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Mainers Remember Alain Nahimana, 49, Co-Founder Of Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center


An African asylum seeker who helped found an organization that brings together immigrant communities in Greater Portland to collaborate and share resources is being remembered. Alain Nahimana, 49, died on Sunday from complications of diabetes.

Nahimana came to the U.S. as an asylum seeker from Burundi in 2010. He was hired as coordinator of the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition in 2013, and four years later, the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center opened its doors. On Maine Calling in Sept. 2018, Nahimana explained that the idea for the center came from a realization that community organizations providing immigrant services lacked funding and had no infrastructure.

“So the idea was to create a space, a center where people could share offices, could share meeting rooms and could share infrastructure,” he said.

Center Finance and Operations Director and Damas Rugaba, who co-founded the organization, says Nahimana believed that that greatness could be achieved by working together and always went after big ideas and achievements.

“And he always told me that if you set the bar to the sky you’re going to reach high, but if you set it low then you limit yourself,” he says.

Another friend, Portland City Councilor Pious Ali, says Nahimana had a larger-than-life personality and knew how to connect with the business community.

“He knows how to engage everyone. He can sit at any table and equally engage in a very meaningful way,” he says.

In a written statement, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District says that Nahimana’s legacy will live on, especially in the Welcome Center’s initiative to identify and register thousands of immigrant voters in Maine.

Rugaba says Nahimana’s death is a big loss for the immigrant community in Maine and across the country. But he says Nahimana made sure that the center was built on a strong foundation with a staff and board that will continue the work he started.

“And even goes higher than what he expected. We owe all of that to him,” he says.

The Immigrant Welcome Center says it will post a GoFundMe campaign on its Facebook page and website and will have more information about plans to memorialize Nahimana.