On Saturday, May 23, 2020, about 60 Vocational Training Students came to the center to receive their handwashing packages, because they were unable to come the week before. Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder & Director in Liberia held a meeting with the students. They all wore masks and observed social distancing.
The students started sharing their concerns and thoughts with one another about the COVID-19, the reopening of schools, etc. Some students shared how times were hard and the struggles they are facing. Two students got up and shared their testimonials.
Linda Foeday, Cosmetology
The first one was Linda Foeday, a 2019 Hotel Management Graduate and soon-to-be Cosmetology graduate. She shared how fortunate she was to demonstrate her hotel management skills during the permaculture training in January 2019. Linda served the trainers from Sierra Leone Foundation for New Democracy during their nine-day stay. From this experience, she wanted to come back and learn more, and be part of the UDS Team. Based on her dedication, hard work, and leadership, she was appointed to run the Hair Salon that we acquired and opened last fall.
Next up was Grace Gweh, a three-course soon-to-be graduate in computers, cosmetology, and hotel management. She did all of this while working as a primary school teacher. As she stood at the podium, Grace shared how she created the grade sheets for the students at her school. She then explained how she earned money from designing flyers or other materials for people requesting her service. Grace, a self-motivated person, wants to learn as much as she can. She definitely inspires others through her own example.
As you see, your investment in students like Linda and Grace pays off. They could not have gotten this far without your generous help!
When you invest in young people of any nation, you are developing the leaders of tomorrow. Your continued support provides leadership development with our youth. In July, the students elected their student council from a field of interested candidates. They planned an installment program for their new leaders and to celebrate their accomplishments in their given courses.
As they were planning their program, Jackson George (Consul General of the Minnesota Liberian Consulate) contacted us about visiting our center during his trip to Liberia. The original plan was to have him visit on July 30, but this became a holiday for the senatorial election, so the students decided to invite him to their program so he could endorse their leadership and be their guest speaker.
Jackson enjoyed being part of this program and meeting our students. When asked in an email if he had anything to share about his visit he responded, “I just want people to know about the great work you are doing to help the people of Liberia. It was a learning and exciting process for me.” Everyone is very grateful to Jackson for making this a successful and memorable program.
The program started with the students from the various courses showcasing what they have learned during the first third of their term.
Your students showcasing what they have learned (left to right, top to bottom): Catering, Computer, Cosmetology, Electrician, Plumbing, and Tailoring students
Next, Jackson shared motivational words with the students about the benefits of learning a trade and also how to use social media to share what they are learning and to connect with people.
Jackson George, Consul General of Minnesota Liberian Consulate, inspiring UDS students to achieve their goals and make a difference
Jackson followed his talk by endorsing our new Student Council who will be serving until they graduate next year.
Congrats to the 2018/2019 Uniting Distant Stars Student Council!
New Student Council (left to right): Teddy Jr, Ngayenga (President), Caraton M. Mahn (Vice President), Sylvester T. Yeah Jr (Secretary-general), Emmanuel L. Tarr (Financially secretary), Abraham C. Morgan (advisor), Zawida Gaylee (Treasurer), & Aujustine Kouadio (Chaplain)
Enoch Daniel Tarr wrote the song, “Education is Better Than Silver & Gold” for UDS.
One of our computer students, Enoch Daniel Tarr, from 2016 wrote a song to promote Uniting Distant Stars Vocational Training Center. Enoch is 16 years old and wanted to express his gratitude for our programs through music.
Our creative and talented board member, Anna Bertch, created a music video of Enoch’s song with photos of all our courses. Please enjoy listening to this uplifting song that will get you moving with the music.
Thank you for attending our first house party “A Gathering of the Stars” on September 18th, 2017! You raised $475 for our Become a Classroom Hero campaign from this stellar event, which featured delicious food, great networking, and being inspired to support Liberian youth. We all appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedules to meet our fabulous board and to learn more about our work in Liberia!
It is important to give special recognition to our hosts, John & Maureen Trepp, who opened their home for this gathering of supporters, old and new. We also want to recognize our guest speaker, Branko Tambah, who shared an inspiring message about vocational training, and the blessings of opportunity that come with it. Finally, we give our gratitude to African Foods & Gifts, for making the delicious appetizers for this event!
For those who missed this event, we recorded Branko’s talk, “The Importance of Vocational Training.” He shares his personal story of growing up in poverty and facing the challenges of war in his home country of Liberia. Both he and his Dad benefited from vocational training on Booker Washington Institute (BWI) in Kakata, Liberia. Branko expressed how vocational training is the path to personal sustainability, and he encouraged everyone to support our students attending UDS courses. Please enjoy his talk, and be inspired to help young Liberians achieve their star potential!
This summer we will be focusing on three amazing young leaders and what they have done to make this a better world. We are excited to start this series with one of our STAR leaders, who is Gradieh Wreh. She wears many hats with Uniting Distant Stars by serving as a founding board member, donor and volunteer along with bringing the millennial perspective to our organization. She was an instrumental member of our project team for the 2013 Youth Leadership Workshop in Liberia both as a planner and presenter, which she shared her expertise as an entrepreneur.
Gradieh–whose name means surprise–is a very focused and self-determined young women who has built her successful cosmetology business–Hair by Gradieh–from the ground up. She has unleashed her passion to promote healthy natural hair through her work as a stylist and teacher. She offers several types of styles along with her own design of “U Part” wigs. Her most recent endeavor was launching her own product line for hair and skin using natural ingredients that are abundant in her native home of Liberia. She named her product line–Bindu’s Organics–after her Mom, who has been a huge help with this venture.
Gradieh with her Mom Bindu selling Bindu’s Organics and U Part wigs at a show. Photo courtesy of Gradieh Wreh.
