Liberia Youth Drive Their Success

Liberia Youth Drive Their Success

What makes Uniting Distant Stars unique to other vocational training programs? We take a bottom-up approach as follows:

  1. We listen to your students’ suggestions and implemented them from course options to learning labs.
  2. At the start of a new term, your students decide which course or course(s) they want to take.
  3. Your students plan the schedule with the instructor at the start of each one-year term.
  4. Within their learning labs, your students prefer to learn collaboratively with their peers.
  5. Your students enjoy 85% hands-on learning when practicing their skills.
  6. In preparing for graduation, your students organize their commencement ceremony.

Most importantly, your students drive their success because they have an active role. Finally, your role as a Classroom Hero makes this possible.

Video showing Uniting Distant Stars Bottom-up Approach

Uniting Distant Stars Vocational Training Update

Uniting Distant Stars Vocational Training Update

In August, you celebrated the third group of vocational training graduates Then, we restarted recruiting for the fourth cohort. Now, we hope to start classes this month.

Last month, Kelvin Fomba (Co-Founder & Director) went on the air. He also brought two alumni who work with UDS. First, Boakai Dillion, 2017/2018 graduate, works as the electrician Instructor. Second, Myrtle Stoe (2018/2019) graduate, works as the student registrar. Without a doubt, their testimonials drew in potential students.

Left to right, Kelvin Fomba, Boakai Dillon, and Myrtle Stoe.

Another exciting development deals with scholarships. One of our sustaining donors provided a $1,500 scholarship. He asked that we recruit 20 women in auto mechanics, electrician, and plumbing. Furthermore, his scholarships reduce their tuition by half. What a wonderful opportunity!

Additionally, a local Liberian organization registered five students and paid their full tuition. They plan to register more before the next term starts. We hope this leads to a lasting partnership.

Indeed, 2020 gave us many challenges but with all your support we continue forward. Thank you for your generous support!

Your 1st Quarter Accomplishments

Your 1st Quarter Accomplishments

With graduation just around the corner, it is important to pause and highlight what you helped Uniting Distant Stars accomplish in the first quarter of 2019:

  1. Over 40 participates received Permaculture Design Certification training in January. Two of the graduates implemented the tools of this training to be self-sufficient. A young woman returned to her family farm in Bomi County about 2 hours from Monrovia, because she saw the value of Permaculture training in providing income for her family. Another man (see photo below), who already had gardens in the Monrovia area, realized how he could produce a better yield and provide more for his family.
  2. UDS Electrician Students received real experience with the solar installation with the guidance of the vendor/technician. The students securely placed the solar panels on the roof and installed the wire connection from the panels to electrify our center. Most of our center is powered with solar except the computer lab.
  3. UDS Kickball and Football Teams brought home 1st and 2nd place victories respectively on March 30.
Nelson Borlay (right) shows Kelvin Fomba (left-UDS Co-Founder) & Bruce Blair (center-SLFND Trainer) his garden during the Permaculture training in January 2019

Thank you for your continued and generous support in equipping youth with the knowledge and skills they need to realize their potential! 

UDS Continues To Build Bridges

UDS Continues To Build Bridges

By Beyan Gonowolo, Board Member & Outreach Coordinator

With your support over the years, UDS has been a safe haven for hundreds of young people in Liberia. Our vocational training program provides young men and women an opportunity to learn a trade. This program is funded primarily by individuals who provide one-time or monthly donations to UDS. To expand our outreach, UDS is currently exploring means to obtain support from organizations and businesses. 

In this first quarter, we plan on reaching out and building bridges with organizations who share our mission and are currently doing work on the African continent. On Feb 8th, UDS met with the African Student Association (ASA) at the University of Minnesota to discuss future collaboration and partnership. Let’s face it, the struggles we are confronted with in Liberia are also struggles faced by other African countries; therefore, it is important for UDS to work and partner with other organizations in finding solutions to some of these problems.  Our goal is to learn from what others are doing and to promote future collaboration among our organizations.

