VRRP Brings Micro-Credit to Burlington's Refugee Population

BURLINGTON With the $1,900 that the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program raised at a fundraising dinner on Friday night at Champlain College, the organization hopes to start a revolving micro-credit loan program following the models of Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammad Yunus. In coordination with Professor Kathleen Liang, Associate Professor of Community Development and Applied Economics at UVM, VRRP is now working on developing the parameters of the loan and setting up guidelines for the application process. Supriya Serchan, the principal organizer of the event, said that the interest-free loan of roughly $1,200-$1,900, the first of its kind specifically designed for Vermonts refugee population, will go to a refugee family who has worked with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program and who hopes to start some kind of small business. Once the business develops and the loan is repaid, VRRP will extend a new loan to another family, thereby creating a self-sustaining, revolving fund that will hopefully grow over time. She added that the beneficiaries of the loan must be committed to continue working with the VRRP revolving loan fund even after they re-pay their loan, by serving on the selection committee that will pick future recipients and remaining as a member of the VRRP. This project will help refugee families become more thoroughly integrated in the community and into the American economy and society more generally, while also strengthening the Refugee Resettlement Programs commitment to ongoing community activism. The loan fund represents a model situation of what we try to do at VRRP to connect volunteers to families, said Judy Scott, Director of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program. Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss offered his support for the project by attending the event. He noted that the Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) of the city also offers micro-credit loans to low-income families looking to get a small business off the ground. Moreover, CEDO, in coordination with the Champlain Valley Office of Developments (CVOEO) Micro-Business Development Program, fostered the creation of the One World Market which held 4 events in 2007 in which recipients of these micro-credit loans, along with other local artisans, sold their arts, crafts, gifts and foods. Mayor Kiss said that he hopes that the recipients of the VRRP loan will be able to participate in One World Market events in the future, as the market is set up to help small businesses find a market for their products. The Office of the Mayor outlined the benefits of the One World Market in a press release issued to mark its creation in June 2007, which said that the One World Market is intended to provide an entry into business for micro-enterprisesvery small businesses that are owned and operated locally. All vendors have access to free business counseling and training for the event supported by CVOEOs Micro-Business Development Program and CEDO. The successful application of micro-credit was developed by Bangladeshi banker and economist Mohammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank, of which he is the founder. Yunus and the Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, for their efforts to create economic and social development from below. His most famous publication is Banker to the Poor, his autobiography in which he outlines the development and implementation of the micro-credit system. Since Yunus pioneering work in micro-credit, the model has taken off rapidly throughout the world, extending into third world and marginalized areas around the globe. The Refugee Resettlement Programs Friday night dinner, which also featured international live music and dancing, was attended by 150 people, and with all the food donated by Serchans Ethnic Foods and the space provided free of charge by Champlain College, all of the proceeds went directly to the loan fund. Maureen Rees, a volunteer coordinator of the event, observed after the event was initially advertised on New Years Day in the Burlington Free Press, the event sold out in under one week, and calls for tickets continued to pour ineven to her personal cell phoneup to the hour that the dinner began. Judging by how many people called in to request tickets, it seems that the support and the funds are out there to get the loan fund going; we just need to get more information out there, she said. After Fridays nights strong showing, the organizers of the event said that they clearly hope to hold another similar event in the futurethis time in an even larger space.

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