Pablo Orellano, 18, hugs Traip Academy Spanish teacher Jessica Umel. They have developed a friendship since Orellano arrived in Kittery from Nicaragua seeking political asylum. Credit: Ionna Raptis | The York Weekly

KITTERY, Maine — In his native language, “no tiene miedo” is what describes Pablo Orellano. Not afraid, that is for certain.

He raised his voice, faced bloodshed and then crossed borders. Now, he’ll attempt to find his place more than 4,000 miles away from his family. He is just 18.

Despite the trauma and displacement he’s experienced, Orellano carries an unwavering sense of purpose, and love for the world, at his core.

Fleeing a mounting political crisis in his home country of Nicaragua, Orellano arrived in the United States on Sept. 7, running from the reality that supporters of President Daniel Ortega wanted him and other political activists dead. The threats, Orellano knew, were not empty, as he’d seen “heads blown apart” during student protests, and friends who went missing, ultimately found in a river or dump “with a bullet in their brain.”

In April, protests broke out in Nicaragua in opposition to Ortega’s administration, which has now been accused by human rights organizations of torture and execution. Tensions rose, and clashes between state police forces and protestors have since resulted in more than 300 dead and several thousands injured.

Orellano was at the center. A student at Universida de Valle, he joined thousands of protestors, taking to the streets until rounds of ammunition rang out, the smell of burning tires filling their noses and screams swarming their ears. In May, Orellano began receiving threats from the government and armed pro-government groups, claiming they would kill him and his sister, because of his participation in the uprising. His identity was stolen on Facebook to instead paint him as pro-government, he said, and he was “scared to death.”

“I was fighting against the government not with guns, but with my voice, trying to change the future of my country,” said Orellano, who was studying journalism, taking classes in politics and human rights. It’s his dream to become a CNN journalist. “We were trying to raise our voices for justice and for a good government.”

Orellano is now in the process of seeking political asylum, stuck within the uncertainty of whether or not his request will be granted by immigration officials. He’s living in Kittery, hosted by his “angel,” a woman named Pamela Blodgett, whom Orellano has known since he was 6 years old from her time leading service trips in Nicaragua.

In the meantime, he’s here on a visa he was able to renew, having traveled to the United States just a few years ago. The U.S. embassy in Nicaragua closed because of the upheaval, Orellano said, so he had to escape the country. He managed to board a bus to Costa Rica on July 23, where Blodgett had sent him money.

“I was in danger,” he said. “I was hiding in my home because I couldn’t go to the streets or go to college because of my security. But that is my country, and I am part of my country, my society, and I needed to do it. I was fighting for my future and the future of the next generations.”

Government administrations like Ortega’s, Orellano said, “are destroying Latin America.”

Orellano misses his family and friends deeply, calling his life in Nicaragua before the terror “beautiful.” People in his country are more “loud,” and celebratory of life’s joys, he said. They love to dance.

But now, Orellano is looking forward to finding a new sense of place in the United States and finishing his education.

“It was very difficult at the beginning,” he said. “But I know it’s going to be worth it in the future. For the Latin American people, this country is a country of opportunities. Because I think that many people here in the U.S. have a lot of opportunities, and a lot of things that they can do. I decided to do that for my future and to look for a good education for me to finish my career. That is one of my biggest dreams.”

Orellano is keeping busy. He’s volunteering at Kittery’s Rice Public Library, a local thrift store and the Freedom Cafe next to the University of New Hampshire campus in Durham. He’s also enrolled in adult education classes to improve his English vocabulary. It’s his goal to reach academic level proficiency, so he can enroll in an American university and continue his journalism studies.

Calling Nicaragua’s climate that of a “microwave,” Orellano excitedly awaits the next heavy snowfall on the southern Maine coast. He loves snow, he said.

Orellano also loves salsa dancing, and his passion for movement is what brought him to the United States previously, performing at schools to spread cultural awareness. Salsa led him to meet Jessica Umel, a Traip Academy Spanish teacher, and the two are now dear friends. They got acquainted at a dance social event, and Umel plans to have Orellano speak to her classes and the high school’s student civil rights team.

“I think Pablo is an amazing, amazing young man,” Umel said. “It is so fascinating and inspiring to know Pablo. It brings tears to my eyes because this must have all been so difficult, but Pablo sees beyond that. I want to share him with everybody.”

“I would like to empower the young people to see what is happening around us,” Orellano said. “It is not an easy decision to leave your home country. I’m just 18 years old, just looking for a better life and looking to fulfill my dreams and goals here in this country.”

Orellano has been hurt by the rhetoric and policies of President Donald Trump and his administration in regards to Latin American immigrants, but he refuses to believe those ideals represent most of those in the United States. So far, Orellano said he has met “beautiful, wonderful people.”

“My thoughts about the caravan, it was really hard for me and really sad to see the reaction of the U.S. government,” Orellano said. “They are just poor people looking for a better life. It was very sad for me. I think everyone deserves an opportunity to build a future.”

The migrant caravan began in Honduras, and saw participants join from El Salvador and Guatemala, as well as those fleeing Nicaragua’s crisis.

Earlier this week, on Dec. 11, Congress approved the NICA Act, which would allow targeted sanctions against Nicaragua’s top officials and others implicated in human rights violations. The legislation has been deemed an influential tool to end government retribution against protestors, and it could also block financial assets from entering Nicaragua to feed the government. It now awaits Trump’s signature.

“One thing I want people here to know is Latin American people are not here to damage anything in this country,” Orellano said. “We want to contribute to the growth of this country. We came here to look for a future in this country, because we cannot find a good future in our own country.”