Looking Back at the 2010s

Looking Back at the 2010s

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! 

Congrats to Deborah Tweah’s High School Graduation

Congrats to Deborah Tweah’s High School Graduation

Since 2011, Uniting Distant Stars partnered with generous sponsors to provide academic scholarships in primary and secondary level education. As we move forward to 2019, we are excited to announce the Graduation of Deborah Tweah! She is our fourth graduate from this program with the first in 2014 and the other two in 2016. 

Deborah (left  & center) and her fellow graduates (right).

Deborah joined UDS in 2015 as one of the participants in the Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project. While she was learning how to sew backpacks, she shared her struggle in finding support to return to school. Based on her efforts in the backpacks project, she received a sponsor to see her through graduation. 

On Saturday, August 17, 2019, Deborah received her diploma from the Bethlehem Baptist School, a 5-minute walking distance from our school. Not only did she successfully pass the 12th grade but she also passed her national exam. 

Sadly, Deborah did not have any family to attend her graduation. So, UDS leadership and scholarship students showed up to support her on this special day. Also, they held a celebration party at the center after the commencement ceremony. She felt honored to receive such a gift that she gave UDS Co-Founder & Director, Kelvin Fomba her gown and Brother Daniel Lloyd her cap (he helped facilitate the scholarship program when working with one of the partnership schools). 

Left to right: Deborah giving Kelvin her gown, Kelvin & Deborah, Bro. Lloyd, Godfrey Solomon, Deborah & Kelvin

Thank you to Deborah’s sponsor for allowing her to graduate from high school! We hope that she can share her own story in a future article.

Raising Awareness at Ten Thousand Villages

Thank you for shopping at the Ten Thousand Villages Community Shopping Event held on May 21st! Your purchases (between 12:00pm- 4:00pm) were tallied, and 15%, approximately $225, was donated to Uniting Distant Stars. We also received about $23 in cash donations. Because of your generosity, 25 students will receive school supplies from our upcoming Annual School Supplies Drive, which will be supporting three primary schools (serving 700 students) in Liberia.

We would also like to express our immense gratitude toward Ten Thousand Villages for hosting this community shopping event on our behalf. This opportunity allowed for us to showcase our commitment to serving children and youth in Liberia, by providing them with educational resources and vocational training. We would also like to express a particular note of thanks to Ten Thousand Villages’ store manager, Julie, and her staff. They helped make it a successful day!

Uniting Distant Stars Information Table showcases your continued generosity. 
Our UDS volunteers did a great job representing our cause at the event. We are extremely grateful to this dedicated, talented team for contributing to the success of our organization. Special Acknowledgments to: Miriam Monono, Diane Anastos, Adam Pederson, Mary Rosendahl, Philip Kaleewoun II, and Florkime Paye.

UDS Board Members (left to right):Miriam, Diane and Adam.
Left to Right: UDS Co-founder & Executive Director Heather, Board Members Philip and Mary.
At our information table, we showcased a sample of a UDS backpack made by a Liberian teen from the Backpacks for Peace program. The backpacks constructed in this program are used not only as vessels for the Liberian youth to transport school materials, but they also serve as our Emergency Preventative Kit prototype (filled with mosquito netting, water filter, masks, gloves and more). Go to our projects page to see a photo of the items in this backpack.

UDS Backpack for Peace being worn by Heather is something you made possible. 
In addition to all these exciting developments, we received the Dimes for Dreams cans! Ten Thousand Villages became the first ever UDS supporter to put one of our cans on their counter. We’d like to issue another “thank you” to them for helping us kickstart this fundraising campaign. More details about this project are coming soon from our campaign coordinators Adam and Florkime.

UDS Dimes for Dreams cans are in and ready to start our campaign on June 1
Additionally, our “Recipes for Learning Sample Cookbook arrived recently. Mary, our project lead, created this mock-up to show potential sponsors how they can benefit from helping this important initiative. There will be much more to share about this project in the near future.

UDS Recipes for Learning Sample Cookbook to show to potential sponsors.
For those who were not able to attend the Ten Thousand Villages Community Shopping Event, we will be back on December 3rd! We will continue to share with you how your support is changing the lives of Liberian children and youth in real time.


Announcements for this event will be published in November.

Introducing UDS Learning Center 2.0

Liberian children and youth witnessed their wishes being answered in the past two weeks. Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) raised $2,042 (shy of our $2,500 goal) from our generous Star Supporters to upgrade our Learning Center in Congo Town, Liberia. Our Liberian team led by Kelvin Fomba, Co-Founder and Country Director, went the extra mile to check off the items on the students’ original wish list. In the last eight days another $360 was donated from new and existing benevolent supporters. Their gracious generosity will buy other items on the list such as fans to keep the center comfortable, additional books for the library, chalk board for instructors, and other crucial needs for its operations.

