United States

Refugee Turned Entrepreneur Honored in Portland, Maine

Adele Ngoy came to the US from the Congo 18 years ago with three young children

On a global holiday to recognize refugees, the mayor and city council in Portland, Maine is honoring one of their own -- presenting a proclamation to a refugee-turned-entrepreneur.

Adele Ngoy came to the United States from the Congo 18 years ago with three young children. She did not know a word of English or a single person, but what she did know was how to sew.

"It was a very difficult transition," she said. "When I first arrived here, there wasn't so many seamstresses, and it was a need."

Ngoy started designing and sewing clothes, teaching other immigrant women how to be seamstresses too. She eventually formed a nonprofit called United Women Around the World, which helps immigrants gain skills and integrate into the community.

"I'm proud of myself. It makes me happy," she said. "If I can help someone else, it's rewarding for me."

Two years ago, she purchased a business: Antoine's Formal Wear in downtown Portland. She has four employees – three are immigrants.

"Her story is the American story, and it's what makes our country and our city great," said Mayor Ethan Strimling.

He, and members of the city council, presented Ngoy with a proclamation Wednesday declaring her a "treasure of the city" on World Refugee Day.

"Adele Ngoy has been an inspiration to all of us," the proclamation states.

"I don't think it's lost on anybody the irony of what's going on at our borders, with our president separating families, taking children away from parents, on the same day as World Refugee Day," said Strimling.

"I think [Ngoy] stands in the face of that, and proves how wrong that policy is."

Ngoy said she can put herself in those immigrant parents' shoes, and imagine how hard it would be to be separated from children at the border.

"My kids are why I came here," she said. "For a better life, for them."

Ngoy said she is humbled to receive recognition on World Refugee Day, but says it's an award shared with all refugees seeking a better life in a foreign country.

Contact Us