This Ewe group is no stranger to urban life

I’m feeling quite sheepish these days.

In a recent post, I wrote about a new Internal Revenue Service requirement that small nonprofits ($25,000 or less in receipts) file an annual e-postcard. Traditionally, these tiny nonprofits have flown under the radar; this new registration is an effort to collect minimal information for the government and potential donors.

After scrolling through many of the Minnesota-based organizations now listed on the IRS website, I observed in the April 21 article that one filing, “offered an amusing juxtaposition. The Ewe Association of Minnesota is headquartered in the hip and urban Uptown area of Minneapolis.”

Well, it turns out this Ewe Association has nothing to do with sheep, as I had assumed.

Paul Verrette, accountability program manager for the Charities Review Council, pointed out my misconception in an email.

Firsthand knowledge
“I think that you are reading ewe as in female sheep but I think this refers to the Ewe (pronounced Evay) a large tribe from Togo in West Africa.” (Verrette had firsthand knowledge. In an interview, he said he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo from 1994-96, working to eradicate Guinea worm disease.)

Encarta defines Ewe as 1) “a member of a West African people living in coastal regions of Ghana, Togo, and Benin. 2) The language of the Ewe people, belonging to the Kwa branch of the Niger-Congo family. Native speakers: 3 million.”

The Ewe Association’s IRS registration lists no website. The registration form does not require a phone number, only an address, so I drove to 2845 Harriet Ave. S., Suite 211. It belongs to JJGK Services; when I visited, no one was there.

I went back and looked again at the Ewe Association’s registration. It named Gerson Yevu as principal officer. I Googled Yevu’s name and found a listing of the North American Convention of Togo — and his phone number.

I reached him to offer an apology for the mix-up.

200 members and growing

The Ewe Association has 200 members and is growing, Yevu said. The owner of JJGK Services is a member and offered his business as the association’s office. The Ewe Association is similar to other new immigrant organizations; it tries to help people integrate into the community.

Volunteers might help someone in the community paint a house or figure out a job application. The association does not provide financial aid; the organization itself is not that financially strong, Yevu said.

He was kind enough to say that I was not the first one to get confused about the association’s name. “People don’t know what the Ewe means,” he said. “People can think it is an acronym for something.”

Verrette, the one who flagged my Ewe confusion, himself has a name that causes a double take. Paul Verret used to be the St. Paul Foundation president. Verrette said some people who hear his name confuse him with Verret and come to him with great projects to fund. “I can’t help them,” Verrette said with a laugh.

In my April 21 post on the IRS’ new registration requirements for small nonprofits, I quoted Verrette. He suggested that the IRS and potential donors could benefit from adding a bit more information to the e-postcards – for instance, the organization’s mission statement.

In his follow-up email, Verrette said my story served to illustrate his point. “If the mission statement were included in that IRS listing, we would know right away if the organization served sheep or was an association of Togolese, Ghanaians, or Beninois who are Ewe.” 

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by D. O. on 04/24/2008 - 10:03 am.

    Part of the problem is with the English transcription for the name of the people – “Ewe.” In the language itself it is written “E[symbol]e.” The middle letter is like a modified “v” and stands for a sound somewhere between a “v” and a “w”. In French it is often written “Evé” which isn’t quite right either.

    Many African language orthographies include such extra letters to stand for sounds that are not significant (or even present in) European languages.

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