Like any good upgrade you need to have a release party. On Friday March 25, UDS Learning Center hosted two programs. The first one was organized by the UDS Youth Group. Since it was Good Friday, they focused on Easter. During this three-hour program they talked about the meaning of Easter, played some games, and also had a Bible quizzing contest between the boys and girls. They had two rounds with each having 20 questions and one question was worth 10 points. The boys and girls tied in the first round. However, in the second round the boys out scored the girls 120 to 80. Our Youth Group’s program was a resounding success and everyone had a great time.

Youth Groups Program
UDS Youth Bible Quizzing Contest
The second program followed soon after to introduce our youth to the new UDS Computer Lab. They have eagerly waited for this lab ever since we started the upgrade campaign last year. The original plan was to have four computers, but Kelvin reached out to his connections and helped secure six used PCs–four laptops and two desktops. He is still negotiating on adding one or two more computers. Our team also built computer desks and bought a stabilizer to protect the PCs from power surges and outages, because electricity is neither consistent nor reliable. Another stabilizer will be purchased with the recent donations to ensure the electrical load is distributed evenly.

UDS Computer Lab
Our team expected 25 to 30 young Liberians to attend this three-hour program, but it attracted over 50. Computer training is in high demand with Liberian youth, but not everyone can afford to take courses at vocational training schools. This is why our team went all out in preparing the lab and its introduction program.
Kelvin Fomba introducing the computer lab.
Kelvin opened with how the computer lab will operate and its corresponding rules. Next part was to determine who would be the first recipients of this training course. Kelvin and his volunteers devised a raffle drawing to select trainees since there was a ratio of approximately four students to one computer. Our youth anxiously waited to hear who were the lucky winners as each name was pulled. Soon twelve students were chosen to attend one of two classes, because we wanted to accommodate as many as possible.
Liberian Youth learning about the new UDS Computer Lab
The students will learn about computer hardware, basic software and internet functions in this month-long course. Other students wanting to attend this course signed up on a list and will participate in computer theory classes as they wait their turn for the practical training. The training materials and curriculum for this program are being developed by our volunteers in Liberia and Minnesota.
UDS Youth learning about computers.
First Students of the UDS Computer Lab
Another part of the upgrade included expanding our library collection. On Monday March 14, two of our youth volunteers, Patrick and Princess, purchased 52 books from the list of requested titles and topics from our students. These books are required by their schools as part of the curriculum. Though our volunteers bought 80% of the books requested by the students, their list continues to grow. Eventually, we like to purchase additional copies of the main books to allow more than one student to use for their homework assignments.
Additional books purchased for the library
UDS Youth appreciating the new books.
The following day these new books were included in our studying classes. There are two objectives with these study classes as follows:

  1. Students are asked a series of questions about the subject(s) and topic(s) for their assignments and are then shown how to find books in the library and search for the information within the book.
  2. Students are given detailed instruction from one of volunteer teachers on a particular subject area that they are working on at school to help bolster their understanding and ability to apply it in their homework and exams.
Students receiving a tour of  the UDS library. 
UDS first opened our learning center over a year ago with a small library and providing skills training courses such as auto mechanics, drivers ed and Backpacks for Peace. In September 2015, it had its first upgrade with building extra shelves for additional books donated from the U.S. and more tables for students to complete their homework. This second upgrade was centered on the requests of our students to best meet their educational needs since their schools are not able to provide the required books and textbooks or computer labs. Through our growing community of bighearted supporters, our students are extremely grateful and overjoyed with seeing their wishes being fulfilled.

All of us at Uniting Distant Stars extend our heartfelt Thanks and Appreciation to our most generous Star Supporters!

Please read these additional posts about our learning center.

  • Enjoy a Tour of the UDS Learning Center in Liberia
  • Liberia: Read How UDS Learning Center Benefits Deborah
    • 2015 Reflection While Welcoming 2016

      We owe a debt of gratitude to all our STAR Supporters for making 2015 a successful year! Your generosity, kindness and prayers uplifted Liberian youth through the remaining days of the Ebola crisis, and inspired them to reach new heights with learning and skill building opportunities we provided throughout the year. Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) made great leaps with becoming an accredited and registered non-government organization in Liberia, and establishing our base in Monrovia. It took all of you–our village–to raise UDS up during the last 365 days.

      We SINCERELY THANK YOU for:

      Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project: From February to June, 20 youth were trained how to operate a sewing machine, stitch together recycled drinking water plastic sachets into 150 backpacks, and appreciate the value of creativity and innovation.

        

      Nobel Peace Prize Youth Forum Google Hangout: On March 6, 50 Liberian youth virtually connected with their Minnesota peers to listen to Nobel Laureate, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), share their mission of eliminating and preventing the use of chemical weapons.

        

      Scholarships: On March 2, 15 students started the 2014/2015 shortened school year that ended in July. In September 16 students started the 2015/2016 regular academic year with two preparing to graduate from high school around July.

      5th Annual School Supply Drive: In September and October, about 700 students enrolled in three schools received much needed school supplies to start their 2015/2016 academic year on the right track.

