Continual Improving Our Vocational Training

Continual Improving Our Vocational Training

Being recognized in Liberia is one of our greatest challenges as a three-year-old vocational training center. That changed when Alieu Kemokai, Technical & Administrative Assistant/TVET of Youth & Sports Ministry, invited Kelvin Fomba to attend the TVET teachers workshop from July 22 to July 27. Mr. Kemokai presented diplomas at our April 13, 2019, commencement ceremony and left impressed with what he saw. It included 50 participates from several vocational training institutes along with staff employed at the Ministry of Youth & Sports. 

Kelvin sitting with his fellow attendees during the 5-day TVET workshop.

Kelvin found this workshop invaluable from both the information shared and the connections made. The instructor, a U.S. woman from UNESCO (UN Agency that developed the TVET program). She started with reviewing the top four learning styles, moved into developing effective learning plans and core concepts in providing quality TVET training. Importantly, UDS maintains a TVET permit since November 2016. 

Additionally, UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) helped facilitate this training. Both UNESCO and UNIDO realized the need for additional support of vocational training organizations in Liberia. They plan to provide advanced training to all the attendees in the future.

Throughout this training, Kelvin noticed some of his peers lacked computer knowledge. At the closing program, Kelvin offered six scholarships to instructors to attend our computer course. The Deputy Minister of TVET, Peter Bemah, commended Kelvin’s effort and stressed the importance of helping each other.

Peter Bemah, Deputy Minister of TVET, addressing the training participants at the closing program.

Now that Kelvin completed this training, he will be holding a workshop with our instructors next month. His workshop will provide the information he learned and discuss how to implement it into our program. 

Kelvin received his certification of participation from his instructor.
Your 1st Quarter Accomplishments

Your 1st Quarter Accomplishments

With graduation just around the corner, it is important to pause and highlight what you helped Uniting Distant Stars accomplish in the first quarter of 2019:

  1. Over 40 participates received Permaculture Design Certification training in January. Two of the graduates implemented the tools of this training to be self-sufficient. A young woman returned to her family farm in Bomi County about 2 hours from Monrovia, because she saw the value of Permaculture training in providing income for her family. Another man (see photo below), who already had gardens in the Monrovia area, realized how he could produce a better yield and provide more for his family.
  2. UDS Electrician Students received real experience with the solar installation with the guidance of the vendor/technician. The students securely placed the solar panels on the roof and installed the wire connection from the panels to electrify our center. Most of our center is powered with solar except the computer lab.
  3. UDS Kickball and Football Teams brought home 1st and 2nd place victories respectively on March 30.
Nelson Borlay (right) shows Kelvin Fomba (left-UDS Co-Founder) & Bruce Blair (center-SLFND Trainer) his garden during the Permaculture training in January 2019

Thank you for your continued and generous support in equipping youth with the knowledge and skills they need to realize their potential! 

Thank You For Extraordinary 2018!!!

Thank You For Extraordinary 2018!!!

Your continued generous support gave Uniting Distant Stars their best year ever! As a result of your efforts, you accomplished the following:

  1. Raised $25,426! This is a record for our small organization. Compared to last year, you raised 28% more.
  2. Increased our Monthly Donors from three to seven. Also, please consider our Star Champion Monthly Donor Program,
  3. Graduated 75 vocational training students on March 24, 2018.
  4. Supported 150 vocational training students enrolled in one of eight one-year courses.
  5. Sponsored 17 academic scholarship students attending primary and secondary schools.
  6. Sponsored 5 vocational training students enrolled in our program.
  7. Supported 35 youth to attend the 2019 Permaculture Design Certification Training.

Furthermore, your passionate commitment to giving Liberian Youth knowledge and skills is a worthwhile investment. Here is a video showing your tremendous accomplishments in 2018.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VfTgpKuam6c[/embedyt]

By the way, this video features the music “Education is Better than Silver & Gold” written and sung by one of our former computer students, Enoch Daniel Tarr. Additionally, Ernest Norris Jr. created and published the video. Thank you to these aspiring young Liberian Artists!

To conclude this extraordinary year, Liberian Youth give you their heartfelt thanks! 

“Education is Better Than Silver & Gold”

“Education is Better Than Silver & Gold”

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.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wb_5NsSsR_o[/embedyt]

Liberia – Youth Empowerment Workshop

The Divine Town Community in Congo Town invited Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) to hold a Youth Empowerment Workshop on Saturday, April 23, 2016. This day-long event implanted ideas and concepts on how youth can empower themselves and overcome obstacles in their post-Ebola society that increased the number of student dropouts. Additionally, it provided a space for youth to unite and discover ways to take an active role in their community through sports, civic, social and cultural activities. 

