PORTLAND, Maine — Wednesday marks two weeks since Portland opened the Expo center as emergency shelter for to house asylum seekers and their families.
About 228 people stayed at the Expo Monday night, and the operation shows no signs of slowing down. The local public is working to meet these demands in a number of ways -- through volunteering and education.
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One of the many challenges among keeping people fed and happy is finding translators who can help connect families with resources. these asylum seekers speak many different languages -- some of which include French, Lingala, and Portuguese.
Though many of the Portuguese speakers are not native to that language, they stayed in refugee camps in Angola or passed through Brazil -- so they learned the language along the way.
Myra Breshnan is in her third day as a volunteer at the Expo. She helps translate for families that need legal or medical assistance. Breshnan says fellow volunteers and city staff are doing all they can to make the families comfortable.
"People are being treated well, and we're trying to take care of their necessities and get them outside to play in the park and bring the kids' toys," said Breshnan. "We're feeding them good food and getting them primary healthcare until we can get a better circumstance for them."
Kakweni Kingwala Jean Paul arrived in Portland with his expectant wife and daughter in early June. Through a translator, he expressed that the city's help has not one unnoticed.
"He’s very happy to be here in Portland," expressed Jean Paul's translator. "He finds it a welcoming city that has given him everything he needs, and he’s grateful."
Jean Paul and his family have gotten to explore the city and are settling in well.
"He would like to stay for the rest of his life in Portland -- even on the internet (he says) there is testimony all over about how wonderful Portland is."
An important aspect of helping asylum seekers adjust is giving them an understanding of the financial system.
Also on Tuesday, the Town & Country Federal Credit Union hosted two 45-minute education and training workshops for staff on the financial services needs of immigrants.
The credit union has a longstanding relationship with ProsperityME, a non-profit organization run by Claude Rwaganje, a refugee from the Congo who moved to Portland several years ago.
ProspeityME helps new Mainers with immigration issues and financial literacy. On Tuesday, Rwaganje taught Town & Country's staff the best ways to help their new Mainer clients.
Rwaganje advice to the staff is to start from the basics. New Mainers often come from cash-based societies and know little about how money and credit work in America.
"When they come here, they're lacking basic knowledge on just even the workings of a checking account for instance," Rwaganje said. "Of course, credit here in the U.S. is far different than in other countries where they may not even have credit established at all. So they're starting from zero, and we want to help get them established and situated."
Town & Country FCU says they are committed to helping immigrants and new Mainers remove barriers when it comes to becoming credited and established members of the community.