UDS Students Certified in Permaculture Design

UDS Students Certified in Permaculture Design

Our first permaculture training successfully ended on January 16, 2019. Last week, we shared photos and information about the first five days of training. This week’s article focuses on the remaining four days of the Permaculture Design Certification Training.

Day 6 – Polyculture & Introduction to Group Projects

Bruce Blair (Board Member & Trainer for SLFND) demonstrated the benefits of polyculture with a model. He explained that polyculture is where unrelated plants grow together. He also showed videos of one particular type of polyculture: The Three Sisters. Typically, the Three Sisters include corn (maize), climbing beans, and squash. This practice originated from Native Americans.

Bruce Blair (SLFND) sharing short documentaries on polyculture and explaining the process to our students.

Bruce discussed group assignments where students create their own design projects. Additionally, he gave our students the option to select a site or social design. What is the difference? Site design focuses on a single garden or farm project, whereas social design includes the whole system design (i.e. economic, environment, health, etc.).

Bruce explaining the group design projects using his model as the example.

After the assignment discussion, the students reviewed the notes on the board in preparation for their group project. Group presentations started on Monday.

UDS students taking notes of their group project assignment.

Days 7 & 8 – Student Presentations of Group Projects & Banana Cycle

On Monday, the groups took their turn to demonstrate what they learned in this class. Each student of the group needed to share something about their project in order for Bruce to assess their knowledge of the permaculture process. As you see in the photos below, our students used different types of 2-D or 3-D models to explain their group projects.

Photos (left to right) show different group presenting their group projects. Some drew their designs on paper while others used a 3-d model.

On Tuesday, Bruce took the group over to the field site to discuss the banana cycle. A banana tree can reproduce itself. Instead of a seed, it grows from the bulb (rhizome).

Bruce explaining how the banana tree reproduces itself.

Day 9 – Final Presentations & Certification Ceremony

The group presentations continued into day 9. Clearly, our students put a great deal of effort into their group project designs. As result, they met the course requirements to be certified in Permaculture Design.

UDS Co-Founder & Director was part of this group project on social design.

Halfway through the day, they paused the group presentations. Joy Alizadeh would soon be leaving, and they wanted to recognize both her and Bruce. So, Kelvin Fomba (UDS Co-Founder & Director) joined Bruce and Joy up front to express the gratitude of all the students. Then he presented them a surprise Thank You Cake made by our catering students.

Photos (left to right): 1) Kelvin giving UDS appreciation to Bruce & Joy, 2) Kelvin presenting the Thank You cake to Bruce & Joy, 3) Catering Students icing the cake, & 4) Bruce holding the cake.

Soon after Joy left, the group presentations resumed. Once the last one ended, the certification ceremony began. Our long-time friend, Rev. Samuel Enders presented each student with their certificate. He also gave a motivational speech about taking this knowledge and putting it to use immediately. In fact, this course taught our students they can start with the resources of the earth and their own two hands.

Rev. Samual Enders of African Dream Academy (yellow polo) presented the students with their certificates. Bruce is on the left and Kelvin on the right.


Next, our students took photos to share their excitement with you. We had 41 out of 45 students successfully complete this course. Unfortunately, the other four had to drop due to scheduling conflicts.

UDS students celebrating and proudly displaying their certificates.

Finally, I want to Thank all our dedicated students and team for their active participation in this course and taking good care of our guests! Additionally, I want to extend our sincerest Thanks to our four sponsors (Ali, John, Edward, and Joel) and SLFND Team (Hindolo, Bruce, Joy, and Brenda) for their support!

UDS Students Working the Soil

UDS Students Working the Soil

Happy New Year! 2019 began on a high note with the Permaculture Design Certification (PDC) training starting on January 7. This training equips people with the knowledge and skills needed to implement a project for food security. First, the PDC training teaches our students about available resources–organic material and soil–to use for sustainable living. Second, PDC offers mostly applied knowledge similar to our vocational training courses. Lastly, this training gives our students the opportunity to work together and learn better approaches to gardening and farming.

Without a doubt, this course piqued the interest of all our students. Initially, the course limit was 35. However, this number increased to 45, including two agricultural students from the University of Liberia.

To illustrate the value of this course, the rest of this article will summarize the first five days with photos and explanation of each day’s assignments.

