Fatuma Hussein, a 2017 Bowdoin Honorand, is the founder and executive director of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine (formerly the United Somali Women of Maine), an organization developed to help Somali immigrants settle in the state. She spoke at Bowdoin last week.

Hussein is a leading voice against gender-based violence in the African immigrant community and in society at large. Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, the oldest of thirteen children, Hussein lived in a Kenyan refugee camp after civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991. She moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1993, where she attended high school. Seeking relief from congestion and crime in urban Atlanta, she moved with her family to Maine, eventually settling in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

While there were many French-speaking West Africans living in the area, Somalis and immigrants from other parts of Africa faced additional challenges—of culture, religion, and language. In response to an open letter from the mayor of Lewiston asking members of the Somali community to discourage relatives from resettling in the area, Hussein began building bridges within the community by making informal arrangements to provide transportation, translation, and counseling services for the immigrant community. Originating as a refugee center in 2001, the organization has grown to include a full-time staff, network of volunteers, and statewide advisory council. It also provides housing resettlement services and helps families navigate a complex landscape of local, state, and federal regulations so that the talents and abilities of Maine’s immigrant community can best serve the common good.