Human and Civil Rights for Marginalized Communities

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.


Mufalo Chitam, Executive Director, Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition and members of the coalition met with IVLP participants for discussions and idea sharing.

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.


Kristen Dow, Director of Portland's Department of Health and Human Services; Aaron Geyer, Director of Social Services; and Sara Fleurant, Director, Oxford Street Shelter pose with visitors at City Hall after their meeting.

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.



IVLP participants outside the Portland Press Herald's building in South Portland.

Cliff Schlectman, Executive Editor of the Portland Press Herald, welcomed the group to the paper for discussions with the editorial staff.

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.



Ellie Espling from the Office of U.S. Senator Susan M. Collins met with the visitors at the Cumberland Club.

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.


Sergeant Andrew Hutchings of the Portland Police Department discusses their Community Policing Program.

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.


Two participants sorting medical supplies during their volunteer activity at Partners for World Health.

The participant from Afghanistan helped move incoming medical supplies during the group's volunteer activity at Partners for World Health.

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

(207) 780-4337

©2018 by World Affairs Council of Maine.