PEACE aids African immigrants new to Minnesota

Abdel Shakur

Dabala Rikitu described himself as “lost” when he came to Minnesota in 1979 from Ethiopia.

“I needed someone to talk to. I was scared. I had no one to talk to and I had very little information to build my own security. I had no support,” he said.

Rikitu’s experience, like that of thousands of other African immigrants, inspired the creation of Parents and Elders of Africa for Common Efforts in 1994.

“For a long time I dreamed that there would be a place not divided by tribe or religion, where we all could come together,” he said.

PEACE offers a variety of services to the African community. Within the small storefront at 3015 E. Franklin Ave., people can take advantage of a full range of career and educational resources. PEACE also offers information and referrals for social services.

Senior University biology major Abass Basha teaches functional English skills to prepare African immigrants for the work force. Abass said lessons usually include basics such as filling out job applications and learning basic computer skills.

“I really wanted to help educate my people. It’s a really good experience because you can see a lot of improvement and because they really appreciate what you’re doing,” he said. He said his experience with PEACE makes him want to become a full-time teacher.

Abdi Ahmed, a native Somalian, has taken advantage of not only the services provided but also the environment.

“I had a lot of trouble adjusting to Minnesota because there was nowhere you could go,” he said, “nowhere where you could feel comfortable.”

Ahmed has also become involved in the Somali Youth Association, which, along with the Oromo Youth Association, has found a home within PEACE.

“It means a lot to have your own space. A place where people know who you are and where you’re coming from. There is a strong cultural connection here that is important,” Ahmed said.

Rikitu, who serves as executive director, said the unification of all from the African diaspora is a central principle of PEACE.

“We have to realize that we can’t keep fighting each other like we have in the past. We have to realize that we are all discriminated underneath the same umbrella,” he said.

Miss Kille, who fled political unrest in Ethiopia three years ago, corroborated PEACE’s importance.

“We raise both arms for PEACE. We have to have this organization,” said Kille, who lost seven children in an Ethiopian refugee camp. “Although we have left too many troubles behind, we are not afraid here.”

Although PEACE has an African-centered philosophy, Rikitu said love for America is a part of the organization. This patriotic sentiment is reflected in the American flags draped in the organization’s windows. Recently, however, the American flag posted outside of PEACE was ripped down.

“America has always been a home to the international homeless,” Rikitu said. “We love America just as much as anybody else, but sometimes people don’t understand that.”


Abdel Shakur covers West Bank neighborhoods and welcomes comments at [email protected]