HJ/EDHerald Journal, Nov. 28, 2005

LP resident helps others with struggles he understands

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

A bitter civil war that has raged for the better part of the last decade and a half, is forcing thousands of people to leave their homes in search of a better life in Minnesota.

Once here, they are met with the struggles of finding a job, understanding the laws, and gaining computer literacy.

Arthur Zakama Jr. of Lester Prairie is part of an organization that is helping Liberian immigrants in Minnesota achieve these goals.

“The purpose of the organization is to unify Liberians and enhance their social and cultural advancement in Minnesota,” Zakama said.

Zakama is part of the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota (OLM), which was founded 29 years ago.

Zakama lives in Lester Prairie with his wife, Linda, and their three children, Lyndon, Arthurine, and Artlyn.

Zakama joined the OLM in 1996, after moving to Minnesota to be near his sister.

OLM helps Liberians who have come to Minnesota in search of a better life by offering educational and literacy services, troubled children programs, and job search assistance.

There are about 20,000 Liberians in the state today.

“Basically, Liberians in the late ‘90s up to this year and ongoing have been influxing to Minnesota because they are searching for a better life than the civil war going on for the past 15 years,” Zakama said.

The Liberian Civil War began in 1989. Many of the country’s residents were killed, and about three-quarters of the population either became refugees or displaced people.

But for some Liberians, coming to Minnesota is almost like coming back home.

After slavery was abolished in America, many freed slaves eventually were shipped to a place called Providence Island. It was a plot of land purchased in Liberia for this purpose.

Zakama grew up on this land, which is now called Monrovia, the nation’s capital city.

“Many people don’t understand the historical connection,” Zakama said.

But this connection doesn’t make it any easier on Liberian immigrants, and Zakama understands first-hand their struggles.

“We have a culture that is different from Minnesota, and it is hard to know the laws,” Zakama said.

It took Zakama and his family almost two years of waiting for immigration to cut through the red tape before he could join his mother in Massachusetts.

Since then, Zakama moved to Minnesota in the middle ‘90s, and became a Lester Prairie resident about a year ago.

He has been working with the OLM to help Liberians find steady work.

“We have a lot of professional Liberians who are unable to find jobs in their perspective fields because they lack computer skills,” Zakama said.

Zakama works as an application analyst for Park Nicollet Health Services, and helps to teach computer literacy to Liberians.

Zakama urges Americans to understand the cultural differences of Liberians, and help people adapt.

The OLM recently changed leadership as a result of elections that took place Nov. 20 in Brooklyn Park.

There were two teams, or parties, running for office this year.

“Elections take place every two years to elect new officers to spearhead the organization,” Zakama said.

Zakama ran on the Fahnbuleh and Towah ticket as chief of strategic planning. His team was narrowly defeated by 20 votes by the Sinoe and George team, who won the election.

Under the new leadership, the OLM will continue to reach out to Liberians in need and offer assistance and referrals whenever necessary.

For more information, call (320) 395-9826.

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