UDS Students Certified in Permaculture Design

UDS Students Certified in Permaculture Design

Our first permaculture training successfully ended on January 16, 2019. Last week, we shared photos and information about the first five days of training. This week’s article focuses on the remaining four days of the Permaculture Design Certification Training.

Day 6 – Polyculture & Introduction to Group Projects

Bruce Blair (Board Member & Trainer for SLFND) demonstrated the benefits of polyculture with a model. He explained that polyculture is where unrelated plants grow together. He also showed videos of one particular type of polyculture: The Three Sisters. Typically, the Three Sisters include corn (maize), climbing beans, and squash. This practice originated from Native Americans.

Bruce Blair (SLFND) sharing short documentaries on polyculture and explaining the process to our students.

Bruce discussed group assignments where students create their own design projects. Additionally, he gave our students the option to select a site or social design. What is the difference? Site design focuses on a single garden or farm project, whereas social design includes the whole system design (i.e. economic, environment, health, etc.).

Bruce explaining the group design projects using his model as the example.

After the assignment discussion, the students reviewed the notes on the board in preparation for their group project. Group presentations started on Monday.

UDS students taking notes of their group project assignment.

Days 7 & 8 – Student Presentations of Group Projects & Banana Cycle

On Monday, the groups took their turn to demonstrate what they learned in this class. Each student of the group needed to share something about their project in order for Bruce to assess their knowledge of the permaculture process. As you see in the photos below, our students used different types of 2-D or 3-D models to explain their group projects.

Photos (left to right) show different group presenting their group projects. Some drew their designs on paper while others used a 3-d model.

On Tuesday, Bruce took the group over to the field site to discuss the banana cycle. A banana tree can reproduce itself. Instead of a seed, it grows from the bulb (rhizome).

Bruce explaining how the banana tree reproduces itself.

Day 9 – Final Presentations & Certification Ceremony

The group presentations continued into day 9. Clearly, our students put a great deal of effort into their group project designs. As result, they met the course requirements to be certified in Permaculture Design.

UDS Co-Founder & Director was part of this group project on social design.

Halfway through the day, they paused the group presentations. Joy Alizadeh would soon be leaving, and they wanted to recognize both her and Bruce. So, Kelvin Fomba (UDS Co-Founder & Director) joined Bruce and Joy up front to express the gratitude of all the students. Then he presented them a surprise Thank You Cake made by our catering students.

Photos (left to right): 1) Kelvin giving UDS appreciation to Bruce & Joy, 2) Kelvin presenting the Thank You cake to Bruce & Joy, 3) Catering Students icing the cake, & 4) Bruce holding the cake.

Soon after Joy left, the group presentations resumed. Once the last one ended, the certification ceremony began. Our long-time friend, Rev. Samuel Enders presented each student with their certificate. He also gave a motivational speech about taking this knowledge and putting it to use immediately. In fact, this course taught our students they can start with the resources of the earth and their own two hands.

Rev. Samual Enders of African Dream Academy (yellow polo) presented the students with their certificates. Bruce is on the left and Kelvin on the right.

Celebration!

Next, our students took photos to share their excitement with you. We had 41 out of 45 students successfully complete this course. Unfortunately, the other four had to drop due to scheduling conflicts.

UDS students celebrating and proudly displaying their certificates.

Finally, I want to Thank all our dedicated students and team for their active participation in this course and taking good care of our guests! Additionally, I want to extend our sincerest Thanks to our four sponsors (Ali, John, Edward, and Joel) and SLFND Team (Hindolo, Bruce, Joy, and Brenda) for their support!

You Brought “Happy” to Young Liberian Students!

Your compassion and generosity filled our new learning center with happiness. On October 29, 2016, we held the grand opening of our new Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) Learning Center in Liberia. During this program, your gift of school supplies was delivered to the remaining children, who are the grateful recipients of your service. This post highlights the fun-filled day from the words of Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder & Country Director:
You helped make this program success. Kelvin in upper left hand photo. Students performing in upper right. Lower two photos show the students attending our grand opening program. 
First of all, we’d like to say thanks to the Almighty, the entire UDS team, and support team in USA and around the world for making this program a success. The program was so great, wonderful and exciting! The hall of our learning center was so congested, some people overflowed outside to the courtyard. We had about 450 kids, 150 parents, and about 30 special guests, including UDS Liberian team in Liberia attending the program.

