Prince Memorial Library in Cumberland and Cumberland Congregational Church will present a three-part series starting next week on asylum seekers in Maine, focusing on the history of their Central African homelands, their journeys to Maine and their experiences upon arrival here.

The church and the library began collaborating on “From Africa to Maine: Why and How People Seek Asylum in Maine” in January to foster understanding and support of the growing number of asylum seekers in the area.

“There are people living in Portland, Freeport and other communities very close to us that are from countries all over Africa,” said Kelly Greenlee, community outreach librarian in Cumberland. “These communities are really struggling here in Maine, and they’re our neighbors.”

Through her Cumberland church’s work with the asylum seeker community, the Rev. Allison Smith said she realized she had never learned about the history of their countries.

“Our church has a very long history of welcoming neighbors and seeking to put love to action in tangible ways in the community,” Smith said. “Even though I’d made connections, I didn’t know the history.” 

She wanted to educate herself and others in the community.


“Part of how we grow stronger as a community is by understanding each other,” Smith said. “My hope is that this series will help us understand more deeply, as well as hearing the voices of strength, courage and resilience and help us find our own.”

In the Portland area, asylum seekers from Central African countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola often find it difficult to assimilate. In addition to the language barrier, cultural differences can be shocking. Asylum seekers who were persecuted can be fearful of telling their stories and putting their families left behind at risk.

The first session of “From Africa to Maine,” at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 11, is a virtual panel discussion on the history of the migration of Central Africans to the northern and western hemispheres, facilitated by Luc Kuanzambi, founder of Xenos Communications Consulting and former aide to foreign governments in the South African Development Community.

On April 25, the asylum seekers’ various journeys to Maine, including experiences at the U.S.-Mexico border, will be discussed along with their experiences upon arrival in Maine. That session, also presented via Zoom, will feature Jennifer Bailey, an attorney with the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project; Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition; educator Prince Pombo Mafumba; and Kuanzambi.

The final session, to be held in person at 3 p.m. May 7 at Cumberland Town Hall, will focus on the legal, economic and cultural challenges asylum-seekers and other immigrants face in Maine.

Registration is still open for the first two virtual panels, and it is filling up fast. Greenlee estimates that around 150 people have already signed up to attend the first event.

“I think it’ll be excellent,” Greenlee said. “It’s important to tell their stories.”

For more information and to register, go to

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