UNICCO is a community based 501(c)3 non-profit organization which serves to help narrow the gaps of social-economic disparities in the Nimba community in Minnesota.
Our primary focus is to help improve the living situations within our communities through programs such as social welfare, mentor-ship, after-school programs, scholarship programs, community engagement programs as well as raise funds to undertake developmental projects here in Minnesota and back in Liberia.
The History of UNICCO
UNICCO, the United Nimba Citizens’ Council, is an American-based non-profit organization of citizens and descendants of Nimba County, a political subdivision of Liberia, West Africa. Liberia was established in 1822 by freed American slaves as a base for emancipated slaves who wanted to return to Africa. Twenty-five years after landing on the Grain Coast, they declared independence on July 26, 1847, becoming Africa’s first independent republic. Because of the “special connection” between the United States and the Republic of Liberia, many Liberians came to the US to study and or advance their education. Most of those students felt lonely and desired for a community that would enable them to share their experiences in this land as well as discuss the issues facing their homeland and possible solutions for those issues. They needed to know what was happening to other students in the country and learn possible solutions to their shared experiences of difficulty in a foreign country.
In 1975, a group of those students living in Georgia met in Atlanta to discuss the formation of an organization “to nurture each other, love each other, celebrate each other, share with each other, identify with each other, help each other, dream together, struggle together, and live together, sharing their common vision for a new Liberia (Taryor, 1991, 33). They also desired “to find a sense of security, to locate one another, and to find support from one another … to provide an important means of encouraging each other to invest in common activities to strengthen the social bonds that bound them” (Taryor, 1991, 34). Other goals included discussing common issues, especially those concerning immigration and social services. That meeting sowed the seeds of what would eventually become the Nimba Students Association in the US. In 1977, other Nimbaians living in the New York/ New Jersey area also met and formed themselves into the Nimba Students Association for Advancement.
In December 1979, members of the two associations met in Atlanta, GA and decided to merge and form one organization. At the culmination of that meeting, it was resolved that each member returned to their various States of residence and attempt to form a local chapter of the new organization in those States. On January 27, 1980, those residing in Minnesota met and formed themselves into a group known as Slehwon – “for the sake of our natal land” with the primary objectives of:
Providing a system through which Nimba citizens and associates can participate in the development of Nimba County and Liberia;
Providing a framework to address issues relative to the welfare and well-being of Nimba Citizens, particularly in Minnesota;
Promoting cultural and economic awareness among Nimba citizens and associates through unity, and
To be adequately prepared to make meaningful contributions to the development of Nimba County and Liberia.
In the early days, Slehwon was more focused on political leadership and other issues affecting the homeland. Over time, its activities expanded to include all points of its original vision including seeking the social and economic welfare of its membership here in Minnesota. In 1987, the various State-bound Nimba associations decided to operate under one umbrella organization to be known as the United Nimba Citizens’ Council (UNICCO). Slehwon changed its name to UNICCO – Minnesota Chapter. The chapter maintained “Slehwon” (for the sake of the homeland) as its motto.
Since its inception, UNICCO-Minnesota has been a force for development and progress in Nimba, Liberia, and the various communities in which its members reside within the State of Minnesota.
In Nimba/Liberia, the chapter has spearheaded both local (Minnesota-centric) and national (UNICCO-led) efforts to provide help to the homeland. From contributions to the medical projects which collected medicines and medical supplies to ship to Nimba to donations of shoes and clothing for refugees from Nimba, the chapter has remained in the vanguard of leadership within the Diaspora. The UNICCO-Minnesota Chapter has played significant roles in the national organization as well. Since the first conference in 1980 under the banner of the Nimba Students Association in Atlanta GA, several national presidents of the organizations have come from this chapter including Gabriel Salapeh, Aubrey Wehye, Johnson Gwaikolo, and Miamen Wopea. In the early 2000s, the organization’s structure was changed to represent a non-profit organization with a Board of Directors. Dr. Frederick Norkeh, a Minnesota Chapter member, was elected as the first Chairman of the Board.
Today, the UNICCO-Minnesota Chapter maintains its luster as the most progressive and most productive chapter within UNICCO. The current leadership team is composed of mostly young men and women who are empowered to lead our community, strongly supported by a group of elders providing historical and traditional guidance. The current leadership team is committed, determined, and dedicated to take the Nimba community in Minnesota to higher heights by expanding the membership base to include more Nimbaians living in the State and the Midwest as a whole, engaging directly in infrastructural development projects in the motherland, and building a community center right here in the Twin Cities.