Nun, Rabbi, and Syrian Team Up to Aid Refugees in Vermont

The trio says as different as they may seem as individuals, they share a common goal to welcome strangers to Vermont

A diverse coalition of people from very different cultural and religious backgrounds is working together to improve lives in Burlington, Vermont.

The trio is made up of a Catholic nun, a man from Syria, and a Rabbi. They share a common goal: to welcome strangers who recently moved to Vermont.

Sister Yvette Rainville, from the Daughters of the Holy Spirit, teaches English as a second language for the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.

"I’m enriched by the culture," Rainville beamed.

The classes are overseen by Ashraf Alamatouri, who said he once faced persecution in his native Syria.

"We can make our children’s lives better," Alamatouri said.

Their host is Rabbi Amy Small of Burlington’s Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, where the English classes meet multiple times each week.

"We’re all neighbors and friends and helping each other," Small told necn.

A nun, an immigrant from Syria, and a Jewish religious leader may seem like an unlikely trio, but Rainville says their alliance makes perfect sense, because their respective backgrounds have all included teachings that urged them to welcome strangers.

"We’re all part of one human family," Rainville said, adding that their alliance could serve as a prototype of how people can put aside their apparent differences to work toward common goals.

"I like the teacher," said Alfani Mto, a refugee from strife-ridden Congo who said he arrived in Burlington about five months ago.

Mto said he enjoys living in Vermont, has found work washing dishes in one of Burlington's top restaurants, and appreciates the availability of the English classes, which he said are helping him improve his communication skills.

Mto is one of the roughly 7,000 refugees the resettlement program has helped since the 1980s to start new lives in Vermont.

The topic of immigration has been in the national spotlight recently.

President-elect Donald Trump, and many in his base of support, have questioned the nation's immigration policies. Trump has asked if enough safeguards are in place to keep our country safe.

Some of Trump's proposals, which have drawn the ire of many on the left, have included building a wall on the southern border and implementing a halt on Muslims immigrating to the country.

In Vermont, a plan to resettle up to 100 Syrian refugees in Rutland starting in early 2017 has left some in that city unconvinced that it's a good move.

"We just need to let it go," Sister Yvette said. "Allow ourselves to be in relationship with them."

Vermont Refugee Resettlement insists the refugees it supports are scrutinized exactingly, over a lengthy period of time, before they're allowed into the United States.

"We have to come together and live together; communicate together," Alamatouri said. "Regardless of our ethnic groups, religions, all of that."

With that driving them, this diverse coalition promises to keep working together, believing partnerships like theirs really can make America more united.

"You spread the goodness and love in the community that changes the world," Rabbi Small said, describing the friends' work.

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