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!
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!