On Saturday, August 1, 2020, 60 vocational training graduates arrived to receive their diplomas. Two others showed up that day to check-in and received their diplomas later in the week. Since the schools closed in March, some students left the city to spend time with their families in the interior. So, we could see additional graduates in the coming weeks or months.
During the months of June and July, students came to the center to take a photo in a cap and gown for their diplomas. We took these photos and arranged them their respective courses as shown below. Please join us in congratulating the 2019/2020 graduates in receiving their diplomas!
Our heartfelt THANKS for being part of their year-long learning journey! Your kindness and support helped them achieve this important milestone of graduating.
How are you today? We hope you found ways to adapt to the new normal as we move forward with 2020. It seems like things change daily and we learn to adjust as needed. Again, your dedication to Liberian Youth allows UDS to be agile during these trying times. Thank you again for including UDS in your charitable giving!
In Liberia, they are trying to balance managing the cases as they increase with removing some of the restrictions. Let’s look at the current numbers for COVID-19 as August 9: 1,234confirmed cases, 79 people who have died, 714 people recovered, and 267 cases per million people. Again, testing is limited, so these numbers might not reflect reality.
The Government of Liberia announced that the 6th to 11th graders will return on August 10 to resume the 2019/2020 school year. The year will end in December. There is no return of the preschoolers to 5th graders. All schools are waiting on any guidance if we can promote them from what they accomplished during the time they attended. Therefore, the academic year will start either end of December or early January.
Also, universities and vocational training schools are reopening. We have a tentative date of September 15 to start our fourth vocational training cohort. Currently, our tailoring instructor and graduates are making masks for the 6th and 7th graders and the new vocational training students. Additionally, We will be adding extra handwashing stations and taking their temperatures before entering the center. Keeping all students safe is our number priority.
This first month of 2020 flew by too quickly. After a busy month, we wanted to give a quick update. Our executive and fundraising teams in the U.S. held meetings in January to solidify our plans for 2020. Additionally, our team and students in Liberia held a general meeting on January 31 to schedule graduation. The date is set for April 25, 2020.
Meanwhile, as we look ahead to graduation, your hard-working students continue to practice and apply their skills like your Catering Students making pizza. Also, two hotels near our center provided internship opportunities for 12 Hotel Management Students. Eight of the students work at the York Plaza Hotel next door to our center and four work at Kailando Hotel about five minutes away.
Thank you for all your support and including UDS in your charitable giving!
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!
As we move into September, your vocational training students continue to progress in their year-long program. Additionally, each course meets three times a week for two-hour sessions and spend over 85% of their on practicals. The students that started late receive extra help from their instructor and fellow students to catch up with their course work.
Also, some of the students started last month after Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder & Director, offered a partial scholarship to the Bethlehem Baptist School graduates (Deborah’s Alma Mater) during his talk. Furthermore, over half (about 40) took him up on the offer and started their courses in the last two weeks.
Previously, we shared how a few students enrolled in two courses. Well, one student juggles three courses—computers, cosmetology, and hotel management and volunteered to help the children attending our academy. We applaud, Grace Gweh for going the extra mile in learning and giving back to younger students!
As you will see in these photos, your investment in young men and women is paying off by giving them valuable skills. They enjoy learning their respective trades and love showcasing their results.
Can you taste these sweet morsels? Your Catering Students, 12 to be exact, baked some delicious dinner rolls and then made pigs in the blanket. As they say in Liberia, “let’s eat!” Your Cosmetology Students practice and practice their hair plaiting (i.e. braiding) skills whether they have volunteers or not. Our school provides heads with hair as a practice tool. The students remained committed and focused on perfecting their craft.
Your Cosmetology Students practice and practice their hair plaiting (i.e. braiding) skills whether they have volunteers or not. Our school provides heads with hair as a practice tool. The students remained committed and focused on perfecting their craft.
As we complete the extension of our center. your Electrician Students help with the electrical connections. This course has grown to 25 students with one female. Fortunately, our center’s growth keeps them busy because they are hungry to put their skills to work.
Your Tailoring Students proudly wear shirts they made in class. Don’t you love this colorful fabric? The students first must master peddling a treadle machine, then they move into making clothes, uniforms, and so much more.
If you are planning to visit the center in the next six to eight months,you can taste some food from your catering students, get measured for a new outfit made from your tailoring students, enjoy a manicure/pedicure or hairstyle from your cosmetology students, or enjoy watching your other students demonstrate what they learned. Thank you for investing in these eager and hard-working students!
The current student body of the UDS Vocational Training Center (UDSVTC) completed their third month in July. Their enthusiasm to learn makes you smile. Furthermore, their ability to encourage their fellow students when they are feeling frustrated touches your heart. In fact, this group of students is unique compared to the previous two cohorts. They created a chat room on Messenger to promote unity and share ideas out of the classroom. Your students’ hunger for learning is 24/7.
Your catering students made delicious pancakes topped with natural honey. Frank Tugbeh, UDS Catering Instructor posted these photos in our Facebook group and instantly your tastebuds start watering. What makes these pancakes even sweeter? The joy of success expressed in the beautiful smiles of our students.
Your electrician students cannot get enough practical training because they are asking for more. In addition to their eagerness, this class has grown to over 20 students. Their instructor, Boakai Dillion shared these photos on his Facebook page as they continue to learn how to work with electricity. As you can see, these dedicated and focused students practice their skills.
As we close this post, we hope more of our instructors and students continue to share photos and stories from their experiences at UDSVTC, so we can pass on to you.