Duo vie to lead area Liberians; Education, unity cited as community themes.
COLUMN: IN THE NEIGHBORHOODS
WORCESTER - Joshua Bing and Charles Hiamah may be opposing candidates, but their campaign platforms have similar themes and both candidates say they have similar goals.
The men are running for president of the Liberian Association of Worcester County. The election will be held Sept. 11 at Friendly House on Wall Street.
Both men said in separate interviews they want to focus on helping their community's children, and both said they want to foster a sense of unity among the city's Liberian population, which they estimated at 3,500 to 3,700 people.
Mr. Bing said he left Liberia in 2001. He initially arrived in Minnesota, but within a couple of months relocated to Worcester. A production worker for Saint-Gobain for the past 8-1/2 years, Mr. Bing said he also volunteers in educational outreach programs for the Liberian community and has been a board member on the Liberian Association of Worcester County.
Mr. Bing said he saw the many challenges his community faces and decided to run for president of the association. He said Liberians in the city need to remain unified, and goals need to be set for the community's children. He said he wants to organize awareness programs for Liberians in the city and the area that will educate them about immigration issues, anti-drug programs and anti-crime measures.
"My outreach team will get out to every Liberian in the community," Mr. Bing said. "We need to bring Liberians back to the association, and work with Liberian organizations and businesses by reaching out to them, too."
Mr. Bing said his message is to preach unity, maintain accountability and improve development of the community on two fronts - human development and structural development.
"I say `Each One, Teach One,'" Mr. Bing said. "Every Liberian needs to educate someone."
Mr. Hiamah, a housing case manager with Community Healthlink, said he has been working the past three years with a team that transitions the homeless from shelters to housing programs.
He came to Worcester from Liberia 10 years ago, and in 2008 received a master's degree in nonprofit management from Worcester State College. He said he envisions pushing the association toward a more nonprofit-based organization that will be able to help the community get better access to services. He said other nonprofits and organizations will be more willing to work with the Liberian Association if it has
stable membership and leadership.
"I want to raise the expectations of the Liberian community," Mr. Hiamah said. "Our people do not know how to access information. Information is lacking and leadership doesn't have the vision to secure that access to information, that's the problem."
He said once access to information about services is made available, the community will have to motivate itself.
"Then the community will be challenged to venture out and take advantage," Mr. Hiamah said. "For example, you can tell someone that next door you have an organization that will provide housing information."
While the Liberian Association's structure is based on similar setups in Liberia, Mr. Hiamah said, Liberians' perception of the organization's role is different. In Liberia, such associations are more closely aligned with the local political scene, he said.
"In America, these associations are more service-oriented with an organized structure - it's not much of a political thing," he said.
Kaska Yawo, an immigration caseworker with Catholic Charities, came to America in 1998 as a refugee. He is an election commissioner for the association, and said whoever is elected as the leader of the association will have to balance the day-to-day issues facing Liberians in the city with discussion of how to rebuild their native country.
The West African nation of Liberia has been wrought by a bloody civil war and deep poverty. Although the war is over and a democratic government now rules Liberia, poverty remains. Electricity and running water are a luxury in much of the country.
"Last year, in December, the community sent 15,000 books to public schools (in Liberia), and a couple of laptops and computers," Mr. Yawo said.
The leader of the association works in collaboration with committees that address social affairs, educational programs, and other issues. The president is Fatuma Zinnah.
Contact Steve Foskett via e-mail at email@example.com.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff Photos/MARK C. IDE
CUTLINE: (1) Candidate Charles K. Hiamah answers a question from the panel at a debate held Aug. 21 at St. Peter's Church. The panel as seen in the background is, from left, Barbara Kohin, David H.A. LeBoeuf and Eddison Zinnah. (2) Candidate Joshua N. Bing answers a question from the panel at the debate.
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|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Sep 2, 2010|
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