Sunday, June 4, 2017

Your Investment in Students is Returning Smiles of Success

June 2nd, 2017, marked our four-year anniversary as an official non-profit organization. Your generous contributions each year have made a profound difference in the lives of children and youth in Liberia. Your gracious commitment to walk this journey with us in building and growing a grassroots organization allows us to serve ambitious and eager Liberian youth. Your compassion and dedication are what lights the hearts and minds of Liberia's promising young stars. Your unyielding support makes this all happen and we are eternally grateful. Thank you.

June 1st is the start of our fourth month of vocational training courses. Our nine-month courses will reach their halfway mark on June 15th. The results of these first four months are astounding. As our faithful partners in doing good, you have enabled youth to acquire skills that they can apply with confidence. During the next five to seven months, our students will require more materials to achieve their course requirements. 

This month we will be launching our "Become a Classroom Hero" campaign to raise funds for five courses that need extra learning materials to ensure they receive the marketable skills to graduate and start a job or business. This post will share some of the latest photos of various courses and students accomplishments. You will soon see how your investment is returning smiles of success on the faces of our students.

Auto Mechanics Course

Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder and Country Director, works with his students three times a week and most of the time they are working on vehicles. At times, Kelvin provides classroom lectures when they are moving onto a new concept. The two photos below are from a classroom discussion on June 1st.

You encourage these students to learn.
You engage these students in asking questions to understand.
Computer Training

This is our largest course with over 40 students divided into four classes that meet three times a week. Our students are nearing the end of the Microsoft Word section. Saturday, June 3rd, all students from each class took a test to measure their knowledge of Microsoft Word. The students walked way feeling confident and proud of what they are learning. Kelvin, who is also one of the teachers of this course, said, "I cannot afford to stop doing this because look at the smiles on these beautiful faces." 

Your generosity brought smiles to these beautiful faces.
You give these students the reason to focus on their exam.
You made this computer lab possible.
Your continued support uplifts our student's spirits.
Cosmetology Course

The students in this course are advancing each and every day. In these first four months, they went from plaiting (braiding) hair that was tied on a string to working on each other or volunteers. They also are now providing manicures with custom designs on artificial. They continue to provide free haircuts to children in the neighborhood to gain experience and give back.

You spark that inner talent of each student.
You give our students reason to enjoy their work.
You encourage her to be precise and thoughtful in her work.
You guide students to produce results like these nails.
You are the example for these students to give back.
Plumbing Course

We'd like finally to introduce this 12-month course. This is one of the courses that is need of learning materials. The instructor has received periodic contracts which he can bring the students into the field and apply the knowledge they learn during their lectures. Gratefully, the instructor has been bringing some of the tools and materials to give practical application of this trade. Our goal for this course is to provide the tools, pipes and fittings, and other basic materials so that they can understand how to install or repair any plumbing in between opportunities to go in the field.

Your dedication motivates these students to learn despite the challenges.
The instructor is empowered by you to share his knowledge with these young minds.
Tailoring Course

This 9-month course started two months after the other ones. We have provided sewing course in the past such as our Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project. We have an interest in this course but students are struggling to pay the $75 fee. Again as we shared before, most of this is returned to the students in uniforms, ID Cards, and basic learning materials such as course handouts. We started with four students and increased to six. Students that are in their later twenties or earlier thirties are showing a greater interest in tailoring.  

Students of all ages are welcomed to gain skills from your whole-hearted support.
Student ID Cards

After some search, we found someone to make our student ID cards. As each student received theirs in the last few days, they were beaming with pride. The ID Card and Uniform allow the students to identify as Rising Stars in our program.

Our students now wear their ID Cards with great pride because of you.
You should feel honored and proud of how your charitable deeds are changing young Liberian lives for the better. You have continued to invest in our students, and the return is not measured in dollars and cents, but in confidence and smiles. 