Day 1 – Introductions & Over of Permaculture Concepts

Our guests from Sierra Leone Foundation of New Democracy (SLFND) arrived Sunday night. After a night’s sleep in the hotel next door, they started the training on Monday. SLFND Team (left to right): Hindolo Pokawa (Founder & Executive Director), Bruce Blair (Board Member & PDC Trainer), Joy Alizadeh (Board Member & Development Director), & Brenda Blair (Early Childhood Development).

Bruce Blair spent the day showing slides of his gardens and chickens at his home in Red Wing, Minnesota. Additionally, he introduced many of the concepts they would be learning and applying during this 9-day course. 

Top Photo: Bruce teaching our youth about permaculture concepts. UDS Co-Founder & Director, Kelvin Fomba, helps explain anything that our youth don’t understand. Bottom Photo: Bruce drew a timeline for our students to write information about Liberia’s agricultural history.

Day 2 – Group Photos & Land/Soil Observations

This was Hindolo and Brenda’s last day in Liberia so everyone gathered for group photos. Furthermore, they took photos with our catering and hotel management students. The catering students prepared and cooked their food daily while the hotel management students cleaned their rooms, made beds, and washed and ironed their clothes. As you can see, the smiles on our guests’ faces show they are being well taken care of.

Left photo includes Brenda Blair. Right photo includes Hindolo Pokawa showing brotherly love to Kelvin Fomba.

Left photo shows our catering student with their guests. Right photo shows our hotel management students with their guests.

Bruce took the students to the field site and explained how to look for patterns in the soil. Next, he assigned the students to walk the site for 45 minutes without talking and to make any observations. Then, they returned to the classroom and wrote their observations on the board.

From left to right: students walking the site in silence while observing the area for patterns. Then the students wrote their observations on the board.

Day 3 – Hot Composting

Our students learned about hot composting and built their own heap with branches, leaves, and other organic materials. Hot composting is different from cold composting (the most common one used). Although both processes breakdown the organic matter, hot composting does in days instead of months and kills the weed seeds and pathogens. Plus, it breaks it down into finer material.

Photos (starting left, clockwise): The students gathered organic material and brought it to the site. The students piled the material into a hot compost heap.

Day 4 – Hugelkulture

Our students continued to apply knowledge at the field site. For instance, they built a Hugelkulture which is a no-till raised bed for growing vegetables. They gathered leaves and branches, placed them on the ground, and then topped with soil and seeds. Because of this process, the bed retains moisture for longer periods and gives a constant supply of nutrients.

Photos (Starting left, clockwise): The students working together to build a Hugelkultur (raised bed).

Day 5 – Designs & Patterns

On Friday, Bruce explained and demonstrated the design process. He built a prototype of a layout, including where to place trees and gardens in conjunction with roads.

Photos: Bruce explaining and demonstrating how to design a permaculture site. This example is a garden that could be planned for a city or rural area.

As you can see, our students gained some valuable information about using the earth’s resources to better their lives and communities. Next week, we will share the last four days of the training and how our students will apply this in their everyday lives.

Thank you again for our sponsors–Ali, John, Edward, and Joel–for allowing our youth to receive this wonderful opportunity!

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

Is Ebola a Game Changer for Global Health?

For many years Global Health initiatives have been focused on stopping the spread of HIV and AIDS or eradicating ancient diseases like Malaria. However, the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa has severely tested the capacity of local and international health ageniess to treat their patients while protecting themselves from the onslaught of this deadly, but preventable disease. (View the Quartz interactive map to how this has spread so quickly).

In our last post “Wading through myths and facts of Ebola“, we highlighted what was trending in the media that either terrified or mobilized people. In this post, we will explore the realities that are being faced in West Africa and its lasting impact on Global Health and International Development.

What we have learned so far, is that this six-month siege of the Ebola hemorrhagic fever has devastated entire families and rural villages. It has strained the economies of the three West African Nations–Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone–to where impoverished people are forced to buy food and necessary supplies at inflated prices. It has also halted the progress of NGOs like ours. We all have had to shift our focus to awareness campaigns in order to protect our national teams and the communities we serve.

Now lets look at how Ebola is a game changer for Global Health? This was bluntly and succinctly expressed in the recent CSPAN video recording of Ken Isaacs, Vice President of Programs and Government Relations for Samaritan’s Purse, as he testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee. (Also read his New York Times Op Ed “Why Are We Ignoring a New Ebola Outbreak?” from July 24).

Here are the key facts and realities from his testimony that explains why this unprecedented epidemic has occurred and why more help is needed.