UDS and ASA building bridges during our February 8 meeting at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Another benefit we seek to gain from partnering with other organizations is to obtain fundraising opportunities. In this case, we will be invited to events hosted by these organizations and will have the opportunity to meet potential donors and partners. We also seek to partner with these organizations and host fundraising events annually. By building bridges, we will be able to expand our outreach and increase our impact in Liberia.

UDS Students Certified in Permaculture Design

UDS Students Certified in Permaculture Design

Our first permaculture training successfully ended on January 16, 2019. Last week, we shared photos and information about the first five days of training. This week’s article focuses on the remaining four days of the Permaculture Design Certification Training.

Day 6 – Polyculture & Introduction to Group Projects

Bruce Blair (Board Member & Trainer for SLFND) demonstrated the benefits of polyculture with a model. He explained that polyculture is where unrelated plants grow together. He also showed videos of one particular type of polyculture: The Three Sisters. Typically, the Three Sisters include corn (maize), climbing beans, and squash. This practice originated from Native Americans.

Bruce Blair (SLFND) sharing short documentaries on polyculture and explaining the process to our students.

Bruce discussed group assignments where students create their own design projects. Additionally, he gave our students the option to select a site or social design. What is the difference? Site design focuses on a single garden or farm project, whereas social design includes the whole system design (i.e. economic, environment, health, etc.).

Bruce explaining the group design projects using his model as the example.

After the assignment discussion, the students reviewed the notes on the board in preparation for their group project. Group presentations started on Monday.

UDS students taking notes of their group project assignment.

Days 7 & 8 – Student Presentations of Group Projects & Banana Cycle

On Monday, the groups took their turn to demonstrate what they learned in this class. Each student of the group needed to share something about their project in order for Bruce to assess their knowledge of the permaculture process. As you see in the photos below, our students used different types of 2-D or 3-D models to explain their group projects.

Photos (left to right) show different group presenting their group projects. Some drew their designs on paper while others used a 3-d model.

On Tuesday, Bruce took the group over to the field site to discuss the banana cycle. A banana tree can reproduce itself. Instead of a seed, it grows from the bulb (rhizome).

Bruce explaining how the banana tree reproduces itself.

Day 9 – Final Presentations & Certification Ceremony

The group presentations continued into day 9. Clearly, our students put a great deal of effort into their group project designs. As result, they met the course requirements to be certified in Permaculture Design.

UDS Co-Founder & Director was part of this group project on social design.

Halfway through the day, they paused the group presentations. Joy Alizadeh would soon be leaving, and they wanted to recognize both her and Bruce. So, Kelvin Fomba (UDS Co-Founder & Director) joined Bruce and Joy up front to express the gratitude of all the students. Then he presented them a surprise Thank You Cake made by our catering students.

Photos (left to right): 1) Kelvin giving UDS appreciation to Bruce & Joy, 2) Kelvin presenting the Thank You cake to Bruce & Joy, 3) Catering Students icing the cake, & 4) Bruce holding the cake.

Soon after Joy left, the group presentations resumed. Once the last one ended, the certification ceremony began. Our long-time friend, Rev. Samuel Enders presented each student with their certificate. He also gave a motivational speech about taking this knowledge and putting it to use immediately. In fact, this course taught our students they can start with the resources of the earth and their own two hands.

Rev. Samual Enders of African Dream Academy (yellow polo) presented the students with their certificates. Bruce is on the left and Kelvin on the right.


Next, our students took photos to share their excitement with you. We had 41 out of 45 students successfully complete this course. Unfortunately, the other four had to drop due to scheduling conflicts.

UDS students celebrating and proudly displaying their certificates.

Finally, I want to Thank all our dedicated students and team for their active participation in this course and taking good care of our guests! Additionally, I want to extend our sincerest Thanks to our four sponsors (Ali, John, Edward, and Joel) and SLFND Team (Hindolo, Bruce, Joy, and Brenda) for their support!

