Recently, the World Affairs Council of Maine hosted 10 visitors from South Central Asia who were participating in an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) project focused on “Human and Civil Rights for Marginalized Communities” from September 3 - 6, 2019. The program’s participants hailed from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Tajikistan, and their fields ranged from human rights NGOs to journalism to policy research.
Nationally, the objectives for this project were to (1) understand best practices to prevent and address human rights violations against members of marginalized communities; (2) explore building local capacity to document abuses and advocate for rule of law to protect the rights of victims; (3) discuss advocacy strategies to reform discriminatory laws and policies and to develop improved legislative protections; (4) plan public education campaigns to promote tolerance inclusiveness, and/or awareness of minority communities and their contribution to society; and (5) examine interfaith dialogue and cooperation efforts in communities at risk for sectarian violence.
Day 1 of our visitors’ itinerary began with a meeting with staff and board members of the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition (MIRC). MIRC is a collaboration of leaders representing diverse ethnic communities across Maine. Their Executive Director, Mufalo Chitam, led a discussion on the role of coalitions in ensuring tolerance, inclusiveness, and well-being of the immigrant, refugee, minority, and marginalized communities.
The group’s next meeting took place at Portland City Hall with the city’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Kristen Dow, Director of DHHS; Aaron Geyer, Director of Social Services; and Sara Fleurant, Director, Oxford Street Shelter, talked about the city’s efforts to assist the influx of asylum seekers in Portland and reduce homelessness.
After lunch, the participants met with the editorial staff at the Portland Press Herald. Cliff Schlectman, Executive Editor, led a discussion along with Steve Greenlee, Managing Editor; John Richardson, City Editor; and Katherine Lee, Web Editor, about media coverage of human and civil rights issues, and free speech.
Day 2 began with a meeting with Ellie Espling, Constituent Services Representative, from the Office of U.S. Senator Susan M. Collins. Discussions centered around the federal govern-ment’s role in ensuring tolerance, inclusiveness, and well-being of marginalized communities.
The group then traveled to the Portland Police Department (PPD) to meet with Sergeant
Andrew Hutching for discussions about the department’s Community Policing Program. The visitors had many questions which Sgt. Hutchings answered through a dynamic exchange.
Visitors later mentioned they had not experienced positive, interactive time with law enforce-ment before and, for many, this was an opportunity to be in the presence of a real-life American police officer. Impressions before this appointment were only what they had seen in the movies.
The group’s final appointment in Portland was at Partners for World Health (PWH) where Elizabeth McLellan welcomed the group to her organization. PWH is committed to reducing medical waste, improving the quality of healthcare in underserved countries, and educating our local community about global healthcare issues.
Elizabeth addressed each visitor with direct knowledge of each of their countries. She shared her vision and then the visitors took part in sorting medical supplies to be sent overseas.
The World Affairs Council of Maine would like to thank the following people/organizations for their support of this program:
Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition
Mufalo Chitam, Executive Director
City of Portland
Kristen Dow, Director of Health and Human Services
Aaron Geyer, Director of Social Services
Sara Fleurant, Director, Oxford Street Shelter
Sergeant Andrew Hutchings, Community Policing Program, Portland Police Department
Portland Press Herald
Cliff Schlectman, Executive Editor
Steve Greenlee, Managing Editor
Katherine Lee, Web Editor
John Richardson, City Editor
Office of U.S. Senator Susan M. Collins
Ellie Espling, Constituent Services Representative
Partners for World Health
Elizabeth McLellan, President and Founder
Julie Forsyth, Director of Operations
Kelsey McSweeney, Volunteer Coordinator