The Burundi community has re-elected Philémon Dushimire for a two-year term as president of the Burundi Community Association of Maine. He will work with an executive committee of five members. Dushimire has worked hard to model strict adherence to safety protocols throughout the pandemic. The association elections were conducted with mask-wearing, hand-washing, and social distancing in place. Dushimire estimates that approximately 1,000 Burundians live in Maine, primarily in the Greater Portland area and in Lewiston/Auburn. Newcomers continue to arrive.
The November 3 election is a big topic of conversation in the community, with many more immigrants civically engaged this election cycle than in the past. Those eligible to vote are motivated and say they are planning to vote, and the general feeling in the community is that they will be failing the country if they don’t vote. Whereas back home in Burundi, people felt that their vote didn’t really matter because the election process was rigged, here in the U.S., people feel that voting is a civic duty. Those who are not citizens are also involved – they are helping others learn how to register and vote. Volunteers have worked with the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center to call people in the community and ask if they need information about voting. Those called have expressed appreciation for getting voting information in their native languages.
The Burundi community is very close, and when someone dies, everyone shows up to support the bereaved. Last spring, the community suffered a number of losses associated with the virus, both in Maine and among close relatives in Africa. People within the community made personal financial contributions to each of those who lost family members, and this was challenging, especially during a time when people are struggling to make ends meet. However, supporting others, especially in death, is part of being Burundian.
Antoine Bikamba is the Interim President of the Rwandese Community Association of Maine. Approximately 700-1,000 Rwandese live in Maine. Bikamba reports that the community is doing well. His team continues to make sure the community is up to date on information related to COVID 19. At the moment, one focus is organizing a conference intended to raise awareness around issues related to sexual abuse.
With support from the Augusta School Department, the Capital Area New Mainers Project is offering free tutoring and enrichment for immigrant students who are doing remote learning. CANMP also is sponsoring a voter education program to encourage and support new citizens exercising their right to vote.
Nsiona Nguizani is the president of the Angolan Community of Maine. Emilia Franco is the vice president. Nguizani estimates that approximately 2,000 Angolans live in the Greater Portland area, with a growing community in Lewiston/Auburn and Bath/Brunswick as well, for a total of over 2,500 Angolans now living in Maine. The number of Angolans living in Androscoggin County is now believed to outstrip that in the Portland area.
The association has been focused on keeping people healthy and safe during the pandemic, and on helping individuals navigate the immigration process. The community continues to distribute masks and information about COVID-19. In addition, it supports individuals who need assistance. Many Angolans in Maine are asylum seekers, who have limited resources because they have been prohibited from working. Requests for assistance have been pouring in ever since the pandemic hit, and providing food is a big focus of the community’s efforts. Thanks to continued funding from Good Shepherd Food Bank and Haymarket People’s Fund, the community has been able to extend the FEED program that they started early in the pandemic. FEED picks up food from Wayside Food Programs and food pantries, and delivers it right to the doors of those in need. Boxes include culturally appropriate foods, such as cassava leaves, dried fish, and fufu. A team delivers the food – and the delivery process has just gotten much easier, thanks to the gift of a van, which an anonymous donor gave to the community! Deliveries are made in Lewiston/Auburn, Westbrook, South Portland, Biddeford, and Portland.
Nguizani also works with a team of volunteer lawyers to help asylum seekers with paperwork connected with immigration. The community is dismayed by recent rule changes at the federal level, which double the waiting period for work authorization. The community is going to set up an office in the near future. Information will be shared when that move has taken place.