Convention brings dozens of Liberians to Winston
(pictured above: David K. Flomo with Selena Polson-Mappy and Christian Kolleh.)
Winston-Salem resident David K. Flomo was elected last weekend as president of the United Bong County Association in the Americas, Inc.
UBCAA is made up of natives of Bong County, Liberia. There are similar U.S.-based associations for natives of the other 14 counties in Liberia, a West African nation that was partly settled in the 19th century by former slaves from the United States.
Officers were elected during UBCAA’s three-day national convention at the Winston-Salem Urban League. The gathering – which drew a about 100 attendees, some from as far away as California – included business meetings on Friday, July 11 and Saturday afternoon; a dinner and ball on Saturday night; and a closing BBQ on Sunday hosted by Flomo and his wife at their home.
During his three-year term as president, Flomo said he wants to increase UBCAA’s membership from 350 to 1,500 and build bridges between residents, schools and businesses in this country and Bong County, which, like much of Liberia, is still struggling to regain its footing after a decades-long civil war ended in 2005. Tens of thousands of Liberians fled the country during the fighting; many came to the United States.
Now that there is peace, Flomo said Liberians from around the world are beginning to move back.
“People are going home; they are establishing businesses and helping the country to rebuild,” he said.
UBCAA gives Liberians who choose to remain in this country an opportunity to do their part to help their families, friends and former neighbors. A fundraising component of this year’s convention benefited two Bong County elementary schools. The goal was to raise $1,500 for books and school supplies by the convention’s end.
“They continue to struggle,” Christian K. Kolleh, the outgoing UBCAA national president, said of students in Bong County.
Kolleh, a resident of Minnesota, said that while UBCAA helps native Liberians retain their cultural identity, what largely attracts members to the association is its mission to reach back to help.
“There is a great desire of people in our community and association to make an impact on our brothers and sisters back home,” he said.
Selena Polson-Mappy said help from Liberians living abroad is essential. Polson-Mappy is the superintendent of Bong County, charged with overseeing the day-to-day operations of county agencies and services. She attended the conference to give UBCAA members a first-hand account of the situation back home.
She said hundreds of new investors have imbued the county with funds, improving the business clement. Polson-Mappy said there have also been improvements in security – a service essential to war-weary residents – and agriculture. But the need is still great, she said.
“It’s good that we see that there are people interested here in lending a helping hand,” she said.
In the past, UBCAA had a legal component to help members with U.S. citizenship issues. Kolleh said that remains a struggle for many Liberians, even those who have called the United States home for 15-to-20 years. During the height of the civil war, most Liberians were granted temporary residency status that had to be renewed regularly. Now that the fighting is over, Liberians who have built their lives and raised their families in this country are in a state of limbo, said Kolleh, who will officially become a U.S. citizen later this month.
“It makes anybody with a desire to do something in the long-term have doubts,” Kolleh said of those with temporary residency status.
Flomo, a former president of the Liberian Association of the Piedmont, said as president, he will again make addressing residency issues a priority. He also wants Winston-Salem to play host to a national gathering of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), an umbrella organization that includes UBCAA, all the other county associations and dozens of other groups.