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June 1, 2020

Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center chief Alain Nahimana dies at 49

Alain Nahimana of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center. File Photo / Maureen Milliken The late Alain Nahimana was the co-founder and executive director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center. He was a Mainebiz Next list honoree in 2018.

Alain J. Nahimana, a Burundi native who co-founded and served as executive director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, has died at age 49 of complications from diabetes.

Mary Allen Lindemann and Shima Kabirigi, co-chairs of the center's board, expressed "deep sadness" at his death in a May 31 announcement emailed to Mainebiz.

"How lucky we were to have Alain in our lives," they said. "As he often said, by working together, we can make great things happen. It is our job now to fulfill his vision to ensure that Greater Portland's thriving immigrant community fully reaches its civic, economic and social potential."

They also said: "We look forward to celebrating a life well lived and making him proud by continuing the outstanding work which had just begun" at the center.

Nahimana, honored on the 2018 Mainebiz Next list for his contribution to Maine's economy, co-founded the Greater Immigrant Welcome Center in 2017 with Rwanda native Damas Rugaba, after three years of planning, to help new Mainers find the resources needed to start a business.

"This was a dream of mine for a long time," Nahimana told Mainebiz in a September 2017 interview not long after the center had opened.

"If I as a newcomer hadn't had anyone to guide me, telling me where to go, how to do things, I wouldn't have made it. People in the immigrant community were deprived of that support, and fundraising for any one community was difficult, so why not pool resources and build something we can share and be empowered from?"

Early on after the pandemic outbreak in Maine, the center called on policymakers at federal, state and local levels to ensure implementation of COVID-19 response programs is equitable and inclusive, and pays special attention to the needs of vulnerable populations, including immigrants and their families.

Nahimana, who spoke six languages and was a coordinator of the Maine Immigrants' Rights Coalition for close to four years, was a widely respected and beloved community leader.

Over the past few years he had  collaborated closely with Creative Portland, the city's nonprofits arts agency, on projects including the 2019 Burundian Drum & Dance Festival, the annual Hear Here live show showcasing local performers and the curation of local artists currently on exhibit at the Immigrant Welcome Center.

Memorial plans will be posted by the center this week along with a GoFundMe campaign to honor Nahimana's life and support his legacy.

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