The young girl was due to come on a university student visa but didn’t make it to the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in time to be evacuated.

Our efforts to get them into the US have not yet been successful and time is a problem.

The family has a chance for a future life in Canada under their revised refugee program.

Canada will now accept 3,000 Afghans who are eligible for resettlement without having to go through UNHCR in Pakistan first. The Afghan Women’s Organization Refugee and Immigrant Services in Toronto is willing to sponsor the family’s application. However, private refugee sponsorship works by having a minimum amount of funds available to the refugees upon arrival held in a trust.  They cannot access public assistance for the first year of their stay in Canada, but they can work and go to school. This would also be a pathway to permanent residency for them.

\To enable the private refugee sponsorship, they need to raise approximately $35,000 by the end of October.

CVRAN voted to make a small donation but much more is needed.  A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise the $35,000 trust fund, at  https://gofund.me/3e859387.  If you can, any amount donated will help. Donations can also be made by mail:

Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation
c/o Donald Goodrich
1869 South Stream Road
Bennington, Vermont 05201
dwg@sover.net

The foundation Tax Identification Number is: 02-6147550

Time is short.

Thank you so much for assisting this family.

Letter From the CVRAN President: Sugar in Milk: Afghan Refugees

September 30, 2022

Dear Central Vermonters,

Do you remember 13 months ago when we were all watching the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan on the nightly news, and the devastating take-over by the Taliban? We ended our days with horrific scenes from the airport in Kabul, desperate faces, and the sounds of Taliban gunfire. We all wondered what could be done. Instead of just wishing, Central Vermont has acted. Today five Afghan families and one individual man have been welcomed into Central Vermont. Congratulations!

Together with USCRI (United States Committee on Refugees and Immigrants), these 34 people have been welcomed into our community. 20 children are in the Montpelier schools, two in local preschools. Six men have joined the local work force. One of the men is studying to be a physician’s assistant, a much-needed profession. One of the boys was on the state championship Little League team this summer. Women are taking English classes, and two babies were born in August. This is indeed a welcome. Thanks go to the family friends of each of the Afghan families, and to the team from CVRAN who has spearheaded support for one family and reached out to so many more. Thanks go to the schools and adult basic education, the medical communities, the employers, the many generous-hearted volunteers, and the courage and adventuresomeness of the Afghans themselves. Friendships and integration into the community are building.

But what is a welcome, if it is temporary? How can we make Central Vermont welcoming to these newcomers in the long run? The federal supports of these families ends between October and June, and housing in Vermont is expensive. How can they afford to stay? Central Vermont Refugee Action Network is partnering with others in an attempt to find and create affordable housing units so the families can stay in the city where they have put down roots. Stay tuned for ways you might be able to help in this effort. Meanwhile, enjoy seeing a woman in a headscarf in the Plainfield Health Center, listen to a bit of Pashto being spoken at Darn Tough in Waterbury, and know that your children will come home from school with new friends and knowing where Afghanistan is on the map!

Hence the title of this article, “Sugar in Milk”: oral tradition has it that once upon a time, groups of people had to flee from ancient Persia by boat, and landed on the shores of a kingdom in India. The king of the land met the refugee leader and using hand signals filled up a cup of milk to the brim, showing that his kingdom was already so full, not even another drop of milk could be added. But the refugee leader smiled, searched in his pack, and pulled out some sugar. Carefully he stirred, and showed that there was room in the cup for sugar! Then the king of the Indian kingdom, reached out to the refugee leader and welcomed him and his people into his kingdom, and to this day, there are those from Persia living and thriving in southern India. Here in Central Vermont, we also have a sweeter cup of milk for welcoming in new people, from Afghanistan and elsewhere. We are sharing our home, “these green mountains and silver waters” with them, and they are sharing their rich background, talents, and friendship with us.

Next month hear stories of asylum seekers being welcomed to Central Vermont.

Links:

Interested in reading the book called Sugar in Milk to your children? Look at this link from the local organization Reading to End Racism: http://cvreadingtoendracism.blogspot.com/p/k-3_23.html

The phrase, “these green mountains and silver waters” is from our Vermont state anthem by Diane Martin.

 

Winter Needs

We are looking for some winter items for families who are new to Vermont. If you have these items to donate please email cvran910@gmail.com. Note: all shoe sizes are in European sizing.

  • Boy’s winter gear, almost 2 years old, but small: currently pants are size 9 months, top size 18 mo., and boots size 5
  • Girl’s winter gear, age 6 but small: jacket size small (4-5), pants size small (4-5), boots size 11. This girl’s favorite color is purple!
  • Women’s winter gear:  winter jacket women’s size small, pants size small, boots size 34
  • Women’s winter gear:  winter jacket women’s size small, pants size small, boots size 34
  • Men’s winter gear: winter jacket boy’s size 14-16, winter pants boy’s size 12 slim, boots size 36
  • Men’s winter gear: winter jacket boy’s size 18, pants size boy’s 14 (and not tall!), boots size 36
  • Child’s car seat for transporting a young girl to preschool
  • A dumbbell set with weights

Wonderfully Successful Fundraiser for New School in Sudan

On August 7th about 70 generous community members and friends of CVRAN gathered to help raise funds for a 700 student primary and middle school in the region of North Darfur, Sudan. The event was organized by Eltayeb Awadalla, owner of Mobitech in Montpelier. Eltayeb grew up in the small village of Kamo in North Darfur. He later came to the US as a refugee and is now a citizen. Kamo has never had a school before so when volunteers in the village began to build the school last fall he decided he wanted to help raise funds to complete the project.