1) International Response Failure: he cited only two medical aid agencies–Samaritan Purse and Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF)–were on the front lines of this epidemic in the three bordering nations. While prominent agencies like World Health Organization (WHO) were stating things were under control for the last few months, MSF was stressing the opposite and pleading for more help and supplies. Recently the WHO has changed their stance by stating that “the West Africa’s Ebola epidemic is an ‘extraordinary event’ and now constitutes an international health risk.” (Read press release “Ebola: Official MSF response to WHO declaring epidemic an ‘extraordinary event‘” by Dr Bart Janssens, MSF Director of Operations, from August 14).

2) Unprepared Community Health Worker: one of the strategies of providing needed medical treatment of common diseases like Malaria and Typhoid, was to recruit and train local people to deal with basic and common ailments. These are moderately educated people, who were provided with some medical supplies and instructions on what medicine should be administered for what sickness or condition. Sadly these community health workers had no idea what Ebola was and were treating patients for what they thought were other illnesses such as Malaria that have similar symptoms. Many of these workers have contracted and died from Ebola, because they were uninformed of this rare and contagious disease. (Read a Thomson Reuters article “Ebola outbreak: High death toll among health worker 1st responders” posted in CBC News on August 9).

3) Stigma of the International Healthcare Worker: This is an issue on both sides of the spectrum. On one side, many of the MSF teams working in remote areas have been threatened by villagers with knives and stones believing the doctors are the cause of this disease. On the other side, Ken Isaacs testified the recently evacuated teams from Sanitarian Purse have struggled with returning home in their respective nations, because their families are unsure to hug them while others in the community have ostracized them.

4) No Mass Evacuations of Infected U.S. Citizens or International Workers: Ken in his testimony shared how he “recognized during the evacuation of our staff that there is only one airplane in the world with one chamber to carry a level 4 pathogenic disease victim.” He was not able to know of any other plane except for this one in the U.S. So this greatly limits the U.S. capacity or any other country to do a mass evacuation of its citizens have been infected.  (Read Mashable’s article “The Obscure Airline That Evacuated the American Ebola Patients” from August 9).

5) The Cost of Corruption: The local healthcare workers have struggled in this fight, especially when their own needs to survive have been endangered. Ken testified that “I know for a fact that in Foya, the second largest center where Ebola is manifesting in Liberia, the workers at the Ministry Health clinic were not paid for five months even after the European Union had put money for it. The money just did not get downstream.”

6) Lack of Understanding at All Levels of Society: A major obstacle has been sensitizing the general population of what Ebola is and how it is transmitted, especially when trying to get people to stop certain cultural rituals. A major one is washing the body in preparation for the funeral, which is when it is most infected. Another concern was how well-educated and highly credentialed people in medical and government positions openly denied the seriousness of this disease and mocked the work of organizations like Samaritan Purse as cited in Ken’s testimony. This led to the deaths of two prominent people in Liberia who believed this was not real.

There are two more things that I like to add to this growing problem that need attention:

7) Inequality: It was decided recently that all the Peace Corp Workers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone must be evacuated as a cautionary preventative as efforts are made to contain this disease. Sara Laskowski working in Guinea wrote a powerful blog post about how the Peace Corp evacuations put western privilege at center stage during this epic medical mayhem in West Africa. She shares how she has been living with her host family since the outbreak started. The Peace Corp setup awareness campaigns for their volunteers and the community they served that has helped minimize the impact of Ebola. As she was preparing to leave, she felt the unsettling pain of knowing that her life can be easily saved by moving her out of the affected area while leaving her community behind who are not afforded the same opportunity. 

She could see that the problem did not need to persist, but was instead intensified by stating: “Unfortunately, this outbreak has been severely mismanaged on two ends. Primarily, the Guinean government is not equipped to handle it but more tragically the Western world has chosen to feed the fire with sensationalized media instead of what we really need here in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – medical assistance, man-power, education, and funding.”

8) Little to No Trauma Counseling: From the families to the health workers, they have witnessed the carnage of this disease on patients young and old. Many die from massive uncontrollable bleeding and other horrific ways that will haunt the surviving family members and the healthcare workers administering their care. It seems that there has been little to no attention on what aftercare is given to these people such as trauma counseling. The emotions and spirits of everyone is very much strained and without any supportive care, how will these people cope and manage with what they have seen and endured.

