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‘Embracing two cultures’ A new Maine radio show centers African immigrant voices in local news

A graphic image with the phrase "Amjambo Time"  written out and a picture of a man at a microphone
Amjambo Africa, WMPG
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Journalist Jean Hakuzimana hosts the new radio show, Amjambo Time.

A new radio show based in Maine is aiming to bridge gaps in local journalism for the immigrant African communities and new Mainers.

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Amjambo Time, hosted by journalist Jean Hakuizamana, is broadcast as a partnership between the University of Southern Maine radio station WMPG and Amjambo Africa.

Hakuzimana is the editor at Amjambo Africa, a newspaper that covers current affairs on the African continent, as well as regional news in Maine with an immigrant perspective.

“We are bringing the voices of new Mainers on air,” Hakuzimana said. “They are telling more [about] what they're doing, how they are integrating, how they are feeling in Maine. And, well, we are embracing two cultures.”

One of the common barriers to local news, Hakuzimana said, is the lack of translated content for people who don’t speak English.

“I've seen some of our community [in the US] who are listening [to] news from Africa, and the news is about America. So that's bizarre, right?”

Hakuzimana started working for Amjambo Africa as a translator, since the newspaper translates articles into multiple languages, including Kinyarwanda, Swahili and Somali.

Even though Hakuizaman had a long career in radio journalism in Rwanda, there were few options for him to continue his journalism career when he moved to the U.S in 2018.

“No one would have believed in me,” Hakuzimana said of his prospects as a journalist new to New England. It wasn’t until he started translating work for Amjambo Africa that he could continue his career.

If media companies want more representation of new Americans in their newsrooms or in their coverage, Hakuzimana said they need to go into immigrant communities and provide the opportunities for them to continue their careers in the US.

“Make that connection,” he said. “We need to visit those communities, talk to them. They've got churches, they’ve got businesses. You can [offer] an internship.”

In the meantime, Hakuzimana is hoping Amjambo Time will help get news to more new Americans, as well as engage people who might not know much about their neighbors.

“People should know that these communities of immigrants, they are good neighbors with skills, with manners, with ideas, with projects, with dreams,” Hakuzimana said. “They came for a reason. Many of them were fleeing disasters so they deserve special treatment. They deserve more in terms of integrating them.”

He also works as a community health worker in Concord, and he sees immigrant communities struggle with undiagnosed mental health issues stemming from trauma.

“The mental health for this community is an issue that needs a holistic approach [and] an awareness campaign. And some of them, they confide in us, people who work in the community, and they can tell us their secret life rather than doctors.”

He's hoping that by broadcasting these conversations on-air, new Americans will feel comfortable accessing the services they deserve.

Transcript: 

Rick Ganley: Amjambo Time is part of Amjambo Africa, where you're a news editor. Can you tell us more about Amjambo Africa and its mission as a newsroom?

Jean Hakuzimana: Thank you for having me on. Amjambo Africa is a newspaper in Maine, and it talks about immigrants, new Mainers, their businesses, their integration, their current affairs as they integrate the community in Maine. And it was founded in a vision of taking their culture, their values, their ways of living, their roots and explaining them to Mainers.

Now we are having our second episode and it's fantastic. We are bringing the voices of new Mainers on-air, and they are telling more of what they're doing, how they are integrating, how they are feeling in Maine. And, well, we are embracing two cultures, if I can say.

Rick Ganley: What do you feel is missing in the news or community conversations about immigrants and refugees in the region?

Jean Hakuzimana: So much. And my impression has been like when you meet a guy from Africa, from any country of Africa or Asia who's been in the community, the first impression has been like, "Hey, this guy needs gloves. He needs winter clothes. He needs mittens. He needs food." And those are primary needs, which is good. And I like that kind heart of Americans.

But beyond that, people should know that these communities of immigrants, they are good neighbors with skills, with manners, with ideas, with projects, with dreams, and they are not here to make adventures or to create any bias that people might have. They came for a reason. They came because many of them were fleeing disasters. So they deserve special treatment. They deserve more in terms of integrating them.

And they are also sometimes coupled with mental health stuff. You know, those beyond needs, which are not primary needs. So those conversations need to be on-air.

Rick Ganley: And you're also a community health worker here in New Hampshire. Can you talk more about those mental health needs that you see?

Jean Hakuzimana: Well, when I talk about mental health, this community has been fleeing disasters, horrors of war, and bullets are drumming in their minds.

And my guess is those guys, they are resilient. You can't even know that they have all those when you see them walking. Which is very different from an American angle. When someone has that depression or anything, he runs quickly to the hospital. That's the American angle.

But from the community of immigrants, they don't do that at the beginning. You're going to realize that the disease has progressed when it is at the greater stage. Like the pinnacle stage of mental health disaster. I may guess that many of them, they are working with trauma and no one knows that. You know, few can detect that. So the mental health for this community is an issue that needs a holistic approach that needs, you know, an awareness campaign.

And some of them, they confide in us, people who work in the community. They can tell us their secret life rather than doctors. It happened, I had two patients one day and they were telling me all they survived, but they couldn't say this to the doctor. Then I had to counsel them, "Hey, you've got to tell this to your primary provider." Those are conversations that we need to bring on and help, you know, to spread the word and help people to know that those services are available. And those service providers, they can also create new ways of assessing the mental health issues.

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