UDS Learning Center is near many schools and as you can see the children can walk to it. 
As you can see, our overflow of people were in the courtyard. 

The miraculous part was this: all the kids were able to receive their school supplies individually along with their refreshments of popcorn and KoolAid.  Rev. Samuel Enders, CEO & Founder of African Dream Academy, served as the keynote speaker of the program. He was so impressed about the development at the new learning center and the large population of kids filling the great hall. He also pledged $10,000 Liberian Dollars (equivalent to $120 USD) to be collected nest week.

Your brought happy to these young students as they receive their school supplies. 
These smiles are for your kindness and support for their education.
You are the reason why these young students will succeed in school this year.
Rev. Samuel Enders is wearing the red & white striped shirt. 
Video of  Rev. Samuel Enders Introduction

As you can see in the photos, kids wearing the blue and red uniforms are from City of Joy School, The students in green and yellow uniforms are from Christian Kingdom Academy. Hossana Children Foundation  and Russ Wood Christian Academy students were not in uniform. 

                                                                Listen to the students chat before the program starts.

This is the largest program UDS has ever had. The kids performed numerous dramas, songs, and jokes that had everyone clapping and laughing. Also thanks, praises, prayers were shared from the kids, youth, parents, guests, the schools’ administration to You and all our UDS family in Liberia, USA, and around the world.    

We end this post by sharing this happy day with all of you. Rev. Enders led the children in singing “If Are You Happy & You Know It,” and we invite you to sing along as you play this video.

Our heartfelt thanks to you for bringing happiness and joy to young students in Liberia!!!

Backpacks for Peace: Project Report

Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) completed three months of the Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project on May 22, 2015. This post includes the project report compiled by Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder and Country Director in Liberia. This was reviewed with and edited by Heather Cannon-Winkelman, UDS Co-Founder and Executive Director in the U.S.

As we near the end of the Backpacks for Peace training program, we are delighted to have made it this far. We want to extend a heartfelt thanks to all the Uniting Distant Stars partners, sponsors, board members, volunteers and well-wishers around the world for giving us the strength to make this youth-focused project possible in Liberia!

We especially recognize Sundance Family Foundation, African Dream Academy and UDS donors for contributing to this unique training program! Your generous support helped train 20 Liberian youth on how to properly operate a treadle sewing machine and produce backpacks using recycled material with little to no assistance. They have gained confidence and reawakened their creative and innovative spirit. This program has inspired our youth to be the next generation of nation builders in Liberia.

UDS Lead Trainer, Charles Mamba and UDS students at work. Photo taken by Rodney Johnson, UDS Volunteer.

PROJECT OVERVIEW

The Backpacks for Peace program recruited 20 children and young adults (ages 12 to 20) from primary to post-secondary academic institutions in the Monrovia area: Russ Wood Christian Academy, Open Bible High School, All God’s Children High School, Assemblies of God High School, United Methodist University, and few more. Both genders were represented with 16 females and 4 males. Our recruits will be referred to in this report as both Trainees and Students.

The training program was divided into three parts:

  1. First month was learning how to operate the treadle sewing machine and how to join the plastic squares into a workable fabric (similar to quilting).
  2. Second month was focused on sewing the cloth lining to the exterior plastic fabric and making the individual pieces for the backpack.
  3. Third month was teaching the final production process of sewing the individual pieces together to make a completed backpack.
Part 1: This part of training was both wonderful and intensive, because our youth were eager to learn something after being idle for several months due to the Ebola crisis. The training started one week before the schools opened on March 2nd for the 2014/2015 academic year. This was the only time the students’ school schedules were less demanding. They did extremely well in meeting the objectives for the first month. As stated in our first report, all trainees were able to properly pedal the sewing machine and the majority were able to join the plastic squares into strips. The students needing more time with this area were able to catch up in the early stages of part 2.
UDS students learning how to sew the cloth lining to the plastic. Photo taken by Rodney Johnson, UDS Volunteer

Part 2: Many challenges were faced during the second month including: 1) The shortened school year created a rigorous academic schedule for our trainees. 2) Training was practically halted during the first two weeks of April, because the students were studying and taking their first period exams. 3) The trainees’ free-time was consumed with completing their homework and daily chores at home. We quickly adapted our process by placing the students in smaller groups and scheduled their training at convenient times throughout the day.

