Update on Liberian Schools

Update on Liberian Schools

How are you today? We hope you found ways to adapt to the new normal as we move forward with 2020. It seems like things change daily and we learn to adjust as needed. Again, your dedication to Liberian Youth allows UDS to be agile during these trying times. Thank you again for including UDS in your charitable giving! 

Your recent plumbing, computer, and catering graduates at work during the past year.

In Liberia, they are trying to balance managing the cases as they increase with removing some of the restrictions. Let’s look at the current numbers for COVID-19 as August 9: 1,234 confirmed cases, 79 people who have died, 714 people recovered, and 267 cases per million people. Again, testing is limited, so these numbers might not reflect reality.

The Government of Liberia announced that the 6th to 11th graders will return on August 10 to resume the 2019/2020 school year. The year will end in December. There is no return of the preschoolers to 5th graders. All schools are waiting on any guidance if we can promote them from what they accomplished during the time they attended. Therefore, the academic year will start either end of December or early January.

Also, universities and vocational training schools are reopening. We have a tentative date of September 15 to start our fourth vocational training cohort. Currently, our tailoring instructor and graduates are making masks for the 6th and 7th graders and the new vocational training students. Additionally, We will be adding extra handwashing stations and taking their temperatures before entering the center. Keeping all students safe is our number priority. 

UDS Academy Opens in September

UDS Academy Opens in September

After a successful first year of the UDS Academy, our team gears up for the 2019-2020 academic school year. The preparation started in July when they opened registration in response to the parents’ pleas. These same parents started telling others about what they loved about UDS and new parents flooded our registration office. Our gratitude goes to Myrtle S Toe (2019 Hotel Management Graduate), who graciously volunteered to oversee the primary school registration!  Her giving back did not stop with registration, she also will be the preschool teacher. Thank you, Myrtle, for paying it forward!

Another part of preparing for the new school year included a teacher’s workshop. On August 31, all current and new teachers attended an all-day workshop. Kelvin FombaNelson Bolay (UDS Academy Principal), and Webster Dayee (UDS Volunteer) provided information on creating lesson plans, understanding the various learning styles, and much more.

UDS Academy Teachers Workshop.

Again, the UDS Academy was started by our Liberian Team last year in response to families unable to pay the rising cost of tuition. The academy is not only a benefit to the community but also our vocational training students who have young students. This allows them to pursue their dream while ensuring their children receive an education.

Thank you for empowering our team to do more to serve the next generation of Liberians! We also welcome any support to help provide more learning materials for the school. 

Your Support Gives Liberian Youth a Better Tomorrow

Your Support Gives Liberian Youth a Better Tomorrow

Did you enjoy Elijah Kotee’s garden tour from our last newsletter? Your investment in his training in both catering and permaculture design certification gave him the inspiration to take the necessary steps forward realizing his dreams.

Your continued support gives more than the gift of learning a valuable skill but also gaining the confidence to succeed in their career goals. You can take great pride in what your generosity is doing for Liberian Youth!

As July winds down, we are in the final days of accepting new students for our vocational training courses. Your current students actively recruited new students. They helped get a female plumbing student which we have had one in all three cohorts. Also, they recruited our very first female electrician student (included in the photos below wearing the yellow shirt). During the next month, our newest students will receive extra attention in the next month to get them caught up with their fellow students. 

Your electrician students at work. 

Our UDS Academy Teachers opened a summer vacation school to help our students prepare for the upcoming academic year. Since this school was created by our team last year, they are committed to providing our children with quality education and help them advance to the next grade. Sylvester Yeah Jr. shared these photos of his students. He also graduated on April 13 with a Diploma in Computers.

Sylvester Yeah Jr. teaching students during summer vacation school

Your compassion and support of Liberian Youth allow them to dream big! 

My Visit to UDS Liberia (Part 2 of 3)

My Visit to UDS Liberia (Part 2 of 3)

by Rita Apaloo, Board Member & Fundraising Team Chair

Rita Apaloo (right)

On my first visit, I had the opportunity to see the center being used as an elementary school for kids in the community. I observed them in their shared classroom spaces and during recess/lunch break. The youngest kids (Pre-K) met in the covered patio area that holds the hair braiding training and makeshift salon. Grades 1 – 4 are spread out in the multipurpose room with partitions and the sewing room. Grades 5 and 6 are upstairs in attic-type area. 

If you missed Part 1 of Rita’s article, click here

I later found that one-room schoolhouses are commonplace in Liberia. There are not enough schools to meet the demand. So, these schools are popping up everywhere to provide some relief and the kids don’t miss out on early learning skills. I’m not sure how effective these one-room schoolhouses are and if the government evaluates or supports them. There are no free government schools currently.

My mom and I got to speak to the older kids and answer a few questions from them. They were all respectful, insightful and full of hope. We really enjoyed learning about the school and the students. When asked what message they would like to send to current and potential donors, they were full of gratitude and wanted school supplies and any additional help. They promised to work hard, stay in school and always do their best.

6th-grade students listening to Rita’s Mom talk (Photos by Rita Apaloo).

As a board member who has been interested and passionate about the vocational training center and concerned about starting an elementary school and stretching our already limited resources, it was hard not to see the blaring needs of the kids, families and surrounding community. In addition, the kids were so excited and already seem to have formed a community through UDS. 

During my visit, it certainly was easy to see the huge economic gaps among the people. I was told by an education industry professional that “schools” have become a business in Liberia. Unfortunately, student success is not always a top priority. I also learned that more and more families are looking beyond academics and are interested in extracurricular activities outside the classroom for a rounded education. As a result, some schools focus too much on these activities than the classroom learning, putting students in a deficit when it comes to learning standards. Many students are also hopping from one school to the next, chasing the latest programming or looking for an easy pass to the next class.

All of these and more are affecting the cost of learning from preschool to high school and beyond. The result is that decent education is moving beyond the reach of more and more families and there are no free government schools to fill the gap. This leaves so many children and families without options. Too many children are put to work to help their family survive or they are left to fend for themselves to survive the harsh economic climate in the country.

Another real challenge to education is access to transportation. Community schools are important to families because they are within walking distance with little or no transportation costs. I learned that some kids have to leave the safety and comfort of home and are sent to live with extended family and friends to be closer to a school, in an effort to reduce or avoid transportation fares. 

UDS Academy is tuition-free but UDS requires families to buy uniforms from the center, made by the staff and tailoring students. UDS also sells water to students (an in-demand necessity in the city) to raise funds for school operations. In addition, tailoring is an in-demand skill as educational institutions and businesses alike are preferring uniforms over regular clothing. The trend in fashion clothing made with African fabrics is also a large and growing market for tailoring skills.

Students buying cold mineral water to drink (Photos by Rita Apaloo)

It was great to meet and chat with UDS faculty. They are passionate about the work and mission and they put student success at the center of everything they do. 

People in Liberia are constantly looking for opportunities to improve their circumstances for the better. The leadership and staff of UDS are no different. Having the center provides multiple opportunities to do more and better. I am amazed at the ingenuity of the leadership and staff in finding ways to do more with limited resources. Is it perfect? Not by a long shot but the challenges are real and the problem-solving and entrepreneurial spirit of the staff is admirable. I see my role as a Board Member to investigate, evaluate and support the efforts of UDS leadership and staff to meet the needs of their students, the community, and business, to help build better futures.
 Part 3 of Rita’s visit will be shared in our next newsletter. Please stay tuned! 

Meeting the Students at Russ Wood School in Liberia

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.