By Hortense Massamba

The Congolese community in Maine has announced the launch of COCOMaine Youth Network, a new youth program focused on accessing education and employment, and the integration of youth into the workforce in a variety of settings across the state. The genesis of the program comes from COCOMaine members observing youth and noticing that after finishing secondary education, immigrant youth tend to begin having difficulty. They often lack reliable information about going to college, and have trouble figuring out how to access financial assistance. Also, for those who do finish college, finding appropriate employment that matches their level of education can prove elusive. COCO Maine wants to help young people avoid mistakes made in the past by others, and thereby open opportunities.

Experience and challenges
The three leaders of the COCOMaine Youth Network program are Christian Kabeya, Stephanie Lumu, and Joelle Mikobi. All three say they are determined to help young people address the challenges of living in Maine. They speak of supporting all youth, with a special emphasis on immigrant youth, and hope the knowledge and experience that each of them has gained in their own lives as immigrants will help them help others, and serve as a model for future generations.

For Christian Kabeya, who arrived in the U.S. in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in computer math, language was the biggest barrier to breaking into the U.S. system. Because of language, he had trouble finding out about scholarships available to immigrants. Now he works in a local company as a data specialist. He is married, with two children

When Stephanie Lumu arrived in the U.S. in 2016, she was surprised to find that young people she encountered did not appear interested in studying. Nonetheless, she herself continued her education, and is now a student at University of Southern Maine, as well as a professional service manager in Lewiston.
Joelle Mikobi pointed out that while there are many resources to help immigrant youth in Maine, they need help accessing information about the resources. She has lived in Maine for six years, and works in a hospital billing department, while pursuing higher education.

Projection, integration, and action program
The goal for COCOMaine Youth Network is to help youth understand the different supports that exist, and that they can take advantage of, as they chart their education and employment paths. In order to achieve this goal, the organization solicits the help and involvement of opinion leaders in the community, such as pastors and parents. And the organization has set up a survey to collect information directly from youth about their concerns, in order to know their most urgent needs. One area of obvious concern is young people who are still in high school and need help accessing scholarships and financial aid. The group plans to hold conferences to help them learn about opportunities.

According to COCOMaine, the desire is to see all young people go to school. Its policy is inclusive, because it considers not only young immigrants from DR Congo, but also those who came to Maine from other countries. COCOMaine Youth Network wants to help young people in general – and young immigrants in particular – understand that real wealth is knowledge and education. The group is working on a website and planning meetings. They have launched the survey, as well as a video to inform people about the new project. In recent weeks, the leaders have attended several churches and talked directly to congregants, raising awareness of this new project.