American dishes, along with foods from an array of cultures, spanned the length of three picnic tables at Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington on Saturday.
Jacob Bogre, of Colchester, made his rounds, taking great care to speak to every family at the Association of Africans Living in Vermont (AALV) Annual Community Gathering. More than 200 people, from all over Chittenden County, attended. Bogre is AALV’s Executive Director.
The band A2VT (Africa to Vermont) sang, “Africa I’m coming back to you. I know you miss me, like I do you,” as kids blew bubbles, played ball, and parents grilled hot dogs. Everyone danced to the African Hip Hop band, founded in 2010 by three boys from Somalia, Tanzania, and Congo. They fused their new American future with traditions from an African past in song.
AALV helps new Americans from all parts of the world gain independence in Vermont communities through a range of services including job development, behavioral health awareness, interpreter services and more. Their mission is to promote the equal opportunity, dignity and self-sufficiency of refugee and immigrant individuals and families, regardless of race, ethnic group, religious or political affiliation, or sexual orientation.
Bogre said AALV has grown beyond the name. They are open to all new Americans now, not just Africans. Also new this year is accreditation from the Board of Immigration. “We can represent our clients when they have any immigration issues now,” he said.
AALV Chair Tuipate Mubiay, of Essex, said the board is the most diverse they have ever had. “If you put your mind to work, if you believe in yourself, you can do anything,” he said. “We started AALV in our living rooms and now we are 3,000 strong.”
Mubiay said there are more women on the board than ever before. “I believe in the power of women,” he said. “Women made me.”
Board member Fatuma Bulle, of Winooski, said she works specifically for the women who come to AALV. “I want all of the women and children who come here to have a voice,” she said.
Alex Pial of Burlington is also on the board. He said AALV helped him when he needed it most, and now he is happy to give back. “We are helping people to survive,” he said. “We come together at this event every year to share ideas, food, our cultures, and to bring the kids together. We are not only helping ourselves, we are helping the entire refugee population in the area. We make sure we are meeting everyone’s needs.”
AALV serves almost 100 percent of Vermont’s refugee community which are mostly Bhutanese, African, Burmese and Iraqis.
For more information about AALV visit www.aalv-vt.org.