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Tanzanians Trade Food for Financial Advice


Tuesday, September 25, 2007
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The generosity of the Tanzanian people resident in Minnesota was manifest Saturday as they entertained their friends at “A Taste of Tanzania”, an event that had more food than the crowd could handle.

The celebration of the East African country’s food and culture was held at the Center for Families in North Minneapolis and attracted scores of Tanzanians and their friends, who enjoyed the country’s vast cuisine and even took some home. Colorful Tanzanian kitenge and msuli fabrics were on sale while the country’s stimulating music kept the guests entertained.

Spiced rice dishes (pilau), chicken, beef, Tanzanian home pastries like samosas and maandazi, boiled cassava, corn-beans mix (makande) and banana soup (mtori) were some of the traditional items that Tanzanians in Minnesota prepared under the stewardship of their organization, Umoja Society.

Tanzanians mingled with their invited guests for networking, as well as listening to presentations made by various invited speakers from organizations such as the African Development Center of Minnesota, whose representative advised on how to navigate the American financial system, which many African immigrants find challenging. Stephen Wreh-Wilson, ADC’s director of home ownership and financial literacy, warned the audience to beware of predatory lenders out to rip off unsuspecting clients.

Before signing up for a mortgage for a house or any other valuable property, read carefully the terms of the contract with regard to “balloon payments at the end, interest and insurance payments, closing costs and other hidden costs including defaulting payments,” Wreh-Wilson said.

Citing the current mortgage crisis, Wreh-Wilson said many unsuspecting clients had been conned into signing expensive mortgages that ended up in foreclosures and repossession of property because the “undisclosed” fees made the extended mortgage unaffordable. He said ADC was there to assist African immigrants in Minnesota to start and sustain successful business, provide free counseling to help them acquire assets and promote community reinvestment.

Wreh-Wilson advised emerging African immigrant entrepreneurs to learn how to build good credit so that they could easily access finances to expand their businesses. He said factors that contributed to a good score include ability to pay debts on time (35%), low balance of outstanding credit (30%), credit history (15%), healthy mix of credit accounts (10%) and recent applications for many new credits (10%).

Individuals who wish to access their own credit reports can do so by making an application to three known firms: Equifax of Atlanta, Experian of Allen, Texas, and Transunion of Chester, Penn. A fee of $3 is payable to any of those bureaus upon requesting a personal credit report.

On the basics of filing taxes, the audience was advised to take advantage of Federal Earned Income Tax Credit and Minnesota Working Families Credit. Low-income families with children can get up to $4,000 back from the federal government and $1,500 from the state of Minnesota.

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About Swallehe Msuya

Swallehe Msuya was a senior staff writer at Mshale with extensive media experience in his native Tanzania. He was a general assignments writer. Investigative stories that Mshale undertook were normally his responsibility. Swallehe passed away in Sept. 2009 at the age of 61. Mshale will forever miss his tenacity and wisdom.

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