by Rita Apaloo, Board Member & Fundraising Team Chair
The VTC students had completed their training year and were preparing for graduation during my visit. I was able to meet some of the new incoming students on March 25. Many of them were recruited through radio promotions and others were referred by current or former students. In talking with some of the students, I learned that they chose to enroll for several different reasons including learning a vocation, getting credentials for something they have been doing, affordable program, job prospects, self-employment, quality (practical) training, proximity to the center, the sense of family/community at UDS, etc.
UDS instructors were all present to introduce themselves and share some information about their various courses, in an effort to entice the students to sign up with their respective departments. We had a good laugh listening to their persuasive speeches. The students were excited to get started and appreciated hearing my story of how both my parents benefitted from vocational training and were able to provide a great life for us kids by using their skills to build great careers over the years. I also shared about my UDS Board experience and urged them to work hard and become the kind of success stories that donors and potential donors love to support. We are all partners in this work and play important roles in building and growing the organization.
Unfortunately, the UDS Graduation was postponed past my visit so I wasn’t able to participate as initially planned. I also met with graduating students on March 30 who also appreciated my presence and story. After they took care of the business of fees, payments and other details about the ceremony, I thanked them and bid them good luck in their futures and encouraged them to stay in touch. I asked that they keep us posted on how they’re using their skills and learning and also about their accomplishments and successes.
I was honored to meet a couple of amazing students, Elijah Kotee and Gabriel Zargo, who had already found success even before graduation. Elijah completed UDS Catering training. He had a job working at a restaurant and also did independent catering when he wasn’t working for his employer. Elijah was appreciative of his UDS Diploma and said that the diploma was needed to open doors to the kinds of opportunities he would like to pursue. He also completed the Permaculture training program in hopes to someday combine both trainings to prepare sustainable farming food that he grows and provides a healthier option for his catering clients. Elijah has big dreams and more than enough passion to make it all happen. I have no doubt that sooner or later he will pull it off.
Gabriel completed UDS computer training and is an entrepreneur. His business, LifeChore, is an employment incubator that operates in the hospitality and manufacturing industries with the mission to help youth find great jobs. He was recognized during the meeting for having referred a couple of hospitality students from UDS graduating class to a business client. They were interviewed and offered employment at a hotel. He said that his company has helped over 20 youth find short and long term jobs. I was proud to have been a small part of their lives, dreams, and success through UDS. I can’t wait to see what more they accomplish in the future.
Indeed, UDS is making dreams come true, one student at a time.
by Rita Apaloo, Board Member & Fundraising Team Chair
On my recent trip to Liberia, March 2019, I had a long list of things to do, which included visiting UDS Center. I encountered many challenges checking things off my list but thankfully I made it to UDS not once but three separate times (March 21, 25 and 30)!
Monrovia and its surrounding areas are not well-planned so there is no specific address to follow to get to a location. People use landmarks to provide direction to a specific location. UDS is located on the Old Road behind the York Plaza Hotel, so I set out to find the hotel. On the way, we (my mom, another family member and I) stopped a young man strolling by to ask for directions. Luckily for us, not only did he know the York Plaza Hotel, but he also was very familiar with UDS and agreed to hop into our vehicle to take us there. He said he had a friend who completed computer training at UDS and he had raved about the school, staff, and students. In fact, our guide had, at one time, consider checking out UDS to further his education since he was a high school graduate but hadn’t decided what post-secondary education he wanted to pursue. I thought this as a great testament to the UDS brand and reputation in the community.
Part 2 of Rita’s visit will be shared in our next newsletter. Please stay tuned!
Please join us in congratulating Yakasah Wehyee as our newest board member! He brings a wealth of knowledge and non-profit experience, having worked with organizations like YMCA and Project for Pride in Living. He hopes to advance our mission and vision with his program management and community building skills. We are excited to have him on board.
Learn more about Yakasah by reading his bio: Yakasah grew up in Minnesota where he attended primary and secondary school in the Minneapolis school district and graduated from St. Francis High School. Yakasah’s commitment to community service developed in these formative years where he served as student council president, organized national night-outs and other community events. Yakasah has continued to advocate and serve the need of underserved populations such as being Community Organizer for All Parks Alliance for Change, Senior Fellow for the McVay Youth Partnership Program, and Senior Coordinator and Program Manager for the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities. Yakasah earned his BA in political science and history from Hamline University and his MA at the University of Minnesota. He is a current Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota where he studies comparative politics and international relations. Yakasah’s research centers on understanding why dominant party dictatorships rise and fall, with an emphasis on Liberia’s dominant party regime from 1878-1980. Yakasah joined the UDS board in 2019. As a Liberian refugee, he is grateful for the opportunity to positively impact the lives of young Liberians on the African continent through Uniting Distant Stars.
Please join us in congratulating Beyan Gonowolo, as he is our new board member. Beyan has been one of our raving fans since 2014. We first met at the Minnesota State University, Mankato Liberian Students Association fundraiser for Uniting Distant Stars in May 2014. He shared how he read our entire website. We reconnected at the “Take Back Africa Summit” at the University of Minnesota on June 17, 2018, and he started helping as a volunteer. We are excited to have him join our team! Please read Beyan’s bio to learn more about him:
Beyan Gonowolo is a co-founder of the Liberian Student Association at Minnesota State University, Mankato and a longtime member and co-founder of the African Student Organization for Development and Progress at Minnesota State, Mankato. Beyan was born in Liberia but migrated to Minnesota to join his family and to obtain a quality education.
Growing up in Liberia during much of the country’s civil war exposed Beyan to the harsh reality facing war-torn countries. Beyan draws strength from his experience by partnering and working with solution-based organizations that are making a positive impact in Liberia and around the world.
Beyan has been inspired by the work that “Uniting Distant Stars” is doing in Liberia and is exceptionally honored to join the team to help develop and increase the organization’s capacity. His goal is to ensure UDS can grow financially to provide more opportunities for young people in Liberia.
Beyan currently works for a civil engineering company in Minnesota and has experience in design engineering, surveying, and construction inspection.
Minnesota, November 23, 2015: Uniting Distant Stars is happy to announce our new board members Philip Kaleewoun II and Florkime Paye, who were officially installed on October 25. Philip is new to UDS while Florkime has served as our volunteer project coordinator since 2014. Philip is a very active youth leader in Minnesota with organizations like Volunteers in Partnership, Rotaract, and Athletics Committed to Educating Students (ACES). Florkime is an international development professional, volunteering with Minnesota International NGO Network, interned in Liberia with Women’s Movement for Sustainable Development, and taught English in South Korea. Both Philip and Florkime bring a wealth of experience to UDS and we are fortunate to have them on board. Please read more about our new board members on our About UDS and Team.
Congratulations Philip and Florkime!!!
Uniting Distant Stars™, Inc. is a 501(c)3 tax deductible organization registered non-profit corporation in Minnesota, and accredited and registered no-government organization (NGO) in Liberia, West Africa. Its programs serve youth in Liberia. We provide educational support with scholarships and school supply drives. We also offer innovative programming such as our Backpacks for Peace to cultivate future leaders. For more information, please contact us at [email protected].