Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program

refugee resettlementThe United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), a national program based in Washington, DC, has fifty-five agencies in the US. One is based in the Burlington, Vermont area: VERMONT REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT PROGRAM. In a state where 94% of its citizens are white, culturally diverse people are welcome here. 

In the neighborhoods surrounding Burlington, VT, we open doors for uprooted people, helping the world’s most vulnerable rebuild their lives. We are part of a nationwide network that breaks through social, cultural, and economic barriers so previously interrupted lives can flourish. The first welcome begins with navigating American Culture, laying solid foundations for a fresh start, and making essential community connections to successfully integrate into our community.”  (Mission Statement: VRRP)

The students who attend the class I teach (four mornings a week) are about one level higher than the lowest level in English proficiency. Titled, Survival English, parts of the curriculum include learning to navigate the community, familiarity with numbers, alphabet, calendar, weather, food and a host of subjects we take for granted! 

My students are from Bhutan, Burma, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo. They are “uprooted” people forced out of their home countries mainly due to the country’s political situation. The vetting process is rigorous and thorough, usually takes up to two years to complete. Most refugees live in refugee camps (up to seventeen years) in a country of refuge before arriving in the host country. Nepal is the country of refuge for the people of Bhutan. Many learn some English while in the camps; people literate in their language have a greater facility to learn English than those who are not literate in their language.

refugee resettlementAges of the students range between twenty and sixty-eight. Attendance at English classes is a high priority, in fact, obligatory in the first nine months of arrival when they receive cash assistance. But, a number of students “juggle” class time and jobs. So, classes are offered evenings or Saturdays to accommodate schedules. 

Before entering the US, refugees are given medical evaluations and are screened for contagious diseases. Many, though, especially older people, have medical and psychological issues when they arrive due to their country’s poor health care and/or trauma from situations that forced them out of the country. 

refugee resettlementWe may surmise they are at a disadvantage to learn the language and to learn to navigate their new environment. I am constantly baffled by their courage. Thank goodness many live with family members and can be sustained in their own enclaves. But, looking deeper, people of various cultures have a lot to offer and teach us. Yes, they show courage in the midst of their struggles. I sincerely hope our manner of caring, our hospitality, is better than  were their situations before they arrived in the US. Personally, I am enriched by our new residents and love being with them. They show great hope and excitement moving forward. I applaud them!


Yvette Rainville, DHS

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