Unsung Hero: Andrew Ndayambaje, finding a refuge

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PORTLAND — Andrew Ndayambaje, an African native, said he fell in love with the Portland Public Library the first time he stepped inside.

“The customer care is extraordinary,” Ndayambaje said, “and I wanted to be a part of that team.”

Ndayambaje inquired about volunteer opportunities, and he was soon put to work at the Library Book Store and at the Computer Center, assisting with the Basic Computer Course.

Ndayambaje brings special expertise to the course. In addition to his fluency in English (and computers), he speaks several African languages, an asset in communicating with many of the immigrants who come to the library.

Library administrators are thrilled to have Andrew as a volunteer.

“He’s kind, patient and smart,” said Linda Albert, director of human resources. “And he’s very concerned for others.”

Suzanne Duncan, technology supervisor, added “Andrew is always friendly, approachable and reliable.”

Why did 29-year-old Ndayambaje decide to leave a successful law career in his native country, and his mother and siblings – for whom he was the breadwinner – to move to Portland, Maine?

“I was active in the opposition party in my country,” he said. “A situation which forced me to leave the country.” After seeking safety in neighboring countries, he decided to come to America, and he moved to Maine last August.

Ndayambaje requested, for the safety of his family, that the specific country not be identified.

Why Portland? “I had heard that Portland was a very welcoming community which would help me get settled,” he said.

Early in 2012, Ndayambaje turned to the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project for assistance. ILAP assigned a lawyer to provide free assistance in his effort to obtain asylum. Greg Flame, founding partner of Taylor, McCormack and Flame, was delighted to be working with the young man.

“I enjoy Andrew immensely,” Flame said. “Although he’s gone through difficult life experiences, he’s always positive. He constantly thanks me for what I’m doing, but I should be thanking him, because he’s so invigorating to be around.”

Ndayambaje will not get an answer to his application for asylum for a few more months. He can’t be officially employed until that situation is resolved. In the meantime, he spends his time volunteering at the library, reading newspapers and magazines, and staying abreast of the political situation in America, in Africa, and around the world. He said he also enjoys working out at the YMCA and attending the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland.

Ndayambaje is also eager to give back to the community that has welcomed him so warmly. Through a friend, he was invited to give a talk on Africa to a class of sixth-grade students at Scarborough Middle School. His talk went well, he said, and the school wants him to do an encore.

While Ndayambaje’s asylum status remains up in the air, he’s firmly committed to his adopted city and state. “Portland is a great city,” he says, “The people live easily with each other. People are always helpful, when I ask directions or advice.”

It’s difficult for someone not in Ndayambaje’s situation to imagine what it would be like to leave one’s family, work and homeland behind to start a new life in a new land. It’s also hard to imagine anyone meeting this challenge with more optimism, determination and grace than Ndayambaje.

“I’ve had to make some sacrifices,” he admitted. “But I can adapt. Life is good when you feel safe.”

Sidebar Elements

Andrew Ndayambaje volunteers at the bookstore in the Portland Public Library.

Unsung Heroes

One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: [email protected].