Your continual support over the past decade helped build and grow Uniting Distant Stars into a thriving organization. In fact, you took us from supporting other schools to starting our own. Without a doubt, you deserve a huge CONGRATS for a successful decade! So, let’s review your achievements during the 2010s.
2011 – The Journey Begins
Every journey begins with a single step and a small gesture of kindness. For UDS, it began when Kelvin Fomba (Co-Founder & Director) received two barrels and shared school supplies to a school with over 300 young children. This grew into an annual school supply drive for the next five years.
Additionally, our academic scholarship program kicked off with two students in 2011. A year later, we provided eight scholarships for young people seeking a six-month vocational training program. Six young men completed received a masonry certificate and two young women received a plumbing certificate. From this point on, we continued to give financial assistance ambitious.
2013 – Make it Official
After two years of watching our two projects take root, we became a registered Minnesota non-profit in June 2013. At this time, we formed our board and planned our official launch in Liberia in September. With the help of two founding board members, Elijah and Gradieh Wreh, we developed and facilitated a two-day workshop. The “Youth Leadership Workshop on Innovative Creative and Innovative Thinking” introduced Liberian Youth to UDS.
During this workshop held in Monrovia, we challenged the 50 participates to think outside of the box. For instance, they viewed various videos of other African Youth solving a problem with used parts such as generating electricity. Furthermore, Kelvin demonstrated first-hand how this was possible. He first showed them the exhaust manifold he made for the car he drove to the workshop. Next, he modeled the product line (backpacks to rain suits) he made from recycled drinking water sachets.
In close, we probably gained the most from this workshop because we used the concepts to help UDS adapt and grow as an organization.
2014 & 2015 – Facing Challenges
Our excitement from 2013 turned to great concern in 2014 when the Ebola Crisis took center stage in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. As the nation declared a state of emergency and shuttered all schools, our flagship programs came to a halt. Yet, some of the youth did not want to sit idle. So, they reached out and asked Kelvin to provide some skills training.
Although we did not have a school yet, Kelvin transformed his home to a learning center. Also, he received training on how to mitigate risk during the Ebola crisis and implement safety protocols. Then, we started two pilot projects: auto mechanics-drivers education training and sewing durable products with recycled materials. The former worked with 14 youth and later with 4.
As the crisis started to subside in 2015, we launched our “Backpacks for Peace” program. From the results of the 2014 pilot, we recruited 20 youth to learn how to sew recycled drinking water sachets into backpacks. in the course of the next four months, they made over 300 backpacks. Later that year, the backpacks filled with school supplies were giving to young children.
Because of the success of our skills training programs, more youth started to come to our doors and seek our help. At this time, we discovered the youth were our guiding force. We listened to their needs and did what we could to make it possible.
2016 & 2017 – Growth and Expansion
When your mission is youth-focused, be prepared to respond to their requests. That is exactly what we did in 2016. First, they wanted afternoon study classes, and then computer training. Soon, our learning center (Kelvin’s house) overflowed with children and youth. The center offered a library, after school study classes, and auto mechanics, computers, and sewing training.
It became clear that we needed a larger place and the search was on. Kelvin found a former school building within five minutes from his house. With help from one of our sustaining donors, we secured the building in May 2016. The building was in deplorable condition, so Kelvin and his team started to refresh and renovate it into a suitable learning environment by October 2016. Another sustaining donor gave us the funds to install electricity. In just a matter of five months, we held the grand opening of our new center.
Before 2016 ended, we applied for and received our TVET permit to offer professional and technical training. Immediately, our team began recruiting students for vocational training. By February 2017, we officially opened our Vocational Training Center with year-long courses in highly demanded trades. The students received over 80% hands-on training to apply the skills. Gratefully, this achievement resulted from a small community of global supporters and a highly resourceful Liberian team. Thank you!
2018 & 2019 – Building Sustainability
Before the new academic school year began in September 2018, we were inundated by pleas from parents in the community. Liberia’s increasing inflation forced many families to affordable schools. Our team stepped up to the challenge and developed a plan to open a tuition-free school. First, they needed the parents to agree to buy the student uniforms made by UDS to be a self-sustaining school. Next, our team pooled their resources to transform the center into a dual-purpose building. Finally, the UDS Academy opened with 350 students.
