On Saturday, May 23, 2020, about 60 Vocational Training Students came to the center to receive their handwashing packages, because they were unable to come the week before. Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder & Director in Liberia held a meeting with the students. They all wore masks and observed social distancing.
The students started sharing their concerns and thoughts with one another about the COVID-19, the reopening of schools, etc. Some students shared how times were hard and the struggles they are facing. Two students got up and shared their testimonials.
Linda Foeday, Cosmetology
The first one was Linda Foeday, a 2019 Hotel Management Graduate and soon-to-be Cosmetology graduate. She shared how fortunate she was to demonstrate her hotel management skills during the permaculture training in January 2019. Linda served the trainers from Sierra Leone Foundation for New Democracy during their nine-day stay. From this experience, she wanted to come back and learn more, and be part of the UDS Team. Based on her dedication, hard work, and leadership, she was appointed to run the Hair Salon that we acquired and opened last fall.
Next up was Grace Gweh, a three-course soon-to-be graduate in computers, cosmetology, and hotel management. She did all of this while working as a primary school teacher. As she stood at the podium, Grace shared how she created the grade sheets for the students at her school. She then explained how she earned money from designing flyers or other materials for people requesting her service. Grace, a self-motivated person, wants to learn as much as she can. She definitely inspires others through her own example.
As you see, your investment in students like Linda and Grace pays off. They could not have gotten this far without your generous help!
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!
One of your key investments is buying needed equipment, materials, and supplies to give your students practical experience. Without these essentials items, your students would sit in a classroom doing nothing. UDS aspires to give young men and women over 80% hands-on training either as field experience or in their respective learning labs.
Almost two years ago, you made our Plumbing Learning Lab possible. It now serves the third group of plumbing students. As you see in the photos, our students practice laying pipe in their lab. They learn how to connect various types of pipes with fittings. Soon they will be connecting the pipes to fixtures like commodes and tubs.
Thank you so much for supporting your plumbing students in learning this much-needed trade!
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!
Can you believe that a new school year is about to begin? In fact, it has already started in some states like Oklahoma. For Liberia, the students return to school in early September. Our UDS Academy has been receiving many families interested in enrolling their students.
Recently, we received all the grade sheets from our 17 academic scholarship students. One graduated and the other 16 were promoted to next grade with two in the 12th grade. Since 2011, we have partnered with a few schools to offer scholarships to deserving students who needed financial assistance. Thank you to all the sponsors who support our young students!
Before we go into our featured article, we want to share some of the latest photos for our Cosmetology students. Their training includes plaiting (braiding) hair, manicures, and pedicures. They enjoy the opportunity to do their practicals during each class period. One of our hotel management graduates, Linda Foeday enrolled in this course to learn another trade. She also shared these photos.