Maine nonprofit helps immigrant business owners secure loans
Maine nonprofit helps immigrant business owners get loans

“Immigrants continue to be our future. And if they succeed, we will all succeed.”

TOMORROW, USA – Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Centeror GPIWC, strives to help immigrant entrepreneurs thrive by connecting them to financial resources.

“Immigrants continue to be our future. And if they succeed, we will all succeed,” said Reza Jalali, executive director of GPIWC.

The GPIWC helps immigrant business owners apply for interest-free loans. This comes after the end of 2020, when nonprofits DreamxAmerica and Kiva announced the DxA-Kiva special initiative. This initiative provides interest-free loans to approved immigrant-owned businesses.

Businesses have been granted loans to open, recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and even expand.

According to Jalali, more than 50 Maine businesses have been loans granted through the program.

“We are here to create jobs. We are here to develop the workforce. And we are here to help immigrants become economically independent,” Jalali said. “And in that process, we came across this partnership. And by giving them these micro loans, small family businesses will thrive.”

“This interest-free loan helped me pay all the bills I had to pay and also buy equipment and support businesses during this time,” said Deborah Bafongo, owner of Angles of Love Event Designnoted.

Bafongo said her business was hit hard when the pandemic hit and the interest-free loan she received helped her business recover and prepare for a more positive 2022 season. She encourages other new Mainers to consider applying.

“Applying doesn’t mean you’re going to get your approval. You just apply and explain your business and what you do. Being able to get this loan is really going to help them achieve what they’re trying to achieve with their business,” Bafongo said. “I’m really grateful.”

Another company that will soon benefit from the loan scheme is Burundi Star Coffee.

Co-owner Jocelyne Kamikazi arrived in Maine more than 15 years ago as an asylum seeker. She has since learned English here, gone to college and become an important member of the community.

“They see stuff from home, food from home, and for our community in Maine or tourists, it’s a really good opportunity to learn about Burundi,” Kamikazi said.

Kamikazi said she sources her coffee directly from her home country of Burundi. By doing so, she said she was able to help support Burundian farmers who produce and nurture the coffee beans they need.

“We want to grow. We want to buy direct and support more, because by buying direct we put more in the pocket of the farmers,” Kamikazi said.

The Burundi Star Coffee team learned in recent weeks that they had been approved for a $15,000 interest-free loan under the DxA-Kiva special initiative. Kamikazi said she plans to upgrade her kitchen equipment and switch to roasting coffee beans herself. She said that this loan helps her business here, those who help produce the product in Burundi.

“They’re not just getting great coffee, they’re changing people’s lives,” Kamikazi said.

If you or someone you know owns or operates an immigrant-run small business, you can learn more by visiting the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center website.

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