Thank you for being a valued and sustaining Star Supporter of Uniting Distant Stars children and youth!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Nurturing Hope

Once a year a day is set aside to honor the Mothers in our lives. There is a special quality often associated with mothers in how they care for their young children. You possess this special quality through your unyielding support of children and youth in Liberia. You are Nurturing Hope with each and every generous gift you have made to help students learn new knowledge and skills in our vocational training center. 

Thank you for helping this student learn how to bake!
You are the reason students show up each day to class to apply and practice what they are receiving from their teachers. 

Thank you for helping these young men and women become auto mechanics!
Thank you for giving students opportunities to practice their skills!
Your heart can smile knowing that you are bringing significate changes to lives of young Liberians in order to thrive.  

Thank you for inspiring students to harness their creativity!
Thank you for giving students the tools to learn! 
Thank you for your Nurturing Hope and being the difference in the lives of children and youth in Liberia!

Monday, April 24, 2017

International UDS Board Meeting

This morning, an international UDS board meeting was held. Kelvin Fomba, along with Godfrey Solomon and Roseline Sonday shared the successes as well as the current obstacles at hand in Liberia with board UDS members on the American end (via Google Hangout).

Kelvin brought to our attention the need for more materials for some of our vocational training courses like Cosmetology and Plumbing/Electricity. Some of the skills being taught, like braiding in Cosmetology, require specialized tools (i.e. mannequin heads) in order to best teach the techniques at hand. Because more and more students have been enrolling in these courses, a need has developed for more training supplies. Though these are real concerns to address, we are also so thrilled for the growth UDS has experienced in such a short time! There was talk of shipping donated supplies from the U.S. to Liberia, but due to the risks associated with trans-Atlantic shipping, and cost of transport, we are now turning our focus toward fundraising efforts on the U.S. side. Then, the materials can be bought in Liberia, which also benefits the local economy.

There are some youth in Liberia that are interested in taking classes at UDS, but who cannot afford the $75 registration fee associated (this includes $20 for the uniform and ID, as well as the cost for basic teaching materials). On a situation to situation basis, Kelvin has been accepting some of these youth anyway, and has had them doing volunteer work (such as janitorial and security) to compensate for the cost of their classes. We hope our fundraising efforts, which are currently being constructed, will help to resolve this matter as well.

Below are photos from today’s meeting:

Cynthia Asante (far left), Kelvin Fomba with Godfrey Solomon and Roseline Sonday (middle), and Anna Bertch (far right) all called in via Google Hangout.

Adam Pederson (far left), Miriam Monono (middle left), Philip Kaleewoun II (middle right), Dianne Anastos (far right), and Heather Cannon-Winkleman (not pictured) met in Minnesota.

We thank you for being our Star Supporter; it's an honor to have you walk this journey right along with us!

Anna Bertch, Youth Board Member

Monday, March 27, 2017

Learning & Giving Go Hand-in-Hand

We are nearing the end of the second month of classes at our vocational training center. Our students are given ample opportunity to build their skills in their given field. Our instructors provide 80% of the students' lessons as practical learning. This hands-on training happens in the classroom, out in the field for a contract, or part of community service project. Our goal is to help students gain marketable skills and teach them how to pay-it-forward with their training.

The next course we would like to introduce is Cosmetology. This is a nine-month course that offers young women the chance to learn how to work with hair (washing, cutting and styling), as well as other services like manicures, pedicures, etc. The instructor is Josephine Wabloh, who received her cosmetology certificate in Ghana. One of our students and assistant trainers of the Backpacks for Peace project, Roseline Sonday, is a teacher's assistant for this course. She knows how to style hair and wants to learn other aspects of this trade. 

Our talented team in Liberia built a stylist station for our students to  practice working in a salon setting. They have hair to practice plaiting (which is a type of braid) that is draped over sting nailed to a wall. They also have one mannequin head, which is used to practice various types of protective styles. As part of their service learning, they provide free haircuts to children in the community.  

The following photos show what our students are learning in this course: 

Our students learning how to plait hair. 

