In response to the national debate on the acceptance of Syrian refugees, an area interfaith group (including St. James, Woodstock) has invited a representative of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program (VRRP) to Woodstock for a film screening and conversation at 7 p.m., Thursday, January 7 at Town Hall. The event is free and open to all.
Refugees are by definition people forced away from their homes and countries. VRRP defines these immigrants as follows, “Refugees flee their homes, businesses, farms, and communities in order to escape war and persecution. Often refugees flee to save their or their families’ lives. They rarely know how long it will be before it is safe to return home and they often have no time to plan the departure or pack appropriately. Family records, professional documents, diplomas, photographs, and other precious items are often left behind.”
Laurie Stavrand, Community Partnership Coordinator for VRRP, will discuss the 65-minute award-winning documentary, Welcome to Vermont: four stories of resettled identity. According to filmmaker Mira Niagolova, it “offers a nuanced view of lives of forcibly displaced people once they have achieved their ultimate desire to resettle in the US and ‘live the American dream,’… In four vignettes, it takes us inside the daily lives of four families from Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq, and Rwanda who have recently resettled in Vermont, one of the smallest and most homogeneous states in the country.” The film received the Ben and Jerry’s Award at the 2012 Vermont International Film Festival.
Ms. Stavrand will also describe what local communities can do to aid refugees resettling in the Green Mountain State. She noted that VRRP, the only refugee resettlement organization in Vermont, receives only ten days’ notice of the arrival of a refugee family. Federal guidelines require resettled families and individuals to reside within fifty miles of the agency supporting them. The Colchester-based organization operates under the umbrella of the U. S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), a non-profit with resettlement programs in twenty-three states. USCRI is one of several groups approved by the U. S. State Department for this purpose.
Ms. Stavrand noted that each refugee receives only $925 on arrival, funds needed for initial rent and deposits on apartments located by VRRP, and other start-up expenses. They are expected to be self-sufficient within five months.
In addition to cash donations to aid the work of VRRP, Vermonters have the opportunity to create “Welcome Kits,” collections of practical items ranging from knives and forks to beds and linens. Refugees almost invariably arrive with the clothes on their backs and little else.
The Rev. Norman MacLeod of St. James Episcopal Church, Woodstock, one of the January 7 event organizers, said, “Fifteen members of our parish turned out for an initial meeting on how we can be more welcoming to refugees from all sorts of places, including Syria. We have reached out to members of the Unitarian-Universalist, Mennonite, United Church of Christ, Roman Catholic and Jewish communities in our area, inviting them to make this a community-wide effort. We have received many encouraging responses. There is a great deal of interest in doing something practical to welcome those who have lost everything.”