Posted by Dick Hall

Alain Nahimana shared his personal history and the reasons he co-founded and is currently Executive Director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center (IWC).  Alain, who has been in the United States for 8 years is originally from Burundi. In his home country, he was a business owner, and currently speaks 6 languages. Like all asylum seekers, he was not permitted to work for 150 days while his application was being reviewed; he needed to survive on General Assistance of $50 biweekly for food, $25 biweekly for other expenses, and rent subsidy.

Alain's first job was as a janitor including cleaning of toilets. He then was lucky to get a front desk job at a refugee program, then on the phones for Time Warner. He left Time Warner due to the verbal abuse from clients. He moved on to a courier service, and then to Coordinator for the ME Immigrant Coalition. Alain told us this story to show how difficult it is for an immigrant, even one with a professional background and mastery of the language. 

Alain co-founded IWC to address the barriers for immigrants to overcome:  language, entrepreneurship opportunities, and personal aspirations. Because immigrants must work 2 or 3 jobs to support their families, there is no time left to attend classes and learn English. IWC has created a computer-based learning lab, to allow people to learn at their own pace during the time they have available. To address entrepreneurship, IWC is working with finance, accounting, and banking professionals to offer mentoring help; already 50-100 people have expressed an interest. To assist immigrants in defining their aspirations, IWC provides an Immigrant Business Hub, with a professional atmosphere and a suite of shared services. When an immigrant comes to that space, they can explore their dreams and not be mentally stuck in their present situation.

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(Photo L-R: President John Curran, Alain Nahimana and PP Laura Young.)