This is the stylist station built by our team of Kelvin Fomba (UDS co-founder) and Daude (carpenter)

These two students are learning to plait hair on this mannequin head. 

Our instructor, Josephine Wabloh (blue & white dress) gives each student attention as they learn this trade.
Josephine shows a student how to plait hair while Roseline (white shirt & jeans) watches other students. 

Our students practice giving manicures to females enrolled in other courses.

Our students giving free haircuts to children in the community.
You, our valued Star Supporters, have made this vocational training center possible. Your generous giving inspires our students to pay-it-forward as they learn their desired trade. We Thank You for your continued and heartwarming support of children and youth in Liberia!

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Youthrive Event" with Youth from Liberia and Minnesota

On Saturday, the annual Youthrive Event was held at Augsburg college in Minnesota. Liberian youth were able to participate in this forum via Google Hangout, and engage with American youth in the discussions; which, primarily focused on addressing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) issued in 2015 by the UN (see infographic below).

On the Liberian end, there were about 100 youth who came to be a part of this Google Hangout meeting with students in Minnesota, and all our UDS instructors were there as well. The youth received refreshments which our catering students helped prepare. Pictured below (left) is a sandwich called "light bread," made with cabbage, sausage, and other vegetables. Everyone who attended the event in Liberia received two sandwiches and a soft drink. 

In Liberia, attendees were divided up into 17 groups, and each one discussed a different Sustainable Development Goal; below is a video group #8, discussing SDG: “Good Jobs and Economic Growth."

At Augsburg, American students were also divided up into groups to discuss the different SDG’s. This video was shown as part of their table rotation discussions:


After the group discussions, UDS co-founder, Heather Cannon-Winkleman, was able to lead the conversation between with our team in Liberia about their thoughts and feelings about the day's activities.

It is incredible the amount of people this meeting was able to reach; because of your continued compassion toward and awareness of our youth in Liberia, Uniting Distant Stars has experienced significant growth in the number of Liberian students being educated over the past year, and had the resources to make this event happen.

Youth separated by miles of land and ocean, were able to see, listen to, and interact with one another, they were able to put their invaluable minds together as a part of a global team. Which, is exactly what the UN goals are all about: working together, country to country, human to human, to achieve a world of no poverty, no hunger, quality education, and more.

Thank you for making a world of difference! The future looks bright ahead.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Building Skills, Changing Lives

It has been nearly a month since we started vocational training classes at the Uniting Distant Stars Training Center. We started with eight courses and hope to add two more once we get enough students enrolled. Our students receive a combination of theory and practical application in each course to help them better understand both the "why" and "how" in learning a particular trade. The goal of our program is to connect our students to employers for internships or apprenticeships so they can gain additional experience outside the classroom and showcase their abilities in hiring managers.

Two weeks ago we shared in our post "See What's Baking at Uniting Distant Stars" what the catering students were learning. Now we like to introduce you to three of our other courses: Auto Mechanics, Computers, and Interior Decorating.

Auto Mechanics Course

This is one of our legacy courses that was birthed during the Ebola crisis when young people wanted to learn a skill instead of sitting home. Kelvin Fomba, UDS co-founder and country director, developed this course from his extensive career as an auto mechanic working with different types of engines. This course is 12 months long and will provide ample opportunities for students to work with tools and complete service and repair jobs on vehicles, generators and other machinery. Two of the students are female which we have seen a gradual trend of young women entering this trade. Students who graduate from this course can either start their own business or seek employment from an existing garage. Our 2014/2015 students demonstrated their ability to find work as shared in our post, "Meet UDS Auto Mechanic and Driver's Ed Graduates".

Auto Mechanics learning about the concepts and terminology for this field.

The uniform shirt for Auto Mechanics is blue. 

