The 10th annual Women United Around the World Fashion Show and Gala at the Italian Heritage Center on March 9 celebrated the beauty of cultural diversity with dozens of Maine women modeling traditional fashion from the countries where they were born.

The star of the show was a woman more often behind the scenes, pinning bustles on bridal gowns: Adele Masengo Ngoy, a fashion designer who fled war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo nearly 20 years ago, supported her three children as a seamstress and, now owner of Antoine’s Tailor Shop in Portland, designs custom-made formal wear. She has also trained 28 other immigrant women how to make a living as professional stitchers.

“I want to help others,” said Ngoy, who started the annual Women United Around the World fashion show in 2009 to solicit donations for sewing machines and other materials for her students. “Women, if they are well-established or they are doing something they love or have a better job, it will affect the family, the kids.”

“I’m pleased to come in second fiddle to Adele Ngoy, who knows how to convene a multicultural event,” said emcee Danielle Conway, dean of the University of Maine School of Law. “She has dedicated all of her life and especially the past 10 years to promoting multiculturalism and women’s rights.”

Three other Maine women were honored for their work with diverse communities: Valerie DeVuyst, who recently retired after 18 years as ESOL (English to speakers of other languages) program coordinator at Portland Adult Education; Florence Olebe, an Egyptian refugee who works as a medical interpreter and has formed a coalition to raise awareness about domestic violence; and Sister Patricia Pora, who oversees the Hispanic ministry for the Diocese of Portland.

Entertainment by Rwandan dancers and drummers, dancers from the Chinese and American Friendship Association of Maine, and singing sensations Shy Paca and Natalia Mbadu of Reiche Elementary School warmed the crowd up for the unveiling of Ngoy’s Red Carpet Collection and an international fashion show featuring representatives from dozens of nations.

“I don’t know about you but I feel like I’ve traveled around the world and back tonight,” said volunteer event coordinator Amber Hoxha of Maine Marketing & Events. “And Women United Around the World empowers women, and helps them get jobs as seamstresses at David’s Bridal, Ramblers Way, Sea Bags, Local Roots and other local places.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

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