No. 00310 

Mar 6 - 12, 2004

Features

A Small Town’s Determination to Help

By Charlotte Hill O’Neal

Many people when thinking of Louisiana, (a state in the southern United States on the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River), think of all kinds of exotic happenings such as the annual Mardi Gras celebration and the accordion laced zydeco and jazz music that New Orleans is known for. Or maybe Louisiana brings to mind beautiful moss draped trees casting long shadows in misty swamps and alligator filled bayous. Perhaps the musical name Louisiana conjures up tasty Cajun and spicy Creole treats such as gumbo and jambalaya, dirty rice with crawfish and Gulf shrimp; Tabasco sauce and pecan filled sugar pralines with a Hurricane cocktail on the side.

Louisiana is an unusual American state in that many people still speak French (a legacy of Napoleon’s era); African religions such as Vodun are still practiced side by side with Catholic and Pentecostal orders of worship and many of the states population are considered to be Black Indians, a legacy of the interaction between freed African slaves and the Native Americans. As a matter of fact, the "Mardi Gras Indian tribes" of New Orleans who are so prominent in every years Mardi Gras festivities bedecked in intricately designed feather and beaded costumes, are considered to be the oldest cultural organization surviving from the original African tribes who were brought into New Orleans during slavery days!

It is also true that many of Louisiana cities and towns remain places of exotic contrasts and multi-cultural mixtures of African, Spanish, French and Native American communities.

From left: Geronimo Jijaga, founder of the Kuji Foundation and also member of UAACC; Mr. Jimmy Harris, official of Kuji holding Geronimo’s boy, Kayode Jijaga; and Mr. Caffry, member of Kuji Foundation.

Morgan City, about 100 miles outside of New Orleans right off of the Atchafalaya Basin, is such a closely knit community, and Morgan City is home to a multi cultural group of people who have joined hands and touched the hearts of the people of Arusha.

It was reported in an article in Arusha Times in December last year that a shipment of medical supplies intended for the people of Arusha consisting of various medicines, vitamin supplements and medical equipment had been donated to the Old Arusha Clinic through the combined efforts of the Oklahoma Healthcare Project and the Kuji Foundation (both American based NGO’s), with facilitation from the United African Alliance Community Center based in Imbaseni Village. And this is where Morgan City comes into the picture.

It was that same community who organized themselves to pull together enough machinery, computers, yard equipment, clothes and even a huge electrical generator, a pickup truck, motor cycle, jackhammer and cement mixer, to fill the 40 foot cargo container carrying the medical supplies destined for Arusha.

The privately funded relief aid movement was spearheaded by the Kuji Foundation founder and Arusha resident, Mr. Geronimo ji Jaga, whose hometown happens to be…you guessed it…Morgan City!

"The local community effort came together as a result of people from different races and religions working together for the common good," ji Jaga told the Morgan City Review newspaper. "It’s how we are around here" he continued. "When somebody needs you, we all pull together."

And pull together they did from the Mayor, the parish President, the State Representative of Morgan City and folks with exotic sounding names such as Gaudet; Reaux, Shaka Boom, Tregle and Cefalu to the folks at Redfish Rentals; Sportsman’s Cycle & Marine and community elders and activists, Mr. Jimmy Harris and Mr. Ed Jones.

The people of Morgan City are just a microcosm of what we should all be about…community spirit coupled with steadfast determination and a sense of global solidarity among all people no matter what culture, race or religion.

When you think of Louisiana in the future, make sure that your thoughts lead you to not only pecan pie and Delta blues guitar, but remember Morgan City, a community that cares.

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