BRUNSWICK — With classes starting next week, the town is preparing to welcome 19 recently relocated asylum-seekers into the school system.

Nsiona Nguizani is helping asylum-seekers and their children get used to life in Brunswick. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

“(The schools will be) expecting new people and new faces,” Nsiona Nguizani, the town’s cultural broker, said in a telephone interview Aug. 28. “… I’ve been telling the newcomers to expect people to ask questions. I am encouraging them to … reach out to the students and ask questions and get to know them.”

The town hired Nguizani this month to work as a liaison and resource between the residents and their new community. Nguizani has been working with asylum-seekers since they arrived in Portland in June and he is fluent in French, Portuguese and Lingala, which are the languages spoken by many of the immigrant families.

Nguizani, however, will not be at the schools on Sept. 3, when classes begin.
“I’m trying to step back and let it be,” he said. “The goal is not to be there every time. We want them to navigate and integrate into society independently. There is going to be a lot of curiosity on both sides as they begin to understand and navigate the school system. This is really different from what the newcomers are used to back at home.”

As of Aug. 28, there are between 42 and 60 asylum-seekers living in Brunswick, most living at Brunswick Landing, Nguizani said. Other families are staying in apartments in town or with host families.

Asylum-seekers moved to Brunswick from the Portland Exposition Center, a temporary shelter that was set up until Aug. 15 after more than 300 asylum-seekers came to Maine earlier this summer to escape violence and persecution in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Nguizani said that most of the 19 children who will be entering the school system are elementary school age. He was not able to provide specific information on how the number of students will be divided between schools.

Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said he is still unsure about hiring additional social workers and more educators to teach English as a second language. He said he won’t decide until the staff has had time to get to know the students and assess their needs.

From Aug. 12-22, Midcoast Literacy worked alongside school officials to host English Language instruction at Curtis Memorial Library. The program was divided into three sessions for children, teens and adults that wanted to learn English. The program was only scheduled for a short time before the school year began and Nguizani said school officials are working on developing another program so parents can continue to learn English.

According to Nguizani, things are beginning to settle down as he becomes more acclimated with the community and has begun establishing partnerships with organizations across town.

“We are building a team,” he said. “I know I can count on organizations for certain tasks and I have a better idea of the partners that I have within the town that I can count on. We are settling into our new position in the town.”

One of the major needs that the families need, according to Nguizani, is transportation.

“The newcomers do not drive, nor do they have cars,” he said.

Transportation is currently being provided by volunteers and through the town’s Explorer buses. Nguizani says bus transportation is a good resource, but limited in time and capacity and “does not meet all of the needs that we have.”

“We are trying to configure a way to navigate transportation and volunteers are a big part of this,” he said.

Nguizani has also expressed the need for a certified interpreter that speaks Portuguese and French to work closely with families to navigate things like doctors appointments and immigration hearings. Anyone interested in offering assistance with transportation or becoming an interpreter can call the town manager’s office.
Nguizani is currently acting as a translator and hopes to have that extra assistance to allow him to focus his energy on other aspects of his position.
“There are so many things happening, an interpreter would be helpful so that I can work on other things,” he said.
“The community has been so good,” Nguizani added. “They have been so supportive of everything. We have a lot of partners and services and we have been welcomed with a lot of support from the people around Brunswick.”

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