In listening to Ken Isaacs testimony several times and reading the reports about Ebola from MSF and other prominent medical organizations, I continue to learn more about how this disease can lead to global concern. According to the WHO Fact Sheet, Ebola has an incubation period of up to 21 days before its contagious symptoms emerge. Also, for men who recover from this disease, they still carry the virus in their semen for up to seven weeks. So with more people being able to travel around the world, the chances of this infecting other communities is much greater than previous outbreaks. This why some airlines have suspended service to this affected region while others have introduced screening for fevers and other notable symptoms.

Ebola definitely has uncovered gaps in how international aid organizations have operated and also strengthened the need for better education, sanitation and water systems, and healthcare as means to end poverty thus reducing such epidemics. This is why it is important for both Global Health organizations and other international NGOs to re-evaluate their programs and strategies to ensure that they are able to effectively serve and protect their communities to minimize the impacts of what Ebola has done in West Africa.

Press Release: 501(c)3 Status Update, Join the Fight Against Ebola and Relaunch of School Supply Drive

Minnesota, August 2, 2014: On Monday July 28, 2014, Uniting Distant Stars received our IRS Determination Letter stating our 501(c)3 Tax-Deductible Status was granted as of July 12. Since receiving this news we have been busy updating our website, flyers and social media sites to reflect this change. We are in the process of setting up our PayPal account to receive online donations, which we hope to have activated soon. In the meantime, Uniting Distant Stars can accept cash, checks and in-kind donations that are all tax-deductible.

We are also working with our fiscal sponsor Ebenezer Community Church in transitioning everything over to our organization. We are extremely grateful for their support during the past 12 months as we have established ourselves as an organization. Many thanks goes to Rev. Francis Tabla (Sr. Pastor), the Board of Trustees, and Bro. Frederick Nah (Treasurer) for making this all possible!!!

Ebola Update: This past week the governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency in effort to secure their borders and take other measures to work on finally containing the Ebola outbreak. This crisis has plagued these nations and Guinea (where the first cases were reported) for nearly six months. In Liberia, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf ordered that all schools be closed starting Thursday (July 31) until further notice, and Friday (August 1) would be a non-working day where everything was shut down to sanitize the public spaces like the markets.

Uniting Distant Stars has been proactive for the past two months in providing information to our team in Liberia on knowing what Ebola is and how to protect themselves. Kelvin Fomba, Country Director, has been educating our volunteers and beneficiaries on what they should and should not do. (Read Professor Peter Piot, Rappler article “Ebola discoverer: I would sit next to victim on train.”)

The recent Ebola related deaths of well-known Liberians–Dr. Samuel Brisbane and Patrick Sawyer–has significantly impacted the diaspora living in Minnesota and other states. In response to this, they have unified their community and invited friends to start a Facebook group called “Concerned Liberians Against Ebola“. Uniting Distant Stars has joined this fight as well. If you like to participate in this campaign, please print our poster as shown below, and email a picture of you holding it to [email protected]. We will add this to our Facebook page to show our support in stopping this deadly, but preventable disease.

Also this past week, it was announced that two U.S. citizens–Dr. Kent Brantley and NancyWritebol–working on the Ebola front lines in Liberia had tested positive with it. Dr. Brantley was safely transported back to the U.S. on August 2, for further treatment, and Nancy should be coming soon. For those whose hearts are led to this cause in making monetary or in-kind donations for medical supplies and other support. We recommend two organizations Global Health Ministries and Samaritan Purse to support this important quest of treating those stricken by Ebola and stopping the transmission.

Relaunch Supply Drive: With Uniting Distant Stars now being a 501(c)3 Tax-Deductible Public Charity, we had to redo our 4th Annual School Supply Drive webpage and flyer. Please go to our School Supply Drive campaign page to get the updated flyer with the supply list and learn more on how else you can help us reach our 2014 goal of filling and shipping four 14-cubic-foot boxes.

The children in Liberia had their worlds turned upside with the ongoing Ebola crisis. This annual campaign will help restore the hopes of our young students at Russ Wood Christian Academy, who look forward to receiving these supplies during the Annual Student Celebration. So, please help us bring Bright Smiles to our Liberia youth by giving supplies or monetary donations today. Thank you for your continued support!!!

Uniting Distant Stars, Inc. is a 501(c)3 tax deductible and Minnesota registered non-profit corporation serving youth in Liberia, West Africa. We have been providing educational support since 2011 with scholarships and distributing school supplies. We also offer innovative programming to cultivate future leaders. For more information, please contact us at [email protected].