January has been busy preparing for yet another exciting year. As we look ahead to our plans for 2014, we also reflect back on what we accomplished since our beginnings in 2012. It was reassuring to see that our humble organization is making progress that is small-small (an expression used in Liberia).

This post highlights some project milestones and features photographs taken by Heather during her first year of residency in Liberia, a beautiful tropical nation along the coast of West Africa. 

This image was created in 2007, filling the map outline of Liberia with photos of Coconut trees in Bong County
 and the pre-sunset ocean view along beach in Congo Town.

What compelled us to start Uniting Distant Stars? The co-founders Heather Cannon-Winkelman and Kelvin Fomba had an idea to start a vocational training center that balanced the job skills with the job-keeping skills. The latter component is often lacking in training programs to where many of the graduates emerged ill-prepared for such workplace expectations as punctuality and appropriate behavior. In our attempt to make this dream a reality we applied for a fellowship in 2010 and 2011 for start-up funding.

June 2007 – Kpatawee (“K” is silent) Waterfall in Bong County.

Both attempts failed to move us to the next level. As we reassessed the application process and the finalists, we noticed a pattern. Those making through each “gate’ had projects or programs that were producing results. This is when we realized that we needed to start a program that showed we were walking our talk. 

November 2007 – Heading east through Grand Bassa County.

By July 2012, we transformed the essence of Uniting Distant Stars. Besides being a blog it was a bona fide organization serving disadvantaged youth through education. We provided primary and secondary school scholarships, vocational training tuition assistance, and a school supply drive for Russ Wood Christian Academy.

November 2007 – Nature’s funny way to ask “Why” – Grand Bassa County

It was the school supply drive that attracted the most interest and we  slowly increased our circle of supporters. This momentum got us thinking about what we should do next and we started off 2013 with many ambitious goals. We met most, including:

  • Published our first annual report, listing 2012activities and 2013 goals.
  • Formed our U.S. based board of directors.
  • Registered Uniting Distant Stars, Inc as a Minnesota Non-Profit Corporation.
  • Secured our fiscal sponsor, Ebenezer Community Church in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.
  • Organized three successful fundraisers focused on programs in Liberia. 
  • Shipped four 14-cubic-foot boxes for Russ Wood Christian Academy.
  • Developed working partnerships with organizations in both Minnesota and Liberia.
  • Held first annual youth leadership workshop in Liberia on “creative and innovative thinking”
2007 – Sunset along Golden Beach in Monrovia

In summary, 2013 was an amazing year. It opened new pathways for us to expand our network of donors, followers and partners. That success is the driving force to continue developing and growing our programs in the coming year. Learn more about what we achieved in 2013 and what is in store for 2014 in our next annual report, to be published in April. Uniting Distant Stars exists because of the passion and dedication of all who have generously supported us. Thank you!