The event took place at Montpelier’s Pavilion building in the Recreation Area on Elm Street. Participants were treated to a delicious North African supper of goat meat and vegetables on Tunisian bread, as well as a dessert of baklava. The band A2VT from Burlington added an overlay of Afropop, music that had many swaying and dancing to the beat.

As a Montpelier businessman, Eltayeb Awadalla has been a friend of CVRAN’s for a long time. Mobitech, his business, has helped provide badly needed cellphones and computers to new refugee and asylum seeker arrivals. He spoke at the fundraiser about the importance of the new school and expressed his gratitude for the generosity of Vermonters.

All funds raised will go directly to building the school. Approximately $7,000 were raised that afternoon and online, and more donations are still arriving. It is not too late to contribute! Anyone unable to donate before is invited to contribute in one of two ways:

  • mail a check payable to Wadi Howar International Relief inc. to Eltayeb Awadalla, Mobitech, 13 Main St. Montpelier VT, 05602
  • go to mobitechvt.com and scroll down to the bottom to make a donation online.

Thanks to Terry Allen and Pamela Walker for the photos

 

Letter from the CVRAN President: Picturing Hope

PICTURING HOPE

August 16, 2022

The mission of the Central Vermont Refugee Action Network is simply put: “to make refugees, asylum seekers, and migrant workers welcome to Central Vermont…”

How does that translate into action? Read on. Here is a window into the lives of our new neighbors, as written by members of their team. Even without photos or names or countries, you will get a picture, and perhaps even an idea of how you could connect personally! Their life here is their new hope.

One man: An African man in his mid-thirties has persevered through so much to get to us.  He is extremely grateful just for being here but also for the help he has gotten from CVRAN to reach some of his goals.  But, his biggest goal is still far off on the horizon.  He has two kids still in Africa that he parents as actively as he can.  Thank goodness for video calls.  His real goal is to someday bring them to this country so they can be reunited, and he can be a hands-on parent.  In the meantime, he works every chance he can get to build a financial base for all of them.

One family: Walk into the newly painted apartment to find our South American family of four who have been here about 2 years, our very first guests. (See photos of the painting party on the website.) Their chicken coop is set up in the back. All three of the adults go off to work each day. The young son is thriving in summer camps and will soon restart school. The daughter takes local college classes in addition to her full-time job.

One man needs respite space from 8/26-10/3 while his host family has guests.  If anyone knows of a space or camp for rent during this period, please leave a message on the website (CVRAN.org) ASAP! or email us at  cvran910@gmail.com. This Eastern European man is learning to be more helpful around the house.  He definitely has detail-oriented painting and handyman skills.  Biggest surprise, he likes to cook!   He could use occasional outings, and trips to the mosque on Friday.

Three families: Picture a driver asking around for car seats.  Just because an asylum-seeking family doesn’t have a car doesn’t mean that the children can travel without car seats! The family piles in for a trip to Burlington for a consultation with a Vermont Law School immigration lawyer.  The parents go into the office, and the volunteer tries to comfort the toddler.  A book? Good for 2 minutes.  A solid plastic car and truck?  Pipe-cleaners? Another 2 minutes each.  The best trick: playing in water from the faucet! The day before a related family was driven in by another volunteer for a similar consultation. A third South American family is also being scheduled.  These 11 people crossed the border into the United States as separate parties at a time people were being released on their own recognizance rather than being put in a detention center until their asylum requests were established.  Every week each of them must answer a call on their phone from ICE.

One man:   “I love giving new life to old construction…” Just one year ago, a newly arrived North African man and I were sitting on the statehouse lawn, and he was admiring the beauty of the surrounding buildings. This year, he is part of maintaining the functionality of buildings by retrofitting old windows for insulation purposes.  During the last year, he has been part of two training programs, English classes, getting a driver’s license, attaining a good used car, and waited the arrival of his work papers – a year of big changes. A week ago, he also cooked delicious food for the Sudanese school fundraiser, one of many ways he gives back. (See website for background on this dinner, and photos soon to come!)

One family: Eight months ago an Afghan family arrived in Montpelier with six children, ages 11-3. A seventh baby was born on August 12th, joining her 3-year-old sister and five older brothers. Two of the boys were involved in Little League Baseball, and one made the All-Star team, helping the team earn the title of Central Vermont Regional Champions! “I love baseball!” said Shahab, after winning one of the play-off games. His enthusiasm was contagious for his many fans! The Montpelier pool was popular. The three oldest passed the raft test and could jump off the diving boards at the pool. The “village” of volunteers and neighbors pitched in in heartwarming ways for the transportation needed to take children to camps and swimming lesson, and friendships developed. The English the children already have picked up through all these activities is absolutely astonishing! Their dad is working a day shift at a local factory, and has passed his driver’s permit test. Independence is the eventual goal.

One man: Two more months until a work permit might come through.  The time feels so long.  No-one wants to look at a job application before you are available.  This Easter European man arrived in Vermont this spring after some time in a detention center. He spends hours perfecting his already-good English, has tried various types of volunteer work, and has just gotten his driver’s license.  Next step: a used car!  This man really appreciates the team of people who invite him over, help with transportation and otherwise wrap-around his needs. He welcomes other new friends, too. Do you like hiking or biking? He would love to join you!

Thank-you for the hours you volunteer, the contributions you make, and the welcome you have helped create for these 28 new neighbors! Or… if you are a newcomer and would like to be involved in new ways, check out the volunteer button or the donor button on our website, cvran.org Watch for the date of our next general meeting in September, to be announced on our email.

Rachel Walker Cogbill

CVRAN President

P.S. Speaking of volunteering, our CVRAN treasurer is moving on. We are searching for a new treasurer and have built up many support systems to help the person in that role. Anyone interested?