As we moved into 2019, Liberia’s economic crisis caused businesses to close, and exchange rates and prices to increase. Now more than ever, we needed to find ways to increase our sustainability. Starting in January and June, we installed solar panels to provide 75% of our electrical needs.
In October, Kelvin did major repairs for a person’s vehicle and they gave us a shop (near our center) for 18 months rent-free. In November, we moved our cosmetology department to the shop and opened a hair salon to sell products. All these initiatives are part of our three-year strategic plan.
2010s – A Decade of Successes
As we close this decade, we want to celebrate you for joining UDS on this journey. It took a global village to make this all possible. Your generous giving and continued prayers kept us moving forward despite the challenges. We are forever grateful for your service!
Because we are a small and humble organization, your ongoing support of Liberian Youth is beyond measure…like trying to count all the stars in your lifetime. You are celebrated and honored by your studentsbecause you give them the opportunity to learn skills that will change their lives for the better. That is what we call Startacular!
On this Day of Thanksgiving, we want to express our heartfelt, overflowing appreciation and gratitude for the confidence, hope, and supportive learning environment you give to young men and women in Liberia!
Your catering student made this cake especially for you because without your support, they would not have come this far. Elijah Kotte (catering student) shares his thanks and appreciation to you on the behalf of all his fellow students.
In the last 20 seconds of this video, Elijah says: “We are telling them Thank You because the knowledge they are imparting on us. If we were sitting out there, we would not learn how to do this. We thank them for the knowledge they imparted on us. This is the reason why we are telling them Thank You.”
How often were you asked this question when you were applying for your first job? There are some people not willing to give a young person a chance, but you have made a commitment to provide Liberian Youth with the experience they need to demonstrate what they know. Your continued investment is not only giving them the materials, equipment, and tools to learn a trade career but also allowing them a chance to go into the field and apply their skills.
Our committed and dedicated instructors are constantly looking for opportunities to give our students real experience. Two weeks ago, Emmanuel Somah (plumbing instructor) received a contract to install the pipes in a new home being built outside of Monrovia. Our students laid the pipes in two bathrooms and the kitchen. They will return in a few weeks to build the septic tank and install the fixtures.
Your support made it possible for young men and a woman to gain valuable experience by applying their skills in a real home and be compensated for their efforts. It is important to teach our students that their work has worth.
We hope that more people will give our students a chance to demonstrate their abilities by awarding contracts to our institution. Through your generous giving, you helped build our learning labs where our students practice their skills during each class period. This is why they are eager and ready to do the work in any setting to achieve the experience needed to be hired.
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)
We encourage and welcome people to visit our vocational training center in Liberia because seeing is believing. On Sunday, June 3, it was a pleasure to receive a visit from one of our long-time supporters, Jasoe Sharpe. She has been part of the UDS family since 2012 before we even became an official non-profit.
She discovered our work through Twitter posts and asked how she could volunteer during her vacation in 2012. At this time, we were partnering with a local primary school and invited her to provide a teacher’s workshop, because she has an extensive background in education. She then started sponsoring a student in our scholarship program.
During Jasoe’s (gray shirt) July 2012 visit, standing with UDS Co-Founder & Director Kelvin Fomba and the teachers at Russ Wood School
When Kelvin received the call from Jasoe on June 3 that she was stopping by on her way to the airport, he was overjoyed to see her again. Jasoe came with a friend and Kelvin gave them a tour of the center. This is what she shared in an email:
“I was in Liberia and visited the Uniting Distant Stars campus and just wanted to say I love what you guys are doing there. It is quite an improvement from the last time I visited. Just wanted to say thank you.“
Kelvin and Jasoe during her visit on June 3, 2018
Her friend returned later that week to get more information about the UDS center and talk with our students. She will be posting this on her website. We are looking forward to this post because she will be sharing her first-hand experience of how you, our valued supporters, are making a lasting impact on the lives of Liberian Youth.
Jasoe’s photo of our center
Your continued support allows for the positive development of Liberian youth who are seeking to make this world a better place!
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.