Raude Raychel has a clear — and bold — vision. She, along with a team of dedicated volunteers, public officials and international diplomats, are on the way to making it a reality.
Raychel is the executive director and founder of the nonprofit Indonesia Community Connect in Somersworth. Her vision: To create, in a revitalized economic center of downtown, the country’s only Little Indonesia district — drawing business and tourism, while driving community strength and connection. It will include a welcoming archway and urban park, businesses, a food hall, a museum of Indonesia, outdoor stage and a cultural center.
The current Little Indonesia Center, where ICC is now housed, already provides a hub for people to gather, enjoy events and access community resources — plus purchase an array of goods imported from Indonesia.
Somersworth is already being billed as having “The only Little Indonesia in the United States.”
“It’s all about putting Somersworth on the map. This benefits the whole community,” Raychel said.
The combination of community connection and business and tourism development is already proving powerful for this small city on New Hampshire’s Seacoast.
“From my perspective, it’s extraordinary,” said Robin Comstock, the city’s economic development manager. The Little Indonesia project, she said, demonstrates Somersworth’s desire to welcome people and helps promote the city to businesses. “It brings state, regional and national attention to the city, provides educational experiences and is perceived as an advantage and an attribute,” she said.
Somersworth has been home to an Indonesian community for decades. Expressed as a percentage, this small city has the largest Indonesian population in the country, with 17 percent of Somersworth’s 12,000 people identifying as Indonesian.
Raychel’s dad was the first Indonesian pastor in the Seacoast area, arriving to minister to a small group of Indonesian families in the 1990s. By the time Raychel was 10, she was acting as a language interpreter for her family and community, helping people navigate the systems and structures of their new homeland.
Raychel left New Hampshire to study business tourism at NYU and then earn a master’s in business management with a focus on growth strategy at Harvard. She studied Chinatown neighborhoods and their effect on economic development, tourism and community connection. Then she brought all that education and expertise back to serve her hometown. (She still works as a business consultant while serving in her role at ICC as a volunteer.)
“I want more people to really see what this vision is all about and how we can grow together and thrive together in the community.”– Raude Raychel, founder and executive director, Indonesia Community ConnectsTweet This
“You can have greater impact by creating something in a smaller space,” Raychel said. “This vision is about how much we care about the city.”
The annual Somersworth Indonesian Festival — featuring food, performances and activities — draws people from all over New England. This year’s festival featured the regent of Mimika of the Indonesian province of Papua.
Indonesian government leaders and diplomats, including the Indonesian vice ambassador to the U.S., have visited and are promoting Little Indonesia. When the Indonesian flag was raised in Somersworth to celebrate Indonesian Independence Day, the event made the news in Indonesia.
Each ICC event builds toward a larger goal. The Little Indonesia Café and the Indonesian Night Market, held at the Indonesian Community Center, provide a venue for local caterers to promote their delicacies, test products and build a following. At the same time, Raychel has connected these local entrepreneurs with the Small Business Development Center, so that when the Little Indonesia Food Court eventually opens, they will be ready to set up shop.
And the nonprofit provides an array of services to meet the needs of the Somersworth community. ICC held a Covid vaccine clinic open to the entire community soon after vaccines became available, provides space that is open for members of Congress to hold open hours for constituents, and hosts job fairs to connect local people with employment opportunities.
The organization is plugged into the specific needs of the region’s Indonesian residents, providing a range of community supports, including interpretation and translation, immigration support, connection to health care resources, workforce and business development, acting as a liaison with law enforcement and more. During the height of the pandemic, Raychel learned that emergency food supplies that were being made available were sometimes going to waste — particularly because Indonesian elders were not accustomed to cooking with things like milk and cheese. So ICC created a partnership with Gather, a hunger-relief nonprofit in Portsmouth, to offer culturally appropriate food that would go to better use in the community.
Raychel hopes the full Little Indonesia district will be developed by 2026.
“I want more people to really see what this vision is all about,” Raychel said, “and how we can grow together and thrive together in the community.”