Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) completed the first month of the Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project on March 20, 2015. This blog post shares the project report from Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder and Country Director in Liberia. 
Kelvin Fomba (brown shirt) interacting with our students’ while they wash the plastic squares.
First of all, we thank God plenty for saving our lives during the EBOLA crisis. We ask God to forgive and bless the souls of all those that died from it, and may they rest in perfect peace. Although we have not been declared Ebola FREE yet, we pray that this will happen soon. Secondly, we also want to give our THANKS and APPRECIATION to all those who made this project possible! 

Our instructor, Charles Mamba, (standing in the middle) supervising the students while they wash the plastic that has been supplied by African Dream Academy.

The students’ progress has been remarkable during this first month. This training has shown how the Liberian youth possess the eagerness to learn. They focus on their lessons, show up regularly for class, and cooperate with their trainers and fellow students. Additionally, the two instructors and the two assistant trainers clearly demonstrate their dedication to our training program. They enjoy interacting with our students and guiding them in achieving the training objectives. They easily handle the obstacles that may arise with not having an ideal training space. They are comfortable with teaching both the practical and theoretical concepts of sewing and using non-traditional “fabrics” to make these backpacks that will benefit our young people. 
The students taking notes during the classroom sessions.
We have seen a vast improvement in our students performance from the first day of this project. For the first three weeks, the students practiced how to properly pedal the sewing machines and each one passed this part of the training. During week four, they transitioned into sewing the individual plastic squares into long strips. These strips are then cut into smaller ones of four squares each. Three of these smaller strips are then sewn together (three squares wide by four squares long) to create the appropriate sized “fabric” that will be used for the backpacks. At this time, 80% of our students have accomplished this part of the training, whereas the other 20% need more practice with threading the machine correctly from the top and bottom to securely sew the plastic together.

Our other instructor, Mohammed Sesay (black shirt) is inspecting the strips of plastic.

From this experience, our young trainees quickly realized that learning is the key to success. This is evident when a student brings their school uniform for repairs and they can fix it themselves on the sewing machine. This added benefit of repairing their own clothes enforces the importance of how continued practice leads to a developed skill. They also appreciate how UDS goes beyond this basic training initiative by impacting them with valuable knowledge through expanding their world view, like connecting them with other youth in the U.S. with Google Hangout.

Our students sewing the individual plastic squares into strips.
In particular, they cannot stop talking about the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Youth Forum. For a few of the youth who attended this unique event, they commented how this allowed them to see and talk with white people for the first time. The forum made our presence known in the surrounding communities, that we have had young people come and ask how they can join our training program. With having limited space, we are not able accept additional students for this current session. However, we are recording their names to participate in future training courses.
Another view of the students at work.
Clearly, the training and the forum have left quite an impression on our students and they enjoy sharing their experience with their families. This prompted a few of the families to accompany their children to our site to show their appreciation for UDS, Sundance Family Foundation, youthrive, and all our donors who contributed to our programming. They are pleased with how we are teaching their children to think-outside-of-the-box in regards to making a useful product with limited resources. Furthermore, these parents and guardians give their thanks and prayers for our supporters to prosper and that God will provide everyone strength to continue helping the youth of Liberia. They expressed their gratitude for UDS providing a light lunch with this training. Though our efforts may seem insignificant to some, for these families it means a “million” to them. 
Our students busy with sewing the long strips together.
With the successes, we also face plenty of challenges that required adjustments to our programming. Here are two examples: 
  1. Holidays: During the first four weeks, Liberia has had at least three holidays where no training was in session. 
  2. School schedules: All schools are now open. However, some of the teachers release the students late and a few youth are required to attend a study class after school. Therefore, the scheduling process has become a crazy endeavor. 
These challenges have taught us to be flexible. Even though we had less training days, our young trainees have kept up with their lessons and demonstrated their ability to meet or exceed the expectations. We adjusted our times to meet our students’ schedules to ensure they benefit from both their academic studies and vocational training. Their learning and development is our major concern and responsibility. 
Kelvin (orange shirt) checks in with the backpack students while conducting mechanical training in the carport.
Overall, this opportunity has been beneficial to the 20 students recruited for this innovative training project. We have observed their confidence increase as they move forward with each step of the training. We have welcomed their ideas and suggestions on how we can improve and expand this program to train additional youth in the future. We are pleased with the results and look forward to advancing their progress in the coming month.

This closes our first month project report. More updates will follow as we go.

Best regards,