Don Lader, executive director of Midcoast Literacy, demonstrates a new scheduling software the asylum seekers will be able to use to schedule rides and software when it launches Jan. 2. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK— Nsiona Nguizani was across town when his phone rang. It was a family of asylum seekers, stuck at MidCoast Hunger Prevention Program, needing a ride back to Brunswick Landing. The Brunswick Explorer was no longer running and the family needed to get home with their food. So Nguizani, Brunswick’s cultural broker, stopped what he was doing and helped coordinate a  ride. 

Don Lader demonstrates the program on his phone, shown here in French.

Sometimes it’s a volunteer who will pick someone up when the bus is done for the day or doesn’t show up on time. Sometimes its Nguizani. Sometimes it’s just a ride from the food bank or around town, other times it’s to Portland or even to Boston. 

Transportation is one of the biggest continuing challenges for the nearly 100 asylum seekers who have settled in Brunswick after arriving in Portland this summer, fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

“Transportation kills a lot of your time,” Nguizani said earlier this month, and “you cannot just rely on the Explorer.”

To help coordinate rides and ease some of the confusion, Nguizani and other town officials are looking to a free ride and child care scheduling software created by Midcoast Literacy, expected to launch Jan. 2. 

“We are working with the families with literacy, so (transportation) affects what we can do,” said Don Lader, executive director of the Bath-based nonprofit. “We thought, ‘What can we do at our level to help everybody?’”

Lader helped modify an extension to Joomla, their content management system, which allows the asylum seekers (and anyone else enrolled in their programs) to schedule child care or rides around town, to Portland or Boston. They are working to set up a driver, likely a Bowdoin College student, to drive riders from their apartments at Brunswick Landing to the bus stop in Cooks Corner. 

The child care portion is not a babysitting service, but is instead an extra set of hands to help look after a child in the room while her/her mother is working with her tutor or to watch a baby in the waiting room while their parents go in for a doctors appointment. A parent will always be present.

The software, which is available on a computer or a smartphone, will translate the schedule into French or Portuguese, two of the three primary languages the new families speak.

“Nobody offers Lingala,” Lader said, referring to a language spoken by millions in parts of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Within each category —childcare, local driver, Portland driver, etc. — will be a calendar to select the date a ride is needed, and will show what times drivers are available. Volunteer drivers are asked to commit to a time once they list it as available, though he understands life happens and sometimes a person may need to cancel, and the riders are asked to give as much of a heads up as possible — ideally at least 48 hours for something like a trip to Boston. 

“The system is pretty comprehensive,” Lader said, and “Part of this is teaching the (families) to start solving their own problems and thinking in advance.” 

The rides are not designed for pleasure, just for necessities like medical and legal appointments, he said.

Ultimately, they hope to have an “open request” option in case of emergencies and perhaps establish “dispatch” volunteers. 

“We’re trying to cover everything,” he said. 

Nguizani said  he hopes the software will make a difference not only for himself, but also for the 22 families who are trying to get used to a new life in Brunswick. 

Town officials are considering hiring an assistant for Nguizani, who was hired to help the dozens of asylum seekers who arrived this summer adjust to their new lives in Brunswick. 

Now, nearly six months after the first group arrived, their numbers are closer to 100, far beyond the original estimates. Because of this, Nguizani’s daily work is more focused on small emergencies, and an assistant would let him “handle some of the more complex issues,” instead of the routine responsibilities, Town Manager John Eldridge told the council recently. They are still working to finalize the job description for that additional role, but Eldridge said it will likely include keeping Nguizani’s database of information and resources up to date, coordinating rides and services, and some of the paperwork and clerical tasks that currently prevent Nguizani from doing some of the larger-scale work he needs to do. He hopes to have the assistant in place by Jan. 1. 

The town established a community support fund on GoFundMe over the summer to help the families, which has to date raised $13,305.

To become a volunteer driver or tutor for Midcoast Literacy, visit midcoastliteracy.org/


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