The Multicultural Community Center helps refugees make the transition to a new life

BRATTLEBORO, Vermont (WCAX) – Afghan refugees continue to make their way to Vermont to start a new life. A new multicultural community center in Brattleboro is helping with this transition. And funding through the Vermont Education Agency also ensures that younger newcomers are taken care of.

Brattleboro Multicultural Center goes far beyond teaching English to refugees. It’s also about building community.

“It’s the only place for all the services they might need,” said Eduardo Meléndez of the Ethiopian Community Development Council.

Learning the language is obviously important for any newcomer to the United States. But in this centre, which is run by the Ethiopian Community Development Council or ECDCrefugees from Afghanistan are also learning to live.

“Basic finances, how to open a bank account, how to use your debit card, pay bills on time,” Meléndez said.

For some, returning home is not an option.

“I can’t go back to Afghanistan,” said Fatima, an Afghan refugee. We have agreed not to use Fatima’s surname. She is seeking asylum in the United States and revealing her identity could be dangerous.

“For journalists, especially for female journalists, the situation in Afghanistan is not good to go back,” she explained.

Fatima is one of approximately 90 refugees who use the multicultural community center daily.

“They are very nice people and they help us a lot,” Fatima said.

This help also extends to children, including childcare. And part of a new $200,000 grant from the state Education Agency is providing children with summer programs and community mentoring.

“Arranging for them to go to museums or outdoor activities here in Vermont or even New Hampshire,” Meléndez said.

“Teaching was my first passion and when I heard about the Afghan refugees I wanted to get involved,” said Gloria Cristelli, a teacher at the International Training School, one of the program’s partners. ‘ECDC.

Cristelli says it’s rewarding work, especially watching Afghans interact with refugees from other countries. The center is open to everyone.

“They worked for us and they have the right to have a decent life,” Cristelli said.

Officials say the need for this type of center will only grow.

“We are going to receive a lot of climate refugees, we are going to receive a lot of political refugees,” Meléndez said.

ECDC is exploring other grant options through the Education Agency to keep this program strong in the future.

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Jill E. Washington