The 2017 EIW Trailblazers

Edith Flores

Edith Flores was born in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. At age 9, Edith and her entire family immigrated to the United States and, for nearly the next 10 years, she and her family were migrant farmworkers, moving every few months in search of crops to harvest.  They arrived in Downeast Maine when she was 18, to work at a seafood processing factory, allowing Edith, for the first time, to enter school without fear of moving. Edith, a founder of the community-based non-profit, Mano en Mano, became its first outreach health worker, and is widely regarded as the face of Mano en Mano. She consistently goes beyond her official roles as service provider and outreach health worker to defend the rights of community members. Edith’s courage, strength, and leadership was evident in 2009, following the award of a $1 million dollar grant to Mano en Mano for construction of a housing complex for farmworkers in Milbridge. Underlying racial tensions emerged and a town-wide petition was circulated to stop the project. Edith was at the front of the fight. She was the only person, and more so, the only woman of color, at every public hearing on the issue. Edith, a quiet force, is motivated by love of family and her deep commitment to service and the empowerment of others.  Treating everyone with dignity and respect, she is a beacon in, and beyond, her community.

Fowsia Musse

Fowsia was born in Mogadishu, Somalia.  She and her family fled to Ethiopia as clan conflicts and famine sent Somalia into chaos.  The family spent four years in a refugee camp, before immigrating to the U.S., first living in San Diego, then Atlanta.  Fowsia, her husband, and their children moved to Maine in 2003. Fowsia has worked in the field of health as a cultural broker, medical interpreter, and Community Health Outreach Worker.  She has contributed greatly to Lewiston, advocating for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and family crisis; empowering immigrant women and children; and working to enact culturally appropriate mental health care for Somali youth.  She is often asked to speak about her experience as an immigrant woman at colleges in the region. Her deep knowledge in the field of health and in cultural practices, and her reputation as a trusted advisor, led Fowsia to a collaboration with health care and anthropological practitioners, in the publication of an article in the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health. A member of the Lewiston City Council’s Immigrant and Refugee Integration and Policy Development Working Group, Fowsia provides insight that is thoughtful and honest and she possesses a sense of humor described as second to none. Fowsia is as selfless as she is busy and she provides endless support and affirmation to the work of others, ensuring they succeed and thrive in the community.

Claudette Ndayininahaze

Claudette arrived in Maine just four years ago from Burundi, which has experienced steady conflict. Before leaving Burundi, Claudette was the National Sales Manager for the Brarudi Company, the largest soft beverage and brewer in Burundi, and President of the Burundi Girl Scouts Association. She has held several positions since her arrival in Maine, and is currently a Cultural Broker at The Opportunity Alliance. Claudette’s business acumen and experience, in multiple cultures, are a tremendous asset as she seeks positive outcomes with sustainable results for her clients. Claudette, a leader in the Portland-area immigrant community, and a Board member of several community organizations, encourages individuals and communities to help themselves, but she has never lost sight of the importance of compassion and gratitude. Claudette’s selflessness is deeply evident in her decision to care for two unaccompanied minors who had arrived in Portland and were in a shelter. Claudette chose to take them to her home and cared for them until they found guardians. She is a warm, passionate, and committed woman.  As a founder and executive of "In Her Presence", a new organization dedicated to the empowerment of immigrant women and girls in Maine, which has recently received a sizeable grant to further their work, Claudette has set a remarkable example by any standard, even more so for a newly-integrated Mainer.  She is an inspiration, an exceptional role model and the picture of courage.

Parivash Rohani

Parivash, born in Iran, witnessed her family’s home burn to the ground just before the 1979 Iranian Revolution because they were of the Baha’i religious minority. Fearful of what might come, Parivash, 18, was sent to India by her parents. She arrived in the U.S., a refugee, in 1985, first living in California, then moved to Auburn.  An ICU nurse, Parivash has been deeply engaged in the community for years. Her work in Lewiston/Auburn and in Portland with women’s groups and interfaith organizations has increased tolerance and understanding in our community – and Parivash doesn’t sit back and let others lead. In 2003, rancor directed at the Somali community emboldened a neo-Nazi group to come to Maine.  Parivash was an organizer of a countering rally, “Many and One”, which brought thousands together to focus on acceptance and coexistence in a way that hadn’t happened before. As a Board member of Welcoming Maine, which seeks to improve social integration between new and native Mainers, and as a key organizer of Portland’s World Refugee Day, Parivash’s advocacy is unbounded. Despite her fear, Parivash returned to Iran for the first time in the past few years, determined to be a voice for those she left behind. She has become a strong proponent for the international movement, “Education is Not a Crime”. Parivash is resilient and compassionate.  Her warmth, energy and positive view of life embrace all who know her - as a wife, mom and community activist. Parivash proves that individual action makes a difference.

Bakhita Saabino

Bakhita was born in what is now South Sudan, fleeing her war torn nation to the United States in 2000.  Initially settling with her husband and children in Atlanta, Bakhita and her husband made the decision for Bakhita to relocate to Maine with her children, believing they would find greater opportunities.  She has spoken vividly of her arrival in Portland, by bus, and taking refuge in a homeless shelter.  Despite significant challenges, Bakhita quickly adapted to life in Portland.  She became deeply involved in the Sudanese community and was a vocal force as a communications bridge between elected community leaders and members of the community. She is currently the Chairperson of the Azande Community of Maine. Despite her decision to leave Sudan, Bakhita has chosen to return numerous times, at risk to herself, to help women in South Sudan, through a Boston-based organization, My Sister’s Keeper. Her first trip, in 2010, was in anticipation of independence, and Bakhita and other volunteers went to remote regions to hold workshops and teach women how to vote. She has traveled several more times since then.  In 2013, Portland Monthly Magazine named Bakhita as one of Portland’s Ten Most Intriguing People for her activist work in Maine and in South Sudan. Bakhita, mother, mentor, and inspiration, is a resilient, dedicated and passionate woman who enjoys enormous respect within her community.