Inspired by strong community, bright spirits – World Refugee Day 2018

strong community Vermont story

Burlington, Vermont – celebrating a strong community and refugee parents in honor of World Refugee Day 2018

Over the past five years I have developed a passion for service work. Most of the service work I have done has been outside of the United States. Whenever I got home from a trip I wanted to continue to help those in need, but I hadn’t found a way to do that until I started working for a non-profit organization called the Refugee Outreach Club (ROC Inc).

As the Vermont director, I facilitate groups of high school and college students tutoring refugee students from Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. During the tutoring sessions, the tutors and students are able to develop friendships and learn about each other’s lives.

Seeing those connections blossom is very special and has had a deep impact on me.

I was invited to go to a meeting with the directors of the Heritage Learning Program, the program we partner with for our tutoring programs, and with parents of the students. When I arrived, I went to a classroom with chairs set up in a circle. There were twenty teachers and parents, all there to discuss how they wanted the program to work.

The meeting lasted approximately two hours. I was used to long meetings, but this meeting was all in Swahili. At the beginning of the meeting, I felt a bit uncomfortable not knowing what they were all saying. However, halfway through I began to feel more comfortable and was able to sit back and observe the meeting take place.

After the meeting, the director of the Heritage Learning Program sat down with me and translated what everyone had said. I was inspired to find out that the two-hour-long meeting was about how to help the children succeed in school.

These refugee parents had sacrificed so much to enable their children to come to the United States to live and receive a quality education.

One of my favorite things about a recent service trip I took to Tanzania was how welcoming and kind all the people were. I could feel the sense of strong community, and everyone’s bright spirits were inspiring to me and reminded me how beautiful life is. This lifestyle was eye-opening to me, and when I got home I missed and craved that energy.

Working with the refugee community in Burlington, Vermont, I began to feel and see that strong community sense again, one that is not as present in my own hometown. The American culture is very individualistic, and we often only worry about our needs and wants. This way of living has created a deep separation in our communities. I see this as a major problem, and have changed my own ways of interacting with others. Every day I try to greet people with an open mind and an open heart. I truly believe that if we all do this, a sense of strong community will reappear.

Refugees shaking hands

Welcome Refugees to Your Community

As a community member you can help welcome refugees to your community.

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World Refugee Day 2018

This month, to celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, US-born Americans across the United States honor newcomer Americans with a story from their state – a story of a refugee, asylee, or immigrant they admire. From soldiers to politicians, employers to students, social workers to business people – everyday Americans tell their stories to celebrate the goodness and courage of the newcomers who make the United States a better place.

Every day in the month of June, the Refugee Center Online will publish a new story from a different state. Check back for new stories each day:

Learn more about World Refugee Day. All across the country, there will be events celebrating World Refugee Day. Visit this map to find an event in your community.

About Anna Rowland
Anna Rowland is the Vermont Program Officer of the Refugee Outreach Club, which connects young adults around the world through education, curiosity, and service. Learn more at