As a refugee without a choice in her relocation, Fatuma Hussein knew she had to find a better place for her growing family and their future. Along with 11 other Somalis. Maine was considered a mecca because it exemplified the idealistic American life sought after by the Somali community. Fatuma took a chance on this dream and arrived in Portland, ME on February 4th, 2001 in search of a better place to live.
On a snowy day, she was greeted with an even warmer welcome and a new reality in Portland. Fatuma and her fellow travellers were given a grand tour of their Maine along with Somali food, like Halwa. Maine's small, burgeoning Somali community seemed to have a found a simple, safe life where there were new possibilities not yet seen in Atlanta. Unfortunately, these new Mainers informed the travellers about new families struggling in Portland because the city lacked the resources for large number of migrants. Instead, Lewiston began popping up because it seemed safe and open to new people. Fatuma, as well as dozens of Somali families, took this advice and migrated north to Lewiston. While Portland struggled with homeless Somalis for some time, Lewiston had to begin bracing itself for the hundreds of Somalis coming.
Lewiston couldn't handle the vast numbers coming over. Luckily, they found a mediator to help begin the first cultural bridge in their first Somali agent, Ali. Once Ali was hired, he was meant to present crucial information about the Somali community to Maine officials, but he decided he couldn't do it. Instead, he gave this huge responsibility to Fatuma. She couldn't believe she was being trusted with this huge responsibility. Despite her pregnancy and nervousness, she took on the task with stride and gave the speech of her life.
Government officials present praised Fatuma's carefully articulated words and actions.
She began working for an advocacy organization soon after where her colleague asked her to envision her dream. After some deep visualization and careful thought, Fatuma realized she wanted to create an immigrant women's center where vital skills, like English, could be taught to Lewiston's growing Somali community. She began reaching out to community and mosque leaders for help and access to the new community. Outreach was a language she became fluent in after meeting with many families.
In a friend's living room, Fatuma met with 35 female community leaders and elders. These women were considered the gatekeepers for the Somali community at a crucial time in the community's advent. Despite her insecurities regarding her own youth and freshness, she was met with praise and blessings for her ideas from her elders. The group of women came together to pick Fatuma and four other women as leaders in charge of determining the upcoming organizations's name, mission, vision, and other logistics. But this is not where the organization officially started.
These 35 women and Fatuma realized they needed to represent all Somalis when it came to the organization. The new board reached out to every Somali family to make sure they were aware of what was happening in their new home. On May 11th, 2002, a crowd packed into the former multipurpose center in Lewiston. The elders of the community guided the big meeting while Fatuma took a backseat to show the present group the team effort behind the organization. After a couple of hours, the group agreed upon the name the United Somali Women of Maine.
The United Somali Women of Maine soon after its start presented itself to the public. The organization's open house was a hit as hundreds of locals came to experience Somali culture, food, and traditions. And it's only gotten better since. The United Somali Women of Maine went on to serve and to better Lewiston/Auburn's schools, court houses, and other institutions for new Mainers. The variety of the organization's work and clients led to a major name change that reflects its evolving client base -- the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine.
The Immigrant Resource Center has beaten the odds to still stand stronger than ever before you. The organization will only continue serving the Lewiston/Auburn community.