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!
Throughout the year, Kelvin Fomba, Co-Founder & Director, found ways to keep things afloat by using his skills as a master mechanic. He often donates his income to support daily operations. He also uses his skills for exchange services to further our cause.
On October 30, he and another person agreed to trade deal in lieu of cash. This person wanted to help UDS but didn’t have the means. However, he had a jeep that needed major engine repairs. Kelvin had the parts needed for the job and completed the work with his mechanical students in a few days.
UDS Hair Salon
Upon completing the work, the person offered UDS his shop within a five-minute walk from our center. We moved our cosmetology department to the new location. Our team painted the exterior walls with our colors, built shelves and workstations, and purchased hair and other products. Through Kelvin’s efforts, UDS now has a hair salon as part of our social enterprise initiative. The sales from hair and products will provide an additional revenue stream.
As you can see in a cash-strapped economy, the barter system plays a pivotal role in helping people sustain themselves during a crisis. In this case, Kelvin provided $1,000 of work this equated to $1,800 in rent of the shop ($100 monthly rent).
In close, this gave us the means to start this small enterprise. And we hope to receive additional support to build more workstations, buy sinks for hair washing and hair dryers, and other material to make it a full salon.
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!
From all of the board members and volunteers of Uniting Distant Stars, we would like to express our immense gratitude for all of our donors. This past year we were able to accomplish many things. From the opening of our Vocational Training Center to the many students who graduated from the program, your belief and support in our vision have helped young people use their new skills to change the world around them. We would now like to share with you more information on how Uniting Distant Stars has been impacting the of youth in Liberia.
Auto Mechanics Course
With this course, students are taught a craft that they can use to not just help themselves but also help others. In the beginning, students study how to identify different parts of machines that they will use later on. During the course, students also master different maintenance services such as oil changes, repairing brakes, and overhauling engines. Both young men and women take part in this course and gain knowledge that allows them to create opportunities for themselves.
Students that have enrolled in this course have been able to learn many valuable lessons. At the start, they learn the basics of food preparation and how it is important to ensure all the necessary equipment and ingredients are together before they move forward with a recipe. They also go over safety procedures to ensure that everyone is safe while learning. During this course, students are able to practice making different baked goods along with full course meals. An important aspect of this program is teaching them skills that they can use to be independent. In the end, students can apply what they have learned by having their own catering businesses or any other opportunities they find.
Because we live in a technological age, computer skills are important to have. This course focuses on teaching students how to use a computer for various functions. During the course of the year, the students have studied about the many components of a computer along with using Microsoft software. They are also taught basic typing skills and use what they have mastered to not only browse the internet but also complete online job applications.
While enrolled in this particular course students obtain many valuable skills to be successful in this area of expertise. The students gain knowledge on how to properly cut hair and master the art of plaiting (braiding) hair. In addition, they are taught how to perform both manicures and pedicures as part of the curriculum. The students apply their skills by giving free haircuts and other treatments to kids within the community. Seasoned students recruit clients and earn money as they provide services to cover the cost of hair and other materials.
As students enroll in the courses at Uniting Distant Stars, they practice different crafts that empower them to acquire new skills to help lead them into their bright futures. Students studying to become electricians begin by covering the basics about what electricity is. Then, throughout the course, students go over many parts and tools. To showcase all they have studied, they work on projects such as installing lights, outlets, and switches.
Hotel Management Course
This course gives students the opportunity to gain knowledge about an industry that is very prominent throughout the world. In the beginning, students absorb information about the hotel industry and the many operations that are a part of working in hotel management. They are also trained in customer service and how to treat guests properly. To help them gain real-world experience, students are given the opportunity to intern at two local hotels where they can further sharpen their skills.
The courses available at UDS are diverse and offer youth many opportunities to enhance their previous skills and learn new ones. The plumbing course allows students to learn about plumbing systems and how they function. Students understand the importance of the sanitation and how plumbing systems function. Students also learn about the different tools involved and apply their knowledge by installing pipes and other commonly used fixtures such as sinks, tubs, and commodes within the community.
