On October 31, Uniting Distant Stars Vocational Training Center held a general meeting. These meetings bring students and staff together to provide information and solicit feedback. Some shared how this is the first school they have attended in Liberia that “has so much respect for students”. Also, some commented on how this “is the only school that gets the students’ views before making any administrative decisions”. As you may recall in our last newsletter, we shared a video on how we are a youth-driven organization and the students’ feedback confirm this notion.
Additionally, the instructors talked about how much they appreciate the benefit of learning another trade. As a small institution, we pay a small monthly stipend so we added an incentive to learn a trade for free. Many of our instructors take advantage of this opportunity.
Introducing Uniting Distant Stars Instructors
Now we like to introduce you to our instructors and what other roles they play at Uniting Distant Stars. From the photo below we will start from the top photo and go left to right then down to the bottom two photos left to right as follows:
Michael Gaye, Event Decoration Co-Instructor (started in 2019). The class enrollment grew this year, so he has a co-instructor and he is learning from him.
Frank Tugbeh, Catering Instructor (started in 2018). He has a catering business on the side and continues to share his knowledge with the students.
Emmanuel Duwah, Cosmetology Instructor (started in 2019). He is active in his career as a hairstylist.
Myrtle Stoe, Hotel Management Teachers Assistant (started in 2019). She graduated from this course in 2019 and started assisting the instructor, Amed Saah Blama (not pictured). She also serves as the registrar and does other administrative duties. This year she enrolled in event decoration.
Nelson S. Borlay, Academy Principal and Vocational Training Administration (started in 2018). He is enrolled in catering.
Kelvin Fomba, Auto Mechanics & Computer Instructors. He wears many hats including Co-Founder & Country Director and will help anywhere that is needed.
Boakai Dillion, Electrician Instructor (started in 2018). He is a 2017/2018 graduate and took over for the ailing instructor in 2018. Boakai is started helping with administrative duties last year and wants to continue to grow with the organization.
Daniel Williams, Event Decoration Co-Instructor (started 2020). He comes with extensive experience in event decorating, thus the reason why Michael wants to learn from him. He is also enrolled as an electrician student.
Askia D. Nyandibo, Plumbing Instructor (started in 2019). He currently works as a plumber.
Jerry Paypay, Tailoring Instructor (started in 2018). He makes time from his busy tailoring business to teach your students how to make and repair clothes and other items.
Additionally, the funds used for this project were part of an employer matching gift. During our COVID-19 fundraiser, a $250 donation turned into a $500 matching gift. When the $500 arrived in late July, we immediately applied it to this project.
Finally, these photos show how your generosity inspired Annita to give back. The academic students started wearing theirs in August. We hope the vocational students will wear theirs later this month. Thank you for helping a graduate Pay it forward!
While it is not clear when schools will reopen in Liberia, we have started our planning for Post-COVID-19. We continue to re-evaluate our safety standards from the Ebola crisis that included a handwashing station and taking temperatures before entering the building. Furthermore, our primary students learn about hygiene in their health & science class at the beginning of the school year. Without a doubt, Ebola gave us the template for our current safety standards.
Now we need to add masks to these standards. Kelvin Fomba spent a few weeks studying various face mask designs to get some ideas. He enlisted our tailoring instructor and one student to test out his concept of blending some different designs.
The masks below have three layers: decorative material for the outside, interlining for the middle layer, and soft fabric for the inside so it feels good on the face. Also, they have foam where it fits over the nose to prevent any pinching. The brown and white mask has two elastic bands to fit around the head and the other two have strings to tie. Kelvin shared how they are comfortable and breathable when wearing them. Last but not least, they are washable.
From this prototype, we plan to enlist our tailoring department to masks for all students. This way we can ensure everyone’s safety when social distancing is not possible.
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!
In response, to the urgency of protecting your students, our team combined the items we purchased from the first half of the donations ($1,500) into individual student packages. Additionally, Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder & Director made a brochure explaining COVID-19 and how to stay safe with proper handwashing.
Primary Students Receive Their Packages
On Tuesday, May 12, your 350 primary students came to pick up their items. As the students socially distanced outside the center, our team would review the student list to ensure everyone received their packages. Your young students were so grateful to receive these items!
Vocational Training Students Receive Their Packages
Two days later on May 14, your 100 vocational students were asked to pick up their items. Again, your vocational training students were so appreciative of your generosity. Surprisingly, one posted this in a group chat room later that day.
As stated above, each student received a brochure with their package. Since UDS is an educational institution, it was important to provide your students with additional information to keep them safe during this global pandemic. Kelvin designed the brochure with the information he had been compiling from various sources. He then printed enough brochure s for all your students and spent time folding each one. The next photos show the cover and inside of the brochure.
Thank you! Your generous heart is helping your students stay safe!
If things were normal, I would have been in Liberia at this time. However, as the situation rapidly changed around the world, the Liberian Business Association (LIBA) decided on March 12 to postpone the trip indefinitely.
This was going to be an exciting trip. Our students were preparing for my arrival. Both the primary and vocational training students were planning their separate programs on my behalf. Also, the staff wanted me to wear this shirt when I arrived at the airport because they would be wearing something with the same fabric. They wanted us to be uninformed.
Additionally, Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder and Country Director worked on refreshing the center. For instance, he hand-drew some new images on the exterior walls. As shown below, he drew a treadle sewing machine, someone working on a computer, and an electrician ready for work.
Speaking of electricians, our students installed new exterior lights to brighten the entrance area. These particular light bulbs take less wattage to run, thus exacting less drain on our solar power. Again, we want Thank all of you that helped us install solar. Since January 2019, we have not gone one day without lights.