PORTLAND — Life in the Democratic Republic of Congo was “not good” for Alain Ingani and his family, which is why he said they came to Maine from Africa seven years ago.

Ingani earned his U.S. citizenship in April 2018. Last week, it was his 9-year-old son’s turn to take the oath and officially become an American.

Ingani’s son was one of 29 youngsters ages 1 to 17 who crowded into the theater at the Children’s Museum of Maine on Jan. 11 to recite the oath of citizenship.

Ingani and his family live in Portland and his son is a student at Lyseth Elementary School.

Ingani’s wife is still in the process of becoming a citizen. The couple’s two younger children were born in the U.S., but his oldest was only eligible to become a citizen after Ingani was naturalized last spring.

He said it was important that his oldest son become a U.S. citizen because, while there are various visas and other programs that would allow his presence, only becoming an American would protect his son from ever being sent back to the Republic of Congo.

“Life is better here for sure,” Ingani said, adding that it was always his intention to live in the U.S. permanently.

Lina Jawdat, 11, was also at the ceremony with her mother, Hind Al Abboodi. They came to Maine from Iraq six years ago, mostly to escape the hardships caused by ongoing violence.

They now live in Westbrook, where Jawdat attends Saccarappa Elementary School. She said she hopes to become a dentist someday, but for now she’s just happy to be an American citizen.

“I was really, really happy and very excited,” about saying the oath, Jawdat said, and plans to read it over and over again until she has it fully memorized.

Cindy Lembarra, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office in Portland, administered the Oath of Allegiance to the children and presented them with their individual certificates of citizenship.

She said taking the oath is one of several paths to becoming an American that a minor can take, but she said the eligibility always derives from the parents. She said the oath can be given to any child of a naturalized parent or any child adopted by an American citizen.

Lembarra said her office holds a children’s citizenship ceremony about six to eight times a year and that it “means a lot to the kids and their families. It’s a really important day, especially because their parents have often been through a lot to get here and get to this day.”

“We really hope (the citizenship ceremony) becomes a cherished memory” for both the children and their families, Lembarra added.

Among the countries represented at the Jan. 11 event were several from Africa, including Kenya and Ethiopia, and from the Mideast, including Iraq and Turkey. There were also representatives from Canada.

Most of the families live in or around Portland and Westbrook, but some came from as far south as Ogunquit and as far north as Lewiston.

Lucia Stancioff, deputy director of the children’s museum, said her organization has been offering space for children’s citizenship ceremonies for several years.

“We enjoy hosting these joyful moments and just being able to celebrate what it means to be a kid,” she said. “From what I’ve seen, the children and their families are very excited and proud. It’s truly a significant event for them and I’ve seen kids as young as 8 be somber and invested.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Alain Ingani, right, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, with his oldest son at a citizenship ceremony at the Children’s Museum of Maine in Portland on Jan. 11.

Lina Jawdat, 11, with her mother, Hind Al Abboodi. The two now live in Westbrook, but are originally from Iraq. Jawdat is one of 29 other children who took the oath of citizenship during a special ceremony held at the Children’s Museum of Maine in Portland on Jan. 11.