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.


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! 

An Expression of Gratitude by Abu B Kiawu

An Expression of Gratitude by Abu B Kiawu

Your continued generosity flows like a river of opportunity for aspiring young Liberian men and women. One of our graduates Abu B Kiawu, who rode your current of hope, posted his inspiring testimony on Facebook of his journey with Uniting Distant Stars. He gave us permission to share his eloquently written message of gratitude:
You made Abu’s journey possible, and his expression of gratitude illustrates how your continued support is making a difference for him and his fellow graduates. Thank you!

Liberia: Celebrating the Student

Our most anticipated event–2nd Annual Student Celebration–was finally held on February 7, 2014, at Russ Wood School in Congo Town, Liberia. This fun-filled event was originally planned for December on the last day of school before their holiday break. However, we had to deal with a late shipment of supplies that were on a transatlantic cargo container that left in September 2013.

Though this was an initial disappointment for the Russ Wood students and staff along with UDS donors and volunteers, the wait was well worth it! This post features the stories and pictures of the day-long celebration where the students played football (i.e. soccer) and kickball, sang and danced, enjoyed good food and treats, and received their long awaited gifts.

Future players of the Lonestar Football Team. This year we sent six footballs and six kick balls along with two air pumps. The students were divided into various teams and started their day playing these two favorite games. The students expressed their gratitude for the footballs and kick balls, but stressed their wish for jerseys. We will have to figure out how to fulfill their wish.

Students who participated in the games.
Liberia’s Got Talent. When the students have an opportunity to show off their talents, they go all out on being shining stars. Some of this year’s talent was young as four years old, who were able to get up on stage to perform in front of their fellow students, teachers and visiting guests. Each soloist and group were honored by their audience with praise and applause. Their joyful noise resonated outside the walls and attracted some of the neighboring children who were not attending school that day. This is just one example of how the power of music can bring people together.

Here are some of the young performers.
On the left if the young performer (see video below) and on the right is the school’s drummer.
Here are some of the older students performing.
Video of a four-year-old girl name Josephine singing the national anthem “All Hail Liberia”

Liberia’s Rising Leaders. The MC of the day was Ishmael, who is in the sixth grade. This young man enjoys getting up in front of an audience and usually entertains them with his own parables and songs. Today, he was able to share the spotlight with many of his fellow students who got up to perform. Ishmael is very creative person along with being an active leader in his school. Based on his high performance level, he was added to our scholarship program starting this school.

Ishmael making acting as the event’s MC.
During this year’s program, one 5th grade student surprised her entire school. Young Rita took her own initiative to write a Thank You letter to Kelvin Fomba, Uniting Distant Stars Co-Founder and Country Director. She amazed the audience as she got up and read the letter out loud. Rita’s effort showed her determination and leadership abilities, which is why she was awarded a scholarship starting next school year.

Parents Involvement Increased. It was nice to see more parents attending this year’s program. Most of the presentations were focused on the importance of education and how it can shape the future of young Liberians. The parents present were in agreement and offered their support in pray to ensure that the students can continue with their education through college. Somehow this theme echoed outside the school, because it brought in a parent to register their child after the program ended.

Photos: left is some of the parents in attendance, center is Kelvin Fomba making is address on the importance of education, right is a parent joining in on the singing and dancing with the children.
The Educators. This community school is blessed with many dedicated teachers and staff. Their job is not easy since they are dealing with over 250 students in multiple grades and teaching in one room. However, they do their best to manage these constraints and find creative ways to provide a conducive learning environment.

Photos: Left is one of Russ Wood’s dedicated, caring teachers, center are the teachers seated on the stage, and right is Principal Kangar addressing to the audience.
Good eats! A big part of the celebration is providing students with a hot meal along with some Kool-aid and popcorn. We are very grateful to Russ Wood and Uniting Distant Stars volunteers who helped prepare a meal that served over 300 people without the convenience of a modern kitchen. Though we had some extra guests such as the neighborhood children who joined in the activities, there was enough food for all in attendance.

Volunteers toiled over a hot coal pot to make the delicious meal enjoyed by ll.
Volunteers individually package the popcorn and add a few pieces of candy.
Students patiently waiting in line for the Kool-aid and food.
The gifts have arrived! This is the third year that the students have receive a gift packet from Uniting Distant Stars. However, this was the first year that they had to wait longer than expected. When Kelvin visited the school in January in preparation of this program, he was overwhelmed by the students greetings as they said, “My Christmas and News Years is on you!” So it was with great joy that we could give each student a gift pack filled with school supplies, crayons and activity coloring book, comb, toothbrush, etc.

Photos: Left is gift packets being unloaded from the vehicle, and right are the packets being stored in the office until distribution.
Students in line to receive their gifts.
Photos: Left is students showing off their gifts, and right is students as they started to sing with joy for what they had received.
This special day was made possible by the many sponsors from Maryland, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. We need to give a special Thanks to the amazing Distant Stars in Oklahoma who provided majority of the support for this year’s school drive campaign! We are so grateful that this day could be shared with all our supporters.

Russ Wood Students give a heartfelt Thanks for their day of celebration!

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.