The Value of Exchange of Service

The Value of Exchange of Service

Liberia’s deteriorating economy made 2019 a difficult and trying year. As inflation increased, may businesses and nonprofits folded due to rising costs. People went to work and have not been paid for months. Banks ran out of money causing international organizations like the Peace Corp to withdraw their people from the country

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.

Uniting Distant Stars Auto Mechanic students doing major engine repair.

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. 

Uniting Distant Stars moved our cosmetology department to a shop near our center. This will be a hair salon as well to help generate funds.

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.

Making UDS Known to the Surrounding Community

Making UDS Known to the Surrounding Community

Our team in Liberia works tirelessly each day to ensure your investment is making a lasting impact on the youth we serve. They deploy various marketing strategies to raise our profile in the community and pique the curiosity of people passing by our center. It is important that we connect with the community because they are potential students, collaborators, and partners.

Our uniforms are one form of advertising because the front of the shirt displays our logo and the back shows the department (i.e. course) the student is enrolled in. Our students receive positive feedback on the quality and the colors of their uniform. Each student wears their uniform proudly because they know UDS is committed to their development.

Blue uniforms are for the auto mechanic, electrician, and plumbing courses; Gold uniforms for catering, computers, cosmetology, hotel management, and tailoring courses.

Our building is another way we draw people to our center. Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder & Director, and Godfrey Solomon, UDS Registrar & Artist, painted images of our courses on the front of the building. This has proven effective in attracting people to our doors. On one occasion, a man from Nigeria was staying at the hotel next to our center and noticed the artwork. He paid our team a visit to inquire about our programs. These images also have welcomed students with limited to no reading and writing abilities. Not all our courses require reading and writing, and our instructors are able to adapt to the various learning styles.

UDS Vocational Training Center front entrance; Photos by Jasoe Sharpe

Our classrooms are mobile as our students work on their practicals outside the front of the building. This is where people will stop and notice because they see our students working attentively on their given projects. This is where “seeing is believing” comes to play when people are looking for a quality training facility.

Your electrician and auto mechanic students working diligently on their practicals outside 
Your continued generous giving built a strong foundation for UDS to connect with the surrounding community and provide life-changing training in trade careers. Thank you for making this happen!
You Give Opportunities for Liberian Youth to Learn

You Give Opportunities for Liberian Youth to Learn

By Kevin Nah, Marketing Volunteer

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.

Catering Course

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.

Computer Course

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.

Cosmetology Course

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.

Electrician Course

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.

Plumbing Course

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.

Tailoring Course

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“.

Congrats to our UDS Student Council

Congrats to our UDS Student Council

When you invest in young people of any nation, you are developing the leaders of tomorrow. Your continued support provides leadership development with our youth. In July, the students elected their student council from a field of interested candidates. They planned an installment program for their new leaders and to celebrate their accomplishments in their given courses.

As they were planning their program, Jackson George (Consul General of the Minnesota Liberian Consulate) contacted us about visiting our center during his trip to Liberia. The original plan was to have him visit on July 30, but this became a holiday for the senatorial election, so the students decided to invite him to their program so he could endorse their leadership and be their guest speaker.

Jackson enjoyed being part of this program and meeting our students. When asked in an email if he had anything to share about his visit he responded, “I just want people to know about the great work you are doing to help the people of Liberia. It was a learning and exciting process for me.” Everyone is very grateful to Jackson for making this a successful and memorable program.

The program started with the students from the various courses showcasing what they have learned during the first third of their term.

Your students showcasing what they have learned (left to right, top to bottom): Catering, Computer, Cosmetology, Electrician, Plumbing, and Tailoring students

Next, Jackson shared motivational words with the students about the benefits of learning a trade and also how to use social media to share what they are learning and to connect with people.

Jackson George, Consul General of Minnesota Liberian Consulate, inspiring UDS students to achieve their goals and make a difference

Jackson followed his talk by endorsing our new Student Council who will be serving until they graduate next year.

Congrats to the 2018/2019 Uniting Distant Stars Student Council!

New Student Council (left to right):  Teddy Jr, Ngayenga (President), Caraton M. Mahn (Vice President), Sylvester T. Yeah Jr (Secretary-general), Emmanuel L. Tarr (Financially secretary), Abraham C. Morgan (advisor), Zawida Gaylee (Treasurer), & Aujustine Kouadio (Chaplain)

Students Gain Valuable Skills From Knowledgeable Instructors

Students Gain Valuable Skills From Knowledgeable Instructors

A key component to the success of our vocational training program is our instructors. Each instructor enjoys imparting knowledge from what they have learned and mastered throughout their career to their students.

Kelvin Fomba, Co-Founder & Director in Liberia, enjoys sharing his knowledge as the Auto Mechanics and Computers instructor. He is a seasoned mechanic working with small to large engines of generators, machinery, and vehicles. He also has extensive experience driving commercial vehicles. As a result, his knack for technology helped him develop his knowledge of computers. In recent years, he started training youth on computers too. Throughout his career, he has mentored and trained young men and women in learning auto mechanics and professional driving.

Your support encourages our auto mechanic students to reach for the stars! 

Kelvin donated his tools, parts, and used vehicles he acquired from friends who left Liberia to start the UDS Auto Mechanics Department. He provides ample opportunities for his students to practice their skills in ways such as overhauling engines, repairing brakes, and providing other vehicle servicing. He donates his pay from contracts to do service and repair on large machinery or vehicles, to buy learning materials for the various courses, to help pay instructor stipends, or to provide anything else needed to support the center.

Our students learning about pistons and other parts of the engine

His recent donation allowed for shelves to be built in order to better organize the tools and parts for the auto mechanic students. Our students enjoy this improvement because it helps them find what they need when working on a project.

Left photo: Kelvin (center) organizing shelves
Right photo: Kelvin working mobile drill truck for soil testing

Please read “Meet UDS Auto Mechanic and Driver’s Ed Graduates,” a piloted program from 2014 to 2015 during the Ebola crisis.

Your continued investment supports ambitious Liberian Youth as they gain marketable skills as Auto Mechanics at our vocational training center.