April 13, 2013

Refugees welcomed at New Mainers Day

By Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Ah Jiao, 30,  said she never felt safe until she arrived in the United States in November.

click image to enlarge

Josh Ntimugura from the congo shakes the hand of John Kavanaugh, father to Laragh Kavanaugh, right, a mentoring volunteer to Josh's sister, Jeanette, middle, as the large group of attendees met each other and found new friends in the community during New Mainers Day Saturday at the Sullivan Recreation and Fitness Complex on the USM Portland Campus.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Ah Jiao, who now goes by the name Susan, said as a Burmese living in Malaysia she was always frightened of the police and the muggers and working 12 to 14 hours a day, and never had enough money for food.

Expecting a baby in August, she had to leave her husband behind in Malaysia. She arrived without friends or family. But she said she is making new friends in Portland.

“In Malaysia you have to worry all the time. This is a big change for me,” said Ah Jiao.

She was one of more than 100 recently arrived refugees and asylum seekers who participated in New Mainers Day at the University of Southern Maine Saturday. In its third year, the event aims at reaching out to the roughly 250 refugees and asylum seekers who moved to Maine in the past year.

“It’s a way to welcome the families to Maine” said Ashley Storrow, mentoring program coordinator at  Catholic Charities Maine Refugee Immigration Services, which co-hosted the occasion with the University of Southern Maine.

Catholic Charities Maine Refugee and Immigration Services has been the major provider of services in the state since 1975. It has helped 7,500 people through its resettlement program and 18,500 with support services.

The organizers took over the gym at the Sullivan Recreation and Fitness Complex where volunteers from Take Action Portland served trays of ethnic food prepared by Michelle Zang, the dinner cook at Preble Street Soup Kitchen in Portland.

There were games for the children, music and informational tours for those interested in taking courses at USM.

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