Computer Course 

Because of your inspiring generosity, we were able to fulfill the wishes of our youth in Liberia by launching this course in 2016. Computer training is a highly sought-after course in Liberia. Young people see that learning how to operate a computer and navigate the internet means an increase in their marketability for future employment. Currently, we have 42 students enrolled in this nine-month course. We offer four classes with morning and afternoon classes that meet either Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. The course is divided into five levels: 1) Introduction to computers and typing, 2) Microsoft Word, 3) Microsoft Excel, 4) Microsoft Power Point & Publisher, and 5) Internet Browsing & Review Previous 4 Levels. Our students will learn how to write curriculum vitae, various letters, create presentations, and set up and use an email account. 

Computer students from the Mon, Wed, Fri morning class taking a candid photo with Kelvin Fomba.

Our computer students are practicing their typing skills. 
Interior Decorating Course

This is one of our newer courses. The demand for people with this skill is high. This nine-month course is similar to Interior Design for homes and businesses but it also entails multifaceted decorations for weddings, birthdays, graduations, and other special events. This course is taught by the same teachers, Mrs. Annie Cooper and Mrs. Sandi Akashi, as catering. Students will learn how to create flower arrangements, coordinate design of colors and themes for homes, businesses, and events, and much more. This is another field that will allow our graduates to create a business or find employment.

Students learning how to make flower arrangements.

This young woman learned how to crochet this doll dress. She will use this skill to create table coverings.
You, as our committed and generous donor, are giving young Liberians the opportunity to learn marketable skills that will change their lives to the better. Like vocational institutes in the U.S., we offer courses in fields that have a strong market demand, so our students can position themselves for employment and/or entrepreneurship. You should be overjoyed and proud of your service to young Liberians, because it is making a difference!

Thank you for being a highly valued Star Supporter for children & youth in Liberia!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

See What's Baking at Uniting Distant Stars

There is nothing more thrilling than tapping into your creative spirit to make the impossible possible. That is exactly what Kelvin Fomba, Uniting Distant Stars Co-Founder & Country Director, did for our catering course! When we needed an oven for our students to bake, but could not afford one, Kelvin used his available resources and innovation to build one! Below is a photo of the finished product: charcoal-heated oven built from a repurposed upright freezer.

Here is Kelvin showing how this oven works.
Kelvin insulated the inner walls and door before covering it with a metal plate, then welded the bars for the different levels of racks. The bottom is open and a charcoal pot is on the ground underneath, with a water pan placed over the charcoal to regulate the heat. This is located in well-ventilated room so no concerns for carbon monoxide. 

On Wednesday, February 8th, this oven was put to work! Our co-teachers, Mrs. Annie Cooper & Mrs. Sandi Akasi, had our students mixing batter for cornbread, shortbread & pancakes. The two breads were baked in the oven, while the pancakes were cooked in a fry pan. The results were delicious! The sweet aroma coming from the oven distracted our students from the other courses, so everyone took a break to sample these tasty treats. 

Our catering students adding & mixing the ingredients.

This is young woman is receiving positive feedback.

She is putting the shortbread in the pan for baking.

The cornbread is in the muffin tins on the top shelf & the shortbread underneath.

Looking rather tasty. The shortbread is a nice golden brown. 

UDS Catering Instructors (left to right), Annie & Sandi are displaying the sweet success of shortbread.

This young woman is flipping  pan cake over. 

The results of  their work is tasty treats for everyone.

Left to right, Kelvin, Godfrey & Patrick enjoyed every bite of these delicious goodies from our students.
It was an exciting day for everyone because they got to witness how this inventive oven worked. The students were able to see how one of their leaders solved a "need" by working hard and using his creativity; Kelvin is an example and a leader to everyone at UDS, internationally!

Because of Kelvin's efforts, students will be able to gain the practical experience needed for a catering career. During the next nine months they will be learning how to bake and cook different types of foods for weddings, graduations and other special events. 

There is plenty more to come regarding all our courses, and we are extremely grateful for those of you who have donated in the last couple weeks. All of these funds will be used toward providing the practical tools for our students in our courses-which will include more innovations from our team! 

You are stars, and your compassion and generosity empowers Liberian youth to shine brighter.

Thank you wholeheartedly for being a valued member of the Uniting Distant Stars Community!