UDS Students Working the Soil

UDS Students Working the Soil

Happy New Year! 2019 began on a high note with the Permaculture Design Certification (PDC) training starting on January 7. This training equips people with the knowledge and skills needed to implement a project for food security. First, the PDC training teaches our students about available resources–organic material and soil–to use for sustainable living. Second, PDC offers mostly applied knowledge similar to our vocational training courses. Lastly, this training gives our students the opportunity to work together and learn better approaches to gardening and farming.

Without a doubt, this course piqued the interest of all our students. Initially, the course limit was 35. However, this number increased to 45, including two agricultural students from the University of Liberia.

To illustrate the value of this course, the rest of this article will summarize the first five days with photos and explanation of each day’s assignments.

Day 1 – Introductions & Over of Permaculture Concepts

Our guests from Sierra Leone Foundation of New Democracy (SLFND) arrived Sunday night. After a night’s sleep in the hotel next door, they started the training on Monday. SLFND Team (left to right): Hindolo Pokawa (Founder & Executive Director), Bruce Blair (Board Member & PDC Trainer), Joy Alizadeh (Board Member & Development Director), & Brenda Blair (Early Childhood Development).

Bruce Blair spent the day showing slides of his gardens and chickens at his home in Red Wing, Minnesota. Additionally, he introduced many of the concepts they would be learning and applying during this 9-day course. 

Top Photo: Bruce teaching our youth about permaculture concepts. UDS Co-Founder & Director, Kelvin Fomba, helps explain anything that our youth don’t understand. Bottom Photo: Bruce drew a timeline for our students to write information about Liberia’s agricultural history.

Day 2 – Group Photos & Land/Soil Observations

This was Hindolo and Brenda’s last day in Liberia so everyone gathered for group photos. Furthermore, they took photos with our catering and hotel management students. The catering students prepared and cooked their food daily while the hotel management students cleaned their rooms, made beds, and washed and ironed their clothes. As you can see, the smiles on our guests’ faces show they are being well taken care of.

Left photo includes Brenda Blair. Right photo includes Hindolo Pokawa showing brotherly love to Kelvin Fomba.

Left photo shows our catering student with their guests. Right photo shows our hotel management students with their guests.

Bruce took the students to the field site and explained how to look for patterns in the soil. Next, he assigned the students to walk the site for 45 minutes without talking and to make any observations. Then, they returned to the classroom and wrote their observations on the board.

From left to right: students walking the site in silence while observing the area for patterns. Then the students wrote their observations on the board.

Day 3 – Hot Composting

Our students learned about hot composting and built their own heap with branches, leaves, and other organic materials. Hot composting is different from cold composting (the most common one used). Although both processes breakdown the organic matter, hot composting does in days instead of months and kills the weed seeds and pathogens. Plus, it breaks it down into finer material.

Photos (starting left, clockwise): The students gathered organic material and brought it to the site. The students piled the material into a hot compost heap.

Day 4 – Hugelkulture

Our students continued to apply knowledge at the field site. For instance, they built a Hugelkulture which is a no-till raised bed for growing vegetables. They gathered leaves and branches, placed them on the ground, and then topped with soil and seeds. Because of this process, the bed retains moisture for longer periods and gives a constant supply of nutrients.

Photos (Starting left, clockwise): The students working together to build a Hugelkultur (raised bed).

Day 5 – Designs & Patterns

On Friday, Bruce explained and demonstrated the design process. He built a prototype of a layout, including where to place trees and gardens in conjunction with roads.

Photos: Bruce explaining and demonstrating how to design a permaculture site. This example is a garden that could be planned for a city or rural area.

As you can see, our students gained some valuable information about using the earth’s resources to better their lives and communities. Next week, we will share the last four days of the training and how our students will apply this in their everyday lives.

Thank you again for our sponsors–Ali, John, Edward, and Joel–for allowing our youth to receive this wonderful opportunity!