I met Gradieh shortly before she married her husband Elijah in August 2010. Elijah and I connected two months earlier about our shared passion in helping the young Liberian people access resources to improve their quality of education. It has been an honor to be immersed in the lives of this enterprising young couple that forged a lasting relationship that is both personal and professional.
Gradieh with Elijah. Photos courtesy of Gradieh Wreh.
During that same year in 2010, I became a client of Gradieh‘s and really appreciate the personalized service she delivers. Most importantly as I have sat in her chair the last four years, I have been able to witness how she has realized her dreams one bold initiative at a time. She has grown her thriving business by taking some risks and mixing her talents as an artist and scientist. One moment she is sculpting an UpDo that is more of a work of art than a simple hairstyle. The next moment she is sharing her next chemistry experiment on Facebook that she is conjuring up in her brother’s kitchen for her ever growing product line.
On the left is one of Gradieh’s UpDo’s and on the right is a new batch of body butter being whipped up. Photos courtesy of Gradieh Wreh.
It is her strong faith in God as a Christian that has guided her in taking this “ordinary career and making it extraordinary”–something coined by my own Mom in describing her entrepreneurship. It is exciting to watch her excel in her passion-aligned-profession along with being one of the first to try out her products.
Bindu’s Organics Body Butter. Photo courtesy of Gradieh Wreh.
Gradieh follows in the footsteps of many in her generation that have created businesses that value both profit and people which is often referred as a social enterprise. In providing a social benefit, she started offering free workshops this year to both her clients and general public about understanding the science of hair and how to protect it from the harsh elements. In attending two of her workshops, I can say she is a subject matter expert on hair from the inside out.
While building her brand in Minnesota, she is also introducing it in the New Jersey and New York markets. She and Elijah moved out east in 2013 when he landed a job in his field of regulatory science. While establishing herself at a salon in Newark, New Jersey, she returns to Minnesota about every six weeks to serve her long-term clients. As one of them, I’m grateful for her making this possible.
In addition to her a role has an entrepreneur, she is a student completing her bachelor’s on entrepreneurship and a writer for various publications for black women. She is definitely dedicated in changing the paradigm for businesses owned by women and people of color.
Gradieh is an example of someone that pushed past the expectations of others to follow her own ideals in living her purpose. Though she has been challenged by her age and race, she does not let either one hinder her from achieving her goals. Much of this could be attributed to moving to Minnesota from Liberia at age 9 while it was embroiled in a civil war. This caused her to be separated from her parents, but she was fortunate to have relatives in Minnesota to live with during this transition. This was not easy juncture in her life, because she went through her formative years trying to preserve one cultural while adapting to another. I believe this experience helped her gain wisdom and strength to persevere through many trying times thus leading to her success today.
Uniting Distant Stars is honored to have Gradieh on our team. She is a role model for the young people we are serving in Liberia and elsewhere in the world. We wanted to ask her four questions that would encourage young people to pursue their dreams by sharing her experience and insight that has shaped her own.
1) When did you first discover your talents and knew this was a path you wanted to take and why?
I discovered my talent of doing hair when I was in the eighth grade. I needed my hair done and a friend of mine stood me up. I took on the task and I kept on going from there. I would practice on myself, friends and family members. I started helping my cousin’s wife in her salon during her pregnancy when I was in the ninth grade. I loved the salon experience and I never stop going; it became my after school job.
I love interacting, educating and touching people’s lives. These are the three things that pushed me to continue my path of doing hair and so much more.
2) What were the top three influences that supported your can-do spirit and why?
First is My faith: Understanding that I can do all things through Him (God) who strengthens me.
Second is Helping people: There is always a way to help someone and there are so many rewards you get from doing so. From what I experienced, I can say the disappointment caused by not helping others is far greater. I love being among people who are realizing their potential while they are watching me do the same. That is why I love to share my journey, because I just never know who I’m influencing.
Third is Modesty: I can be painfully modest at times about what I do and how far I have come, but that pushes me to always want to do more. I have many little notebooks and planners lying around that have goals and financial records in them. They go back as far as 2007 (when I was in cosmetology school) and every time I come across one of them, its an opportunity to see how far I have come and this is followed with a few minutes of celebration. After that, I realize how much more I have to do and how “far behind” I am.Bottom line is that there is more to do and regardless of how much I accomplished, I have committed my life to continue with the work that has been driven by my passion and desire to pursue my dreams.
3) In dealing with the barriers of age and race, what are some strategies you have applied to overcome them?
Number 1 is Educate myself: Education brings on a whole new level of confidence. I don’t believe in hanging a degree on my wall and calling it an education. That was the example of education that I saw growing up, so the idea of going to college was never attractive to me until 2011. Education to me is not just formal education, but seeking new experiences and new and innovative ways to do things.It’s finding how many different ways I can part your hair and how many different styles I can create and why. By educating yourself, you are equipping yourself with something that can never be taken away.
Number 2 is Humble yourself: It allows you to grow, gain trust and build strong relationships.
4) As someone who has found success as a young entrepreneur, what would be your five top recommendations that you would give a rising star that may feel hindered by any social biases?
Follow your heart.
Always be good to people.
Invest in yourself before expecting anyone else to.
Be confident/cautious: Take time out to understand each step you take and why. Take time out to understand where you are and why you’re there. What decisions or circumstances are responsible for where you are and just because you come across a good opportunity doesn’t mean you have to take advantage of it.
We want to Thank Gradieh for allowing us to share her story to inspire others to discover and embrace their authentic self. Also, we wish her all the best as she continues to expand her brand as one of the top haircare specialists in the nation!!!