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Papy’s Story: Solidarity Fund Community Impact

Hello Maine Initiatives community and supporters:

Many of you made donations to support the new asylum seekers – and your generosity is making an impact!

This morning, Phil and I met with Mufalo Chitam, Executive Director of Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, Papy Bongibo, President of the Congolese Community of Maine, and Nsiona Nguizani, President of the Angolan Community Association of Maine, to get an update on some of the work you made possible. Here are some highlights from Papy Bongibo:

How did you get involved in working with the incoming asylum seekers?
When the mayor called me and told me about the incoming asylum seekers, I called an emergency meeting of our community and said, “These are our people. We have to step in and help them, and help the city.”

How have you been working with the asylum seekers?
From the beginning, we did lots of translating, taking people to appointments, helping them get around, and cultural orientation. Now, we’re helping people with the next step. Yesterday, we rented a big U-Haul, filled it with mattresses and couches donated by a local nonprofit, and helped move 10 people into their new homes! Tomorrow, I’m helping other people move to Lewiston and to Scarborough.

How have the donations from the Solidarity Fund made an impact?
After the first few weeks, a lot of the volunteers had to return to their jobs and their normal life. The donations from the Solidarity Fund were invaluable: We were able to hire people to help people enroll their kids in school, to get back and forth to their appointments, to translate for them with immigration lawyers and doctors. It’s been so important for the asylum seekers to know there are people they can rely on to be there for them and help them navigate this new place.

What’s been difficult for you?
The scariest thing is when I look at the kids, and know that they had the experience of crossing the forest, sleeping outside in the middle of nowhere, watching people dying on the road. The journey is terrible – if you get sick or tired, no one’s going to carry you, they just have to leave you. No one would walk into the fire like that, unless they are running for their lives. They all know about America and know that the United States is a country of hope, and they’re trying to get here for the safety of their family and their children.

What’s been surprising for you?
When I heard about all the asylum seekers coming, I thought it would be a big weight on the Congolese community’s shoulders. I didn’t expect we would get this tremendous support from everyone – and not just the immigrant community, the American community, everyone!

I look around and say, “Wow, how can I say thank you to these people?” I’ve lived in different places in the U.S., and I’ve never seen a community come together like the people in Maine. It’s amazing.

From all of us at Maine Initiatives, thank you for supporting the Solidarity Fund.

In community,

Shima Kabirigi

Program Officer / Coordinator

Maine Initiatives / Immigrant and Refugee Funders Collaborative