Rwandan filmmaker, artist and activist Patrick Kiruhura co-founded a nonprofit dedicated to helping families and children in the capital city of Kigali. By Troy R. Bennett


Kiruhura moved to Portland a year ago and is on the verge of launching another nonprofit designed to help new Mainers and established Mainers get to truly know one another.
Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN



Nearly a decade ago, Rwandan filmmaker Patrick Kiruhura set out to make a documentary about children living on the streets of his nation’s capital, Kigali. In the process he ended up co-founding an international nonprofit dedicated to nurturing those vulnerable children. Now, the Root Foundation helps more than 350 children stay in school and out of trouble. It also helps educate their parents about nutrition, health care and finance.

In search of new challenges, Kiruhura moved to Portland in 2019 and, this week, he’s launching another nonprofit. He wants to help new Mainers integrate with the already-established community through deep cultural exchanges of art, dance and cuisine. Kiruhura finds Maine a welcoming place but wants to help foster more meaningful understanding between various cultures and generations. He wants to transcend polite hospitality and help individuals from the immigrant community realize their full potential as Americans.

« There’s a huge gap, even though we try so hard to be together,” Kiruhuru said. “Relationships depend on how much I know about you and how much you know about me — that’s what brings about trust. »

Kiruhura is starting his new World Roots Cultural Exchange with Portlander Whitley Marshall. The two met when Marshall volunteered at Kiruhura’s original organization in Kigali in 2019. Within a few minutes of meeting, Kiruhura said he was thinking of moving to Portland because he had relatives here. That’s when they realized they knew many of the same people in town.

« I knew his entire family, » said Marshall, who has a long background in central African traditional dance.

Kiruhura said he’s impressed by how much help is available to new immigrants when they arrive in Maine. The same goes for how seamlessly new and established Mainers work and learn together. But he’s hoping his new organization can help create relationships that can stand on their own, outside of work, school and official organizational assistance.

Activist Patrick Kiruhura stands on Congress Street in Portland on Monday. Originally from Rwanda, Kiruhura moved to Maine a year ago. When asked if he feels like a Mainer yet, he said, « Yes. Absolutely. » Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN


With no common cultural touchstones such as music, dance and food, he said immigrants, including himself, have a hard time understanding the laws and social customs of their new home.

« Culture is identity but there’s no platform that tells people who come here what a Mainer is, » Kiruhura said. « Maine is its people, its institutions, its businesses. To know about them is to be integrated. »