Around 30 Afghan residents of southern Vermont are expected to break their Ramadan fast on Saturday in a gathering with local college students, administrators and public officials.
Tanvir Anjum, a Bennington College sophomore, is organizing the iftar — breaking of the daily fast during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan — which will also offer Afghan refugees in Bennington and Windham counties an opportunity to network with community members.
Participants are expected to include Bennington College Provost Maurice Hall, about 30 members of the college’s Muslim Student Association, and Bennington Selectboard Chair Jeannie Jenkins.
As an international student from Bangladesh, Anjum said local connections and support are important in helping people adapt to a new country. He has seen fellow college students helping out migrant groups, such as teaching English to Latino workers, and thought he could do something for the Afghan families during this Muslim holy month.
“I know that Bennington College and the town have way more to offer than the families know right now, so (I’m) just giving them access to the resources and connecting them with the right people,” said Anjum, 20, a member of the Bennington College Student Council and the Muslim Student Association.
“I just feel it to be a responsibility for me to do this for other people,” he said in an interview. “It's also a cultural lesson back home that you do things for people who need help the most.”
An estimated 250 Afghans have resettled in Vermont since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, the same month U.S. forces withdrew.
They include 34 Afghan adults and children currently living in Bennington County, according to Bennington County Open Arms, a volunteer organization that supports international arrivals in the county. Most have come through the Ethiopian Community Development Council, a federally contracted resettlement agency that has placed Afghans in Windham and Bennington counties.
Anjum hopes the conversations at the private Saturday event — alongside an evening meal and prayers at the campus’s Student Center — might also spark more ideas from local leaders on how they can help the Afghans in learning English as a second language and pursuing higher education.
“You don't know what will be useful until you sort of reach out and start meeting people, so I think that events like this are incredibly helpful,” said Jenkins, of the Bennington Selectboard, who is also a volunteer with Bennington County Open Arms.
Bennington College, whose faculty members have worked with Bennington County Open Arms and the Ethiopian Community Development Council to increase engagement with Afghan refugees, said Saturday’s iftar would be the second gathering of the Afghans and the college’s students and faculty.
“I am so pleased to support this special communal iftar at Bennington College and to welcome the Muslim community for food, conversation, stories and prayer,” the college president, Laura Walker, said in a statement.
Alfredo Medina Jr., the college’s vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, said such an event helps deepen the community’s richness.
“We seek to make Bennington a place where everyone is valued for who they are, where all people can find others who share their beliefs, and where people can connect with others in the community,” he said.
Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, is marked by daily fasting from dawn to sunset, ending with the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.