It was during this month, they learned how to sew the cloth lining to the exterior plastic fabric and cutout the individual pieces. Both areas had their share of difficulties. Sewing the soft lining to the hard plastic required concentration, patience and good eye-to-hand coordination to ensure there was no gaps. Cutting out the rounded pieces of the upper part of the backpack needed some precision since the shape and size had to match the adjoining piece in order to add the zipper. By the end of April, our trainees continued to perform well and 80% have met or exceeded the expectations for the second month.

UDS student carefully cuts out one of the straps for the backpacks. Photo taken by Rodney Johnson, UDS Volunteer
An interesting development occurred in the second month. Our trainers gained some self-awareness on how they needed to handle the challenges and disruptions with the training. They also demonstrated their willingness to work longer hours to accommodate the schedule changes. We highly commend them for being patient and flexible, and doing an exceptional job despite the difficulties.
 
UDS students working at different stages of the production process. Photo taken by Rodney Johnson, UDS Volunteer
Part 3:  During the first two weeks in may, our trainers spent extra time with the 20% needing more guidance on how to properly sew the lining to the plastic pieces. This process is essential to the production, because one cannot make an entire backpack if they don’t know how to sew the individual pieces. At the time of writing this report, 80% of our students are able to produce a completed backpack. Ten students can make a backpack without supervisor while six need some instruction. Our youth have made approximately 100 backpacks, which is one-third of our goal.
UDS Students working on the final production of the backpack. Photo taken by Rodney Johnson, UDS Volunteer
With the challenges and time constraints, we will extend the training two to three weeks more. This will provide our trainees more practical experience with sewing and making the remaining backpacks towards our goal of 300. During the last week of training, the students will complete an evaluation of the program designed by Florkime Paye, UDS Volunteer in the U.S. Their feedback will help us measure it effectiveness and how we can do better in the future.
Charles Mamba, UDS lead  trainer and professional tailor, sorting and counting the backpacks. Photo taken by Rodney Johnson, UDS Volunteer

PRODUCT (BACKPACK) OVERVIEW There is a growing demand for our backpacks to be sold in the market as people have become aware of our program. This is our long-term goal for this training initiative, because it will provide necessary funding to help sustain itself. However, we have some logistical issues to figure out such as production costs, pricing (both retail and wholesale), and acquiring a suitable site that can serve as the training center and warehouse for the finished products.

Our youth are involved with determining the next steps to develop the business side of this program. This process will include the feedback from Heather’s presentation at the Acara Impact Venture Review in Minnesota after attending its Spring Institute. She pitched our Backpacks for Peace program on April 28, 2015, to a small audience of business and non-profit professionals. They provided valuable information and ideas to guide UDS as we develop our business model.

Our students are equally eager to start using a backpack for school, especially now that it is the rainy season. As part of graduating from this program, each student will be given a backpack. This will be a great way to market the product, because they have a vested interest with its success.

The UDS students have worked hard in making the backpacks and will receive one at their graduation. Photo taken by Rodney Johnson, UDS Volunteer

The primary recipients of this project’s backpacks will be school children of school we have sponsored since 2012. These will be filled with school supplies as part of our annual school supply drive.

The current backpack is designed primarily for students, because of its smaller size and ability to carry their school books. We still need to test the maximize holding capacity to determine if any changes are needed for its durability. Our team is exploring other styles and sizes of backpacks to meet the needs of the people in Liberia, who rely on public transportation. They need something to carry their personal items during their daily travels, and the backpack is the preferred choice.

This large bag was designed by Kelvin Fomba and made by Charles Mamba, the original co-creators of the backpacks. They felt no other bag would be suitable for the backpacks except for one made from the same material. Photo taken by Rodney Johnson, UDS Volunteer
PROGRAM NEXT STEPS

After this training ends in mid-June, we will take a break to reflect on our successes and areas for improvement. This time will also be utilized to finding support in Liberia since UDS is accredited as a non-government organization (NGO) as of April 30, 2015. Another training is being planned when the school year ends sometime in July or August (date is yet to be determined). This is in response to the number of  youth, who have visited our site and asked how they can enroll in the training. We have received $1,290 by four of our sustaining donors in the last two months and this will be applied to this next training session.

