Catholic Charities of Maine and Chance to Advance co-hosted a launch party for its 2024 Celebrating Diversity in Maine calendar on Nov. 17 at Hannaford Hall at the University of Southern Maine.

“This year’s focus is on mentors and mentees, the kinds of professional and social relationships that are fundamental to growing and nurturing cultural and racial diversity in Maine,” said Inza Ouattara, state refugee coordinator with the Office of Maine Refugee Services. “Of course we are also here to sell copies of the calendar to raise money in support of youth pursuing higher education in Maine.”

Ekhlas Ahmed, a Sudanese immigrant and University of Southern Maine graduate, was a teacher at Casco Bay High School when she founded Chance to Advance six years ago.

“We want to create a space where people feel loved as human beings and they don’t have to shy away from their story or who they are,” said Ahmed, who describes herself as a genocide survivor and human rights activist. “In the past, we have supplied a calendar to each school in Maine, and we hope to continue doing that.”

Each month of the 2024 calendar includes a photo by Junes Thete Sointa and a narrative about a pair of Mainers – a mentor and mentee – celebrating their cultures and recognizing their community contributions.

For example, Deering High School Assistant Principal Halima Noor met her mentor, Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed, when he was her earth science teacher at the same school.


Khadija El Barkaoui, founder of Coelle Travel, met her mentor, Adilah Muhammad, executive director of The Third Place, at a single-gender swim class.

And Casco Bay High School student Anser Faiez Ali, originally from Iraq, met his coach and mentor, Paul French, at Portland Community Squash.

Several of the featured working relationships are tied to cultural advocacy work – Ferozan Latifi and her mentor, Shamayel Kargar, are active in Afghan Community of Maine; Mahir Hasanov and his mentor, Tarlan Ahmadov, are leaders of Azerbaijani Society of Maine; and Beatriz Dubon and her mentor, Tophe Thorne, work with Presente! Maine.

Each of the 12 pairs were featured in a short video capturing the trust and respect they have for each other as well as a great deal of personality and humor. “What an honor to be able to tell all these stories,” said filmmaker Suzi Pond of Redbird Media Group. “It’s the biggest gift.”

Priya Nataragan, assistant principal at Casco Bay High School, talked about the impact of being featured in the 2022 calendar. “I found that it was an invitation to my students to have a conversation with me about my life, my priorities, my decisions and, ultimately, to mentorship,” she said.

Using funds from last year’s calendar, high school students Hubert “Joseph” Lew of Casco Bay High School, Raissa Pedro of Sanford High School and Jose Mubiala of South Portland High School were granted $1,000 college scholarships.

For more information or to buy a calendar, go to

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

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