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! 

Co-Founder's Giving Story – #GivingTuesday

Co-Founder's Giving Story – #GivingTuesday

My worldview changed when I visited Liberia for the first time in 1998. This small West African Country was praying for peace after ensuring a devastating civil war for nine years. Much of the infrastructure was damaged and destroyed but the spirits of the people remained hopeful.

While we visited different areas in Monrovia (Liberia’s Capital), the people greeted us with warm welcomes and gracious hospitality. The children, on the other hand, showed signs of malnutrition but they displayed their resilience by laughing and playing. This challenged my beliefs of impoverished children that I learned from watching countless commercials of Sally Struthers crying as the spokesperson of the Christian Children’s Fund. 

Children’s Desire to Learn

During this trip, I noticed the desire and hunger of children wanting to go to school when visiting a tuition-free school. It was run by six university students with limited resources. In other words, there were no textbooks, school supplies or desks. Instead, all you saw was bamboo slats on cement blocks and makeshift chalkboard in a one-room building. 

We returned the next day with food for a cookout and brought relief supplies that we carried from Minnesota. In return, the children gave a program of songs and skits. Then a nine-year-old boy stood up and recited the Emancipation Proclamation. He blew our minds and brought us to tears because none of us could accomplish what he did.

The boy who recited the Emancipation Proclamation in 1998

Passion to Service Children & Youth

During the next 21 years, I have dedicated my life, money, resources, and time to helping children and youth in Liberia by:

  • donating funds and materials to support Liberian children’s education and wellbeing since 1998. 
  • volunteering my time while living in Liberia for two separate years (between 2007 and 2010) to support youth-focused local NGOs (non-government organizations).
  • sponsoring children and young adults with annual scholarships for primary/secondary schools or receive vocational training in 2011.
  • starting annual school supply drives in 2011 to support a primary school in Congo Town.

Starting a New Chapter

My giving story took on a new chapter when I and Kelvin Fomba (Liberian National) co-founded Uniting Distant Stars as an official non-profit in 2013. UDS focuses on educational programs for children and youth. I continue to donate needed funds, sponsor 13 children with academic scholarships. And, I volunteer countless hours with communication, fundraising, and other support to further our mission in supporting young Liberians. 

Heather presenting at UDS “Creative & Innovative Thinking Youth Leadership Workshop ” in Liberia in 2013.

I hope you join me this Giving Tuesday on December 3 by making a donation to our Classroom Hero Giving Day. Your gift not only helps a child or young adult learn but also builds their confidence.

Heather (standing in the back) with children in 2013 from the first school UDS supported with school supply drives and scholarships.

Thank you for your continued support!

2016 School Supplies Drive- Donor Recognition!

WARMEST THANKS TO OUR “2016 SCHOOL SUPPLIES DRIVE” STELLAR SUPPORTERS:
Thank you Tracy Bishop, Julie Bland, Jeff Brown, and Ten Thousand Villages, for your generous donations! As promised, you are being mentioned as our featured donors for this campaign, because you contributed significantly to our 2016 School Supplies Drive this year! You played a key role in making it possible for our UDS youth to start the school year off with school supplies!


And of course, Thank You to all our other super-star donors:

Thank you!!!

You Brought “Happy” to Young Liberian Students!

Your compassion and generosity filled our new learning center with happiness. On October 29, 2016, we held the grand opening of our new Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) Learning Center in Liberia. During this program, your gift of school supplies was delivered to the remaining children, who are the grateful recipients of your service. This post highlights the fun-filled day from the words of Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder & Country Director:
You helped make this program success. Kelvin in upper left hand photo. Students performing in upper right. Lower two photos show the students attending our grand opening program. 
First of all, we’d like to say thanks to the Almighty, the entire UDS team, and support team in USA and around the world for making this program a success. The program was so great, wonderful and exciting! The hall of our learning center was so congested, some people overflowed outside to the courtyard. We had about 450 kids, 150 parents, and about 30 special guests, including UDS Liberian team in Liberia attending the program.

UDS Learning Center is near many schools and as you can see the children can walk to it. 
As you can see, our overflow of people were in the courtyard. 

The miraculous part was this: all the kids were able to receive their school supplies individually along with their refreshments of popcorn and KoolAid.  Rev. Samuel Enders, CEO & Founder of African Dream Academy, served as the keynote speaker of the program. He was so impressed about the development at the new learning center and the large population of kids filling the great hall. He also pledged $10,000 Liberian Dollars (equivalent to $120 USD) to be collected nest week.

Your brought happy to these young students as they receive their school supplies. 
These smiles are for your kindness and support for their education.
You are the reason why these young students will succeed in school this year.
Rev. Samuel Enders is wearing the red & white striped shirt. 
Video of  Rev. Samuel Enders Introduction

As you can see in the photos, kids wearing the blue and red uniforms are from City of Joy School, The students in green and yellow uniforms are from Christian Kingdom Academy. Hossana Children Foundation  and Russ Wood Christian Academy students were not in uniform. 

                                                                Listen to the students chat before the program starts.