Divine Town Community young Liberians attending Youth Empowerment Workshop

This collaborative undertaking involved many key contributors: 1) Assembly of God Mission (AGM) School Campus in Divine Town Community provided the venue. 2) Reverend Samuel Enders, Founder of African Dream Academy, supplied the projector and sound system. 3) UDS donated $290 for refreshments prepared;and served by our youth volunteers. 4) Six community leaders spoke on different topics addressing important issues as follows:

  1. Mr. Michael A Kharim, PTA Coordinator/Ministry of Education. Topic: Youth and the Community.
  2. Evangelist Godfred Solomon. Topic: The Positive (doctor prescribed) and Negative (addiction) Effect of Drugs.
  3. Pastor Isaac Ndama. Topic: Reasons Why Youth Misbehave.
  4. Brother Trokon Karsor, Acting Youth Leader, Divine Town Community. Topic: Demarcation and Problems of the Community.
  5. Kelvin S. Fomba, UDS Co-Founder and Country Director. Topic: Boldness in Public Speaking.
  6. Brother Janjay Gabriel, Acting UDS Youth President. Topic: Developing Leadership Skills.
Workshop participants listens to one of the presenters.

The workshop provided morning and afternoon sessions with a lunch break in between for 128 participants. Each presenter encouraged young ladies and gentleman to ask questions and offer suggestions during their session. About 70 to 75% of the youth commented that this was their first workshop they had ever attended. The majority of the youth found the information to be relative to their present situation and impressed by the content delivered by each presenter. 

UDS volunteers providing soft drinks and sandwiches they prepared earlier in the day.

Midway through the workshop, Reverend Enders was asked to share his testimony on how he dealt with adversity as a young person. Like so many in the audience, he was forced to drop out of school due to financial reasons as a young boy. When he could finally re-enroll he was much older and had to deal younger students ridiculing him for being in their classroom. Their demeaning remarks did not discourage him from moving forward with his education and he prayed that one day he could go to the United States. Fortunately, that prayer was answered after he graduated from high school. During his time in the U.S., he made another vow to return to Liberia and serve his people. He honored his commitment and came home to start a free school for children in 2012 called African Dream Academy. In 2016, he opened a clinic to provide free healthcare for children up to age 6. Reverend Enders story illustrated how one’s dreams are reachable with determination and effort. 

Reverend Enders sharing his story of overcoming adversity. 

Next up was Kelvin Doe’s TED Talk about how he used discarded electrical devices and repurposed them as batteries, music sets and eventually his own radio station. This young Sierra Leonean received international attention for his inventions and innovations through a YouTube video and became the youngest visiting practitioner to The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Kelvin’s inspiring story left our youth awestruck because he demonstrated how he could make his vision into a reality through precise focus and perseverance. 


The youth’s reaction to Kelvin Doe’s video was reminiscent to our inaugural Youth Leadership Workshop on Creative and Innovative Thinking in 2013. During this two-day event, we played Kelvin’s video along with other TED Talks of young Africans to highlight their innovative endeavors of using “spare” parts to solve problems. Young Liberians can easily relate to these individuals because they are facing the same challenges of living in poverty and uncertainty of their future. Furthermore, they also saw how their resourcefulness brought positive changes into their life.

As the workshop concluded they asked Kelvin Fomba (UDS Country Director) some probing questions like, “Why have we not heard of UDS?” and “How can they get involved?” Kelvin explained why our presence is not widely known in Liberia because we are a small organization trying to grow gradually to best accommodate the education and skill training needs of youth. He followed with how they can best utilize our current programs such as auto mechanics and driver’s training, afternoon study classes, read books in our library, and sign-up for future computer classes. The youth responded with excitement and eagerness to be part of UDS. 

Kelvin Fomba, UDS Country Director, answering the participants questions.

Overall the workshop was a success and helped us learn something about ourselves. While UDS might not be a household name to everyone yet, the Divine Town Community Leadership recognized our efforts in serving young Liberians. The community leaders are grateful for our leadership in providing our youth with resources to improve their education and expand their knowledge. They equally value our partnership in addressing concerns with the growing number out-of-school youth by offering training classes to develop their marketable skills and increase their chances of being contributing members of society. 

Youth of ages attended this one-day workshop.

In closing this post, we are grateful for the efforts of committed individuals who helped organize this workshop to unite youth and open their minds to their own potential. UDS gives special recognition and appreciation to Reverend Samuel Enders, Divine Town Community Leaders, Assembly of God Mission (AGM) School, Mr. Michael A Kharim, Evangelist Godfred Solomon, Pastor Isaac Ndama, Brother Trokon Karsor, Brother Janjay Gabriel, and all our volunteers who made this workshop possible and successful. Thank you!

Outside view of Assembly of God Mission (AGM) School

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!