The Ethiopian Community Development Council, Inc. (ECDC) has joined with World Learning and School for International Training (SIT) in an innovative partnership to welcome and resettle up to 100 Afghan evacuees in Southern Vermont through the Afghan Placement and Assistance (APA) program.
Through this collaboration, World Learning, a Vermont-based, global NGO and the parent organization of School for International Training, is dedicating space on the Brattleboro campus where new arrivals will live and learn for up to 90 days while ECDC staff members work to secure permanent housing. In addition to housing, SIT staff, faculty, and alumni will provide English language and cultural orientation classes on the campus.
ECDC’s Brattleboro-based case management staff, together with community stakeholders and volunteers, are providing the refugees with basic necessities during their first 90 days as well as employment placement services, assistance enrolling in schools and public benefits programs, legal assistance to change their immigration status, and other referrals as needed. Up to 100 individuals are expected to arrive in Brattleboro by March and settle in permanent housing by early May.
Thousands of evacuees fled Afghanistan last year as the Taliban took control of the country. Many are still housed on U.S. military bases awaiting placement in communities around the United States. Due to the large number of arrivals expected in a short period of time and the limited availability of housing in southern Vermont, this innovative partnership is seen as a creative way to meet immediate needs.
The ECDC-World Learning partnership is the first of its kind in the nation. ECDC is piloting the program as part of its Opening Universities for Refugees (OUR-US) initiative.
“We are interested in increasing the engagement of colleges and universities in refugee resettlement and leveraging existing resources and expertise that exist in the local community,” said Dr. Tsehaye Teferra, ECDC’s President and CEO. “We have built this partnership with guidance from Every Campus a Refuge (ECAR) and will be learning from the experience to replicate similar collaborations with universities in other locations.”
“World Learning and SIT have a long and proud history of supporting refugees. For nearly 20 years, we resettled more than 250,000 refugees in third countries. We welcome this opportunity to partner with ECDC in creating a safe and welcoming community for Afghan evacuees to begin their new lives in the United States – an effort that fits squarely with the mission, history, and core values of World Learning and SIT as well as those of the local community in Brattleboro,” said Carol Jenkins, President, and CEO of World Learning, Inc.
ECDC’s Multicultural Community Center, which opened in Brattleboro in October 2021, has received its first 12 arrivals from Afghanistan, with more expected each week. The opening of the office was supported by the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) as a part of its Welcoming Communities initiative, and BDCC played a pivotal role in ensuring ECDC had the community connections and regional partnerships needed to succeed.
“It is a comfort to know that we have a safe, equipped, and supportive environment where we can bring people when they first arrive,” said Joe Wiah, director of Brattleboro’s ECDC Multicultural Community Center (MCC) and a graduate of SIT Graduate Institute and the CONTACT program. “This arrangement gives us more time to find the best permanent housing option for newcomers, which is a challenge, and also gives them some additional connections to people and resources in the community. As a former graduate of SIT, I am proud to see them stepping up to help in this way.”
The Brattleboro campus is the administrative headquarters of SIT, which operates programs in 50 countries throughout the year. The campus is also used during spring and summer for SIT Graduate Institute residencies and events, and World Learning youth exchange and leadership development programs.
“We are pleased to be able to more fully utilize our dormitories, classrooms, and other student facilities during these winter months for this important resettlement program. What’s more, it is deeply gratifying to see so many SIT alumni, including Joe Wiah and many others, step forward as part of this community-wide movement to help mitigate this pressing resettlement need,” said SIT President Dr. Sophia Howlett.
World Learning and SIT expect to hold a regular schedule of summer programs and classes starting in May and have offered to welcome refugees to campus once again in the fall as needed.
ECDC, based in Arlington, Va., is one of the nine national resettlement agencies funded by the Department of State. ECDC has been resettling refugees since 1991 and works with a network of affiliate organizations around the country to empower refugees and immigrants to become self-sufficient and integrated members of American society. For more information, visit www.ecdcus.org.
About World Learning
World Learning is a Vermont-based, global organization made up of School for International Training, offering accredited undergraduate study abroad programs through SIT Study Abroad and internationally focused master’s degrees, certificate programs, and a doctorate through its SIT Graduate Institute; The Experiment in International Living, the nation’s most experienced provider of intercultural exchange programs abroad and virtual for high school students; and World Learning, a global development and exchange nonprofit organization. The organization is now in its 90th year delivering international education, cultural exchanges, and sustainable development. For more information, visit www.worldlearning.org.