One of our highlights during our trip to Liberia in September 2013 was to finally meet the students at Russ Wood Christian Academy in Congo Town. The staff and students organized a wonderful Welcome program for our team that completely left us awestruck by students’ enthusiasm to show us talents and knowledge. This post will summarize our visit along with sharing pictures and videos of Liberia’s rising stars.

We were greeted and welcomed with a lively song performed by all the children. Hearing the beautiful voices of the children instantly melted our hearts.

The children opened the program joyfully singing.

After a few announcements, three of the students stood up in front to read from the sampling of reading textbooks we sent last year. Each student was eager to share how well they are performing with their reading abilities. They put the whole hearts into reading their chosen stories. It instantly put smiles on our faces about how much they wanted to show us their accomplishments. Just to be hearing their stories, we felt very pleased knowing we have sent four more boxes of those textbooks as part of our annual shipment. This is schedule to be delivered at the school in December. We hope to send the remaining 24 boxes sometime soon so all the children can be strong readers.

The first up to read was Korlu, who read a story about the Japanese culture from the 5th grade textbook.

Korlu reading her story diligently from start to finish.

The next reader was Ishmeal, one of our scholarship students, reading a story about a West African family from the 6th grade textbook.

Ishmeal reading a his story with clarity while Kelvin looks on.

It is important to note that Ishmeal, who is 11 years old, attended our youth leadership workshop on September 13 and 14. He demonstrated his creativity to the much older participants of this two-day workshop by reciting a parable he wrote.

And lastly was Princess, who read a story about dog from the 2nd grade textbook. During our children’s program last December, Princess (then a first grader) read a story from one of the library books that were sent. She definitely loves to read and we will continue to encourage her with sending more books.

Young Princess doing a great job reading her story.

Next, three of the children got up in front to perform a song that they had worked on together.

More of Russ Wood’s talented singers.

Next our Executive Director Heather Cannon-Winkelman was honored by Ishmeal’s original welcoming speech and presented with flowers.

The program continued with a song by another little girl and then the welcome address to our delegation by the principal, Rev. Matthew Y Kargar.

Another of Russ Wood’s talented singers on the left, and Principal Kargar giving his welcome address on the right.

Next Kelvin Fomba, Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) Co-Founder and Country Director, gave a short talk about the relationship that has been developed by UDS and Russ Wood in the last two years. The children have come to appreciate Kelvin is in the past year, and were actively engaged in his talk. He first asked how many of the students planned to get on the honor roll this year and quite a few raised their hands. He then reiterated the importance of education and encouraged them to work hard with their studies. He ended his talk by introducing our team and given us a chance to a few words.

Elijah Wreh, UDS board member and youth workshop facilitator, got up to address the students and also encouraged them to continue their efforts with their school work.

Kelvin is to the left and Elijah to the right.

Gradieh Wreh, UDS board member and youth workshop facilitator, followed with her appreciation for their warm welcome and shared how excited she was to see them demonstrate their talents.

Finally, Heather got up to thank all the children and staff for their great welcome and talked about the direction UDS is planning to take in supporting their educational efforts.

Gradieh is to the left and Heather to the right.

She ended her talk with a challenge for the next year. She presented a book, donated by Donna Cannon (Heather’s Mom) on how to write a graphic novel, which was especially signed by the author for the Russ Wood students. She explained that they would return next year and hope to see that some of the students have created their own graphic novels. Definitely, some of the students will take on this challenge and we will be delighted to hear what they created.

Principal Kargar holding the book on how to write a graphic novel.

We were pleased that some of the teachers not only expressed their gratitude but also invited us to come back next year. They gave us their prayers for a safe journey home and that we would continue to get the support needed for their students to learn and develop their skills along their educational path.

Some of the teachers giving their vote of thanks and a prayer for our team.

After the program, we were given a tour of the school. This building is also the church, so the space is reconfigured Monday through Friday create classrooms. This school has an average enrollment of 250 students, which adds some difficulty in providing an environment conducive learning .

Heather checking out the office on the left. Principal Kargar, Gradieh and Heather in the center. The world map that was part of 2012 shipment of supplies on the right.

We had hoped to have a picture taken with the children outside the building, but the rain changed our plans. So, after moving the benches and desks out of the center of the room, we were able to take a few group pictures.

Meet the students of Russ Wood Christian Academy.

Here is a more candid photo of the Russ Wood students.

We enjoyed our few hours with the students and staff of Russ Wood. The students clearly demonstrated their hunger to learn and it inspired us to continue to do more. The principal and his wife invited us to their small apartment at the back of the school for a snack and soft drinks after the group photos were taken. They shared how all the students had not started yet, because they were still trying to find sponsors to cover their school fees.

Russ Wood was founded to provide lower cost education to the children within its community, whose families struggle to meet their daily needs and find it difficult to pay their children’s school fees. This information gave Heather, who is currently the sole sponsor of the six students on scholarship, reason to add two more applicants to this program for the next school year that will be dedicated to Russ Wood students. Kelvin will be awarding these two scholarships in April 2014 at Russ Wood’s annual gala. Uniting Distant Star co-sponsored the gala in April 2013 with Russ Wood.

We are also pleased to announce that this year’s shipment should be cleared at the Monrovia’s Free Pport by end of November. We plan our annual children’s party for the last day of school before their holiday break in mid-December, and provides each student a hot meal and a gift packet complements of our generous Distant Stars donors. Our supporters helped reach our 2013 goal of shipping four 14-cubic-foot boxes of school supplies, combs, toothbrushes, toys, and other educational materials. We will post updates and pictures of this day-long event later this year.

Again, we greatly appreciate all our sponsors who have supported the education of these amazing students! We will continue reporting on their activities and achievements throughout the year. Thank you!

If you readers would like to increase the number of scholarships awarded to these worthy students, please contact us at [email protected] The scholarships vary by grade level but average about $200 for the year. It covers tuition, uniform and basic supplies. Also, this program provides incentives for academic achievement that are awarded at the first and last semesters of the school year. Please go to our project page to learn more about our Bright Stars Scholarship program and review the student application form for more details.