October 7, 2010 in Washington Voices

Woman from Ghana honored by friends, ‘American family’

By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photo

Elizabeth Kakraba, left, hugs Bette McLuen, a resident of Orchard Crest Retirement Community, during a party celebrating Kakreba’s recent naturalization as an American citizen Sept. 28 at Orchard Crest. Kakraba emigrated from Ghana and has worked at Orchard Crest for several years.
(Full-size photo)

A retirement community in Spokane Valley celebrated its newest American citizen Sept. 28 with a party on the anniversary of her arrival in the United States.

Elizabeth (Kakraba) Koffi-Gue, 38, a registered nursing assistant at Orchard Crest Retirement and Assisted Living Community, arrived in America on Sept. 28, 2004, after winning a diversity visa lottery in her home country of Ghana in Africa. She was sworn in as an American citizen on Aug. 24 and the community threw her a party to celebrate.

The U.S. Department of State makes 50,000 diversity visas available yearly to encourage residents in countries with low immigration rates to the U.S. to move here. The recipients are chosen randomly and must meet strict eligibility requirements.

Koffi-Gue was the oldest in a family of nine children and had been working to help the family make ends meet since she was 16 years old. She applied for the lottery with the hope of earning money in America to send her family.

“I have to do what it takes to help my family,” she said.

When Koffi-Gue received word she was chosen for this visa, she was working as a housekeeper for an American woman, Geri Branch.

Branch was the principal of the American International School in Lome, Togo, a country that neighbors Ghana. Branch previously worked as principal of Broadway Elementary School in the Central Valley School District and asked Alia Simonson, another teacher working in Togo from Spokane Valley, if she would sponsor Koffi-Gue.

“I have a family here, this is my American family,” Koffi-Gue told partygoers as she introduced Simonson and her family. Koffi-Gue and her husband, Kokou Luc Koffi-Gue, stayed with Simonson. She helped Koffi-Gue get a Social Security card. Koffi-Gue made neck warmers which Simonson’s mother Noreen Simonson sold. Koffi-Gue made and saved enough money to buy a sewing machine, which she used to sew and earn enough money for an apartment.

“They were not eligible for any form of welfare,” Alia Simonson said. “She’s done it the hard way.”

Since arriving in the U.S., Koffi-Gue has worked hard. She found a job as a housekeeper at Orchard Crest and went through the training to become a registered nursing assistant.

She and her husband saved their money and recently purchased their first house. She also studied for the citizenship test, a combination of written, oral and reading tests.

“She is the hardest working human being on the planet,” Noreen Simonson said.

At the party earlier this week, Koffi-Gue wore an embroidered and beaded blue dress that is typical attire for married women in her home country. She was given cards and there was cake and punch to celebrate in a room decorated in American flags.

Resident Jean Landers approached Koffi-Gue with a special gift.

Landers once taught citizenship classes while her husband was stationed overseas in the military. Her students presented her with a frosted glass bowl with gold stars and an American eagle on it as a thank-you for helping them become American citizens. She presented that bowl to Koffi-Gue at the party.

“This is something that I have treasured since the sixties,” Landers told Koffi-Gue. “I was ready to give it up.”

Koffi-Gue said she decided to become an American citizen so she could bring her youngest sister, Margaret, 19, to America. She will be filling out the paperwork for that in about a month. She also said that her husband may apply for citizenship next year.

“(In America) there are a lot of opportunities to do what you want to do,” she said. “You can become somebody you always wanted to be.”

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