      Learning Center: Starting September, 40 to 50 youth visited our center after school each day to either work on their assignments or participate in our study classes. Our center provides what most schools lack: a library, science equipment, and tutoring support.

        

      We are INFINITELY THANKFUL for Miracles, like the unexpected delivery of the 2014 school supply drive in August that made it possible for us to expand from one to three schools and equip our learning center.

      We are EXTREMELY THANKFUL for the creative talents of some our supporters to helped establish our brand, visualize our presence, and develop our projects.

        

      Anna Berch: She created, edited, and filmed our PSA video. Also, she has made updates to our website.


      Kevin Cannon: He nominated for me for the Minnesota Lynx Inspiring Women Platform that I received on July 12. This helped increase our visibility.

      Rochelle Gibbs: She created, filmed and edited the video from the Minnesota Lynx Game that features interviews and highlights of my honor as a Minnesota Lynx Inspiring Woman.

      Joyce Mallery: She fixed our logo, created my UDS T-shirt to wear while being honored as Inspiring Women at the Minnesota Lynx Game, and designed our brochure and flyers.

      Mary Rosendahl: She continues to lead our Recipes for Learning Cookbook team. She tested more recipes for the team members to taste, and documented and photographed the ones that passed.

      Rodney Johnson: He ensured our connection with each Google Hangout and provided photos, videos and stories of our activities in Liberia throughout the year.

      We give a HEARTFELT THANKS to all of you supporting UDS as donors, board members, volunteers, partners, prayer warriors, and Sundance Family Foundation for giving us our first grant of $3,000 for our Backpacks for Peace project!!!

      Liberia: Delivering School Supplies to City of Joy

      Our generous Star Supporters helped spread joy to not one, but three schools with our 2015 school supply drive. This year we changed our campaign from collecting and shipping supplies from the U.S to purchasing them in Liberia as means to support their struggling economy. Our cups overflowed with joy on August 6, when of our lost 2014 shipment finally arrived. This miraculous moment increased our outreach by 200%. During September and October, UDS volunteers and youth group attended three back-to-school programs at City of Joy, Rogma International and Russ Wood Christian Academy to deliver supplies to their respective students.

      On Sunday, September 6, City of Joy School in Congo Town held their school opening program. Pastor Nathaniel J. Gray founded this small primary school, which shares the same building as his church, to serve young children in his community. Pastor Gray partnered with Hossana Children Foundation, founded by Godfrey Solomon and Bernice Nyuma. These two young men and woman work together to improve the lives of children in their community. Both organizations are fairly new and working without an office or any sizable budget.

      The morning of the program, UDS volunteers were busy sorting, organizing and placing the supplies into individual packages for each student. They also prepared popcorn for each student to receive with their package.

      Left to Right: UDS Volunteers–Mohammad Sesay (gray shirt), Princess Fomba, Fayiah Nyuma (striped shirt), and Moses Lahai (not pictured) carefully prepare each school supply package for City of Joy.

      UDS Liberian Co-Founder and Country Director, Kelvin Fomba, was invited as the guest speaker for this program. The event attendees included school staff and teachers, parents and guardians, students and members of the community. Kelvin opened his talk about UDS programs serving children and youth. He then invited students to visit our newly opened Learning Center to help with their homework. He ended his talk with a call-to-action to support City of Joy. The response was tremendous! Up to seven scholarships were given along with other financial and in-kind donations. It was nice to know how UDS supporters stimulated this community’s desire to do more to serve young students attending grades pre-school to sixth.

      Standing from left to right: Pastor Nathanial J Gray (City of Joy), Kelvin Fomba (UDS), Godfrey Solomon and Bernice Nyuma (Hossana), Daniel Lloyd (UDS volunteer and Russ Wood Vice Principal), and Moses Lahai (UDS volunteer)

      Later in the program Kelvin and Moses Lahai presented each student with their gift packet of supplies and a bag of popcorn. They were assisted by Bernice Nyuma (Hossana) and our newly formed UDS Youth Group. The next four photos show students receiving their wonderful gifts made possible by our Star Supporters.

      This program also showcased some talented young people. Our youth group organized and performed a popular song that lifted people out of their seats to dance. City of Joy students performed skits, sang songs and danced in celebration of their joyous day!
      UDS Youth Group beautifully singing a popular song.

      City of Joy students joyfully sing to their adorning audience.

      All the photos from this day show how our supporters’ generosity and kindness put smiles on the faces of City of Joy students knowing their education matters.

      Please visit UDS Facebook album to see more photos of City of Joy’s program.

      Our next two recipients of our 2015 school supply drive campaign are Rogma International School on September 13 and Russ Wood Christian Academy on October 11. UDS started supporting Russ Wood in 2012 and were eager for the students to receive their supplies in our youth-made backpacks. These backpacks were part of project piloted in 2014 during the height of the Ebola crisis.

      The continued support, encouragement and concern for our youth in Liberia from our generous community is forever appreciated. Our work is made possible, because of your support. All of UDS is extremely grateful for that!

      Photos and videos taken by Rodney John, UDS Volunteer

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