CONCLUSION

It has been a remarkable feat to implement such a program during a national crisis. We first piloted this project at the height of the Ebola outbreak in 2014 with training four youth while developing the curriculum and production standards. We launched the inaugural Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project before Liberia was declared Ebola-free. We worked with 20 promising youth for three months training them how to sew on a machine and produce a marketable product.

UDS trainers and students during the evening class. Photo taken by Rodney Johnson, UDS Volunteer

What are the results? Our youth acquired basic sewing skills to where they are not only repairing their school uniforms but the clothes of their family and friends. Our youth gained the confidence in their own ability to learn a valuable trade. Our youth realized the power of innovation by making a quality product with recycled material. Our youth contributed to the success of our training by showing up to class and sharing their insights on how they benefited from this program.

Our team in Liberia is extremely grateful for the continued encouragement, support and prayers that has been given by the generous and kindhearted Uniting Distant Stars community! Blessings to each and everyone of you!

Backpacks for Peace: First Month Project Report

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,

Kelvin

Launched Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project on 02/23/15

There is nothing better than seeing an idea become a reality! After tireless hours of planning and fundraising by our teams in Liberia and the U.S., we launched the Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project on Monday, February 23, 2015. We have embarked on a three-month training program that will teach 20 youth in Liberia from ages 12 to 20 how to:

  1. Operate and maintain a treadle sewing machine
  2. Transform recycled material into backpacks that are needed by Liberian students
  3. Cultivate innovation with limited resources
  4. Build relationships beyond personal and national borders
 
 Video of the students practicing their pedaling during the first week of the program.

Below are pictures of the first week of this training program. The main focus was to teach our students how to properly operate the sewing machines, because precision in pedaling minimizes the breakage of needles and thread. The second objective was to teach the initial stage of production, which is preparing the plastic.

Photos of the first day of the youth practicing to pedal the sewing machine. We offer two training sessions, one morning and one in the afternoon.

 These three photos show the steps 1, 2 and 3 of the backpack production. The photo on the left shows the students washing the plastic to ensure it is clean. The middle photo shows the students packing the plastic in groups to dry it . The photo on the right shows the students hanging the sewn strips of plastic on the line to finish the drying, before they are joined together to create the “fabric” for making the backpacks.

Backpacks for Peace Sponsors:

  • Sundance Family Foundation, based in Minnesota, gave a $3,000 grant. 
  • African Dream Academy supplies the recycled plastic and Liberia Partner.
  • Uniting Distant Stars donors contributed $1,260 for this project.

Along with the Backpacks for Peace project, our 20 young trainees and 30 more Liberian youth will participate via Google Hangout in the Nobel Peace Prize Youth Forum on March 6. 2015, at Augsburg College in Minnesota. This forum will showcase our Backpacks for Peace project along with the other great service learning projects developed by youth groups in Minnesota.

Our youth will be involved in the forum for about three hours during the morning session, due to a six-hour difference between Liberia and Minnesota. Take a look at what happened last year during this program to connect youth on both sides of the Atlantic in a virtual environment. This year we are taking a more active role and will participate by:

  1. Listening to a speech by Leiv Sydnes of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (2013 Nobel Laurette)
  2. Asking one question of Leiv Sydnes.
  3. Joining the World Cafe discussion that focuses on three questions about peace building in their communities and schools that can be turned into actionable initiatives.

This year Uniting Distant Stars will be the host for the forum in Liberia. We had a successful first test of the Google Hangout On Air platform with the much appreciated assistance from the forum tech crew this past week. Also, we raised $385 in four days for the March 6 activities that will be used to provide refreshments for the participants as well as logistical needs (projector, generator, etc) to ensure a proper connection.

The photo on right is from the 2014 NPPYF with our co-hosts iLab Liberia. Photo on left is from the January 2015 meet & greet Google Hangout with the young cabinet members of youthrive.

youthrive is the producer of the Nobel Peace Prize Youth Forum and a Minnesota Partner organization for Uniting Distant Stars.

Finally, another important announcement: We are now registered as a non-profit in Liberia and anticipate that our programs will be accredited through the Ministry of Education by the end of March 2015. This was a necessary step to show our dedication to providing innovative youth-focused educational programing in Liberia.

We extend our heartfelt Thanks to all our sponsors and donors, who have graciously contributed to these projects!