This is the largest program UDS has ever had. The kids performed numerous dramas, songs, and jokes that had everyone clapping and laughing. Also thanks, praises, prayers were shared from the kids, youth, parents, guests, the schools’ administration to You and all our UDS family in Liberia, USA, and around the world.    

We end this post by sharing this happy day with all of you. Rev. Enders led the children in singing “If Are You Happy & You Know It,” and we invite you to sing along as you play this video.

Our heartfelt thanks to you for bringing happiness and joy to young students in Liberia!!!

Rogma International Students are Smiling Because of You

One of the greatest joys in life is making children happy, and that is exactly what you did on Sunday, October 23rd, 2016, at Rogma School International! This small community school (on Duport Road in Paynseville, Liberia) hosted their “Back-to-School” program to engage the community/parents, and to help gain support for their efforts in educating the Liberian youth. They invited representatives from non-profit, government, and religious organizations, as well as local businesses from the area. However, only Uniting Distant Stars was there to bring your gift of school supplies for 170 young children enrolled in this school!

You are helping these young students at Rogrma International School in Liberia. 
Our team organized all the supplies by grade level (from K-7th) and packed them at our new learning center. Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder & Country Director, brought five volunteers with him to take part of this important program. 

Your gifts packed with care waiting to placed in the hands of children.

Each child is given individualized attention as they are presented with your gift of school supplies. We have one volunteer who calls their name, a second who picks up their packet from the appropriate grade level, a third who presents the gift to the student while, and a fourth to take their photo. This system has been carefully orchestrated since we started this program in 2011. 

Princess presents your gift to this young girl. 

Here are more of the children, who received your fabulous gift!

Your generous gift of school supplies helps these children succeed in school. 
Kelvin was invited to give a few remarks to the parents and school’s staff. He asked the parents to ensure that their children arrive to school safely and are allotted enough time to complete their homework when they are home. He also shared how UDS and Rogma worked out a deal for their scholarship students; Rogma School has five students needing support. Three have since been sponsored by UDS supporters, but, Kelvin asked the school to allow all five young students to attend school this year even though only three have the funding. So, during this next year, we will be looking for two sponsors to help continue the education of the two unfunded students. 

Going the extra mile is so gratifying because it truly transforms young lives for the better.

Kelvin sharing how your compassion is benefiting the young children of Rogma International School. 
Another special moment at the program was when our partner and volunteer Godfrey got up and sang a popular gospel song. Godfrey, of the Hossana Children Foundation, stunned the audience with his amazing voice. He got everyone up dancing and singing with him. It was in response to your generous support that Godfrey shared his gift and brought to the program a joyful energy of gratitude and celebration. 

Children singing and dancing with joy because you brightened their day. 
Here are remarks shared by Rodney and Kelvin on Facebook, expressing their gratitude for your most generous support of young children in Liberia:

You will be receiving more gratitude and notes of thanks from the October 29th “back-to-school” program held at our new learning center in the coming week. 

There are not enough words to express how your kindness has touched our sweet children and youth in Liberia. We truly appreciate how you’ve been such Shining Stars for Liberia’s youngsters! 

School Supply Distribution & New Learning Center

Can you hear it? Our joyful children and youth in Liberia are singing their praises and thanks to you! They are so grateful to you for raising $3,500 in this year’s school supply drive, from both our annual campaign and our Dimes for Dreams promotion. Through your unfailing support, we raised 50% of our goal, and this will put needed school supplies in the hands of young children. Our Liberian team worked with all three schools on how to give each one of the 700 students supplies, because no one wants a young child to go home empty handed!

Here is the schedule for the distribution of your generous gift to these children:
  • October 23: Rogma International School in Paynesville will host their program for students to receive their supplies. (Photos & stories will be posted soon).
  • October 29: City of Joy & Russ Wood students & parents are invited to attend UDS Learning Center Grand Opening Program In Divine Town Community to receive their supplies and learn about our programs. 
Your faith and commitment to our cause empowered our team in Liberia to complete the painting of the building and move into to our new site. One of our long-time donors provided a donation to install electricity in our new learning center. We opened to students over a week ago. While the building serves the students with their educational and vocational training needs, we will continue to solicit funds to finish the renovations, pay the remaining portion of the lease, buy needed equipment and supplies, and provide salaries.

This building has transformed since we first introduced it in our post “Reaching New Heights for Liberia’s Children and Youth” to our recent one “Building Community One Star at a Time“. Please enjoy the latest photos showing the exterior painting, new lights, and students utilizing our facility!

You empower youth! Roseline (left) and Princess (right) volunteered to paint the building. 
Clockwise Upper left: Josh, Kelvin Fomba (UDS Co-Founder), Patrick & Princess. 
Kelvin (right) completing the final touches of the building.
Inside the main hall with its new lights. 
The other side of the main hall. 
This leads to the door of the registration office. 
You inspire excellence! Young students receiving help with their homework.
One of our teachers providing a study class for young students. 
Another teaching holding a study class for older students.
Students learning how to use the computer.
Computers students learning the how to use basic software programs.
Your compassionate service to the children & youth in Liberia is providing them with the knowledge & supplies they need to succeed in their academic studies. We give you our whole-hearted “Thank You!” for making this all possible!

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