Like many of the other courses, students use what they have learned to not only better themselves but also their communities. As students study the trade of tailoring, they learn how to make clothes and other items. Whether they’re learning how to properly use machinery or they are working with fabric and stitching, students are gaining knowledge in a skill that can be used to benefit everyone.
As you can see, within the span of our one-year courses students are encouraged to study many skills and put them into action. No matter what circumstances they come from, each student strives to make the most of their opportunity. Once again, we want to show our appreciation to our donors and those who support our work. You are not just investing for the future of these youth but towards the future of Liberia.
Kevin Nah is a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota Duluth with degrees in Cultural Entrepreneurship & Hispanics Studies. He is currently a Communications Intern at Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC). Kevin service with Uniting Distant Stars started in 2017 and he previously wrote an inspiring article, “This Could Have Been Me“.
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.
It has been nearly a month since we started vocational training classes at the Uniting Distant Stars Training Center. We started with eight courses and hope to add two more once we get enough students enrolled. Our students receive a combination of theory and practical application in each course to help them better understand both the “why” and “how” in learning a particular trade. The goal of our program is to connect our students to employers for internships or apprenticeships so they can gain additional experience outside the classroom and showcase their abilities in hiring managers.
Two weeks ago we shared in our post “See What’s Baking at Uniting Distant Stars” what the catering students were learning. Now we like to introduce you to three of our other courses: Auto Mechanics, Computers, and Interior Decorating.
Auto Mechanics Course
This is one of our legacy courses that was birthed during the Ebola crisis when young people wanted to learn a skill instead of sitting home. Kelvin Fomba, UDS co-founder and country director, developed this course from his extensive career as an auto mechanic working with different types of engines. This course is 12 months long and will provide ample opportunities for students to work with tools and complete service and repair jobs on vehicles, generators and other machinery. Two of the students are female which we have seen a gradual trend of young women entering this trade. Students who graduate from this course can either start their own business or seek employment from an existing garage. Our 2014/2015 students demonstrated their ability to find work as shared in our post, “Meet UDS Auto Mechanic and Driver’s Ed Graduates“.
Auto Mechanics learning about the concepts and terminology for this field.
The uniform shirt for Auto Mechanics is blue.
Because of your inspiring generosity, we were able to fulfill the wishes of our youth in Liberia by launching this course in 2016. Computer training is a highly sought-after course in Liberia. Young people see that learning how to operate a computer and navigate the internet means an increase in their marketability for future employment. Currently, we have 42 students enrolled in this nine-month course. We offer four classes with morning and afternoon classes that meet either Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. The course is divided into five levels: 1) Introduction to computers and typing, 2) Microsoft Word, 3) Microsoft Excel, 4) Microsoft Power Point & Publisher, and 5) Internet Browsing & Review Previous 4 Levels. Our students will learn how to write curriculum vitae, various letters, create presentations, and set up and use an email account.
Computer students from the Mon, Wed, Fri morning class taking a candid photo with Kelvin Fomba.
Our computer students are practicing their typing skills.
Interior Decorating Course
This is one of our newer courses. The demand for people with this skill is high. This nine-month course is similar to Interior Design for homes and businesses but it also entails multifaceted decorations for weddings, birthdays, graduations, and other special events. This course is taught by the same teachers, Mrs. Annie Cooper and Mrs. Sandi Akashi, as catering. Students will learn how to create flower arrangements, coordinate design of colors and themes for homes, businesses, and events, and much more. This is another field that will allow our graduates to create a business or find employment.
Students learning how to make flower arrangements.
This young woman learned how to crochet this doll dress. She will use this skill to create table coverings.
You, as our committed and generous donor, are giving young Liberians the opportunity to learn marketable skills that will change their lives to the better. Like vocational institutes in the U.S., we offer courses in fields that have a strong market demand, so our students can position themselves for employment and/or entrepreneurship. You should be overjoyed and proud of your service to young Liberians, because it is making a difference!
Thank you for being a highly valued Star Supporter for children & youth in Liberia!