The African community is mourning the death of a friend, Pedro Matala, a brilliant young man from Angola, after he fell into the Presumpscot River in Falmouth in late July. We lost another brilliant young immigrant, Isha Ali from Lewiston, last summer after he drowned in the Androscoggin River.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

The death of these young immigrants shows us the lack of understanding when negotiating Maine waters. Young people need guidance and training about both the state’s waterways and the wilderness. Immigrant leaders need to start engaging with local communities to advise on the dangers and joys.

I grew up very close to the Indian Ocean in Mogadishu and watched young people drown due to the lack of knowledge and experience about the danger. Young immigrants in Maine have to know the depth of the rivers and what areas could be dangerous. Most are not skilled swimmers because they did not have the freedom to enjoy the waters where they grew up.

I don’t see immigrant leaders coming together to address the deaths of these young members of our community. This latest loss must be an awakening call for all of us. Parents of young immigrants need guidance. But, most importantly, they need reassurance that their other children will be safe in these waters. Local leaders have the resources and the network to organize training and safety sessions for both young and adult immigrants.

Drowning seems to be a cause of death for young Maine immigrants, and who knows how many more we will lose if leaders don’t take action now? These young immigrants have adjusted quickly into Maine life. They often do well in school, in sports and make friends, including with those born and raised in Maine. They want to take full advantage of summer activities by joining in when many people go to the beaches or to the rivers for swimming and fun.

Sometimes I watch teenagers who were brought up in Maine jump off bridges without life vests and I also notice their parents watching them closely as they swim. The teens seem well aware of what they are doing and their parents also know what to do in case of danger. Newly arrived immigrant parents have no way of monitoring their kids’ activities outside the home. Following the most recent death, parents are worrying about their kids when they are out. This is where immigrant leaders need to step in.

The numerous nonprofits in the state of Maine all serving and helping immigrants must expand their services beyond basic immigration and refugee services. It is time to think about expanding services to those who have adjusted, speak English and want to do all things Maine.

The Angolan community is in shock. As they bury their young man they want to make sure others don’t drown in Maine rivers. After all the other hardships they have been through, including the long and exhausting journey to get to the United States, losing a young one to Maine waters is a failure of leadership and community awareness.

This summer will not be remembered as a good summer. This event will scare many young immigrants from even trying to swim in a river.

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