Congrats Roseline Sonday! Promoted to Cosmetology Instructor

Congrats Roseline Sonday! Promoted to Cosmetology Instructor

Cultivating young leaders is a core aspect of our missionRoseline Sonday was promoted from teacher’s aide to the instructor of the cosmetology department in July. She is an experienced hairstylist and used her time as a teacher’s aide to learn how to apply facials and provide manicures and pedicures.

Her journey started with Uniting Distant Stars in 2014. She was one of four youth who piloted our backpack project from September to December 2014. In the program, students learned how to make backpacks from recycled drinking water sachets. She joined the training team of the 2015 Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project that trained 20 youth to make the same backpacks. Later that same year, these backpacks were donated and filled with school supplies to give to young school children.

When we secured our training center in 2016, she helped with painting the exterior of the building and refurbishing the facility. She was also part of the recruitment team that same year and helped with finding youth to enroll for the first term starting February 2017. She became the student coordinator and cosmetology teacher’s aide for the 2017/2018 term. She continued both roles this term and recruited the instructor, Felton Waydiyee Fouah. Earlier in July, Felton moved to a different location, and the distance to travel made it impossible for him to continue his work UDS. Felton told Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder & Director, that Roseline was ready to be an instructor.

From left to right, top to bottom: Roseline sewing backs in 2014. She is modeling the backpack to promote 2015 Backpacks for Peace Project. She is painting the exterior wall in 2016. She is giving a manicure in 2017.

Roseline is one of our shining stars in Liberia! She is grateful for the opportunities she had with UDS, and her next goal is to attend college. She is now waiting for the results of her entrance exam to the Univerity of Liberia. Her dream is to get her college degree because she would be the first in her family. Roseline is the fifth born out of eight children, and sadly, she had one brother die this year. She is steadfast in accomplishing her goals, and we support her every step of the way.

Please join me to appreciate the UDS Family, because this is the organization that is changing my life continuously without limitation. Since I graduated from high school, June 14, 2014, UDS has been the first to employ me and helped me receive my first salary as an instructor, no matter how much it might be. I am so blessed and willing to continue working with UDS to share these blessings with others.” ~ Roseline Sonday

Congratulations to Roseline Sonday for all your great service and work for the youth of Liberia! 
Ten Thousand Villages Community Shopping Event on May 21

Ten Thousand Villages Community Shopping Event on May 21

We invite you to come and support Uniting Distant Stars at the Ten Thousand Villages Community Shopping Event at 3825 50th Street in Minneapolis on May 21 from 12PM to 4PM. Ten Thousand Villages sells Fair Trade Handmade items from artisans living in developing nations. This event will be a great opportunity to find special gifts for upcoming birthdays, graduations and weddings. Ten Thousand Villages will donate 15% from the eligible sales during the event. Please visit our table to see a sample of our backpack and learn more about our programs serving youth in Liberia. We look forward to seeing you there!

Liberia: Read How UDS Learning Center Benefits Deborah

Liberia: Read How UDS Learning Center Benefits Deborah

Our learning center continues to get a flow of new students who hear about this from word of month. Since our youth has requested for more items, we asked them to share why this center matters to their education. The following student participated in our Backpacks for Peace training last year and is a second-year scholarship student:

Deborah values the opportunities she receives from UDS and does what she can to give back to others. Since we are always in need of volunteers, Deborah helps with study classes for younger students as shown below.

​Deborah is one of about 50 students who utilize our learning center to help with their educational needs. We hope her story inspires you to support their wishes to add more books, tables and chairs, fans, computers and other learning materials. We have raised $1267.34 or 51% of our $2,500 goal. As little as $10.00 can do a lot to achieve their wishes. Please contribute by credit or debit card by clicking the DONATE BUTTON below.

Uniting Distant Stars Learning Center | GiveMN

Or by check payable to Uniting Distant Stars and mail to:

Uniting Distant Stars
4010 Lawndale LN N
Plymouth, MN 55446

Your tax-deductible contribution is an investment into the academic achievements of students like Deborah with lasting returns. Thank you for your generous support!

Read other blog posts about our learning center:

  1. Enjoy a Tour of the UDS Learning Center in Liberia
  2. Books on Shelves Advance Learning of Children
Our youth-made backpacks are now being worn by young students in Liberia

Our youth-made backpacks are now being worn by young students in Liberia

It has been said many times “good things come for those who wait.” This clearly was evident at the Russ Wood Christian Academy’s Back to School Program held on Sunday, October 11, 2015. After a year of challenges and disruptions, the students of Russ Wood finally received their school supplies shipped in 2014 that filled the backpacks made by our youth during the 4th quarter of 2014.

Read our blog post “Miracles Do Happen” about our 2014 shipment of school supplies.

In preparation for this much anticipated day, our team in Liberia faced yet another challenge. Russ Wood increased their enrollment from 250 to 300 students. UDS fearless leader Kelvin Fomba had to adjust the supplies to accommodate the extra 50 students and use plastic bags to package them since we had only 250 backpacks. Saturday, October 10, he organized the
UDS volunteers to sort the supplies and fill the backpacks/bags for each student. This was a day-long endeavor.

UDS Volunteers sorting supplies for 300 students at Russ Wood Christian Academy.
Three UDS volunteers filling our youth-made backpacks with school supplies.
Note: We plan to restart production of the backpacks once the rainy season subsides.

The rest of this post is a detailed report (lightly edited) from our young correspondent and photographer Rodney Johnson, who shares the highlights of the day.

Yesterday was another wonderful and exciting day at the back to school program for Russ Wood Christian Academy in Torpkah Camp, Old Road Sinkor, Monrovia, Liberia. The program started at around 1:30 pm GMT. The program began with Russ Wood students giving contributions by singing songs, reading some favorite bible verses and poems. This was followed by the Uniting Distant Stars Youth Group, who gave their contribution by doing a drama entitled “Say No to Bribes in School.”

UDS Youth Group performing their play “Say No to Bribes in School.”

It was indeed an educative play with lots of laughter, and everyone being fully entertained by our youth group’s performance. The play was about some students who don’t pay attention in school when the teacher is
giving lessons. These students can be busy with their phones, playing cards, and chatting with each other while class is in session. Even when the teacher is conducting an examination, these students sit doing
nothing at all. When the examination time is over, they only write their names and the subject title on their answer sheets before presenting it to the teacher. This results in these students, who did not participate in class or complete their studies at home, to meet the teacher in private and pay some amount of money for their grades.

In this particular performance, there was a teacher, who had a habit of receiving bribes from some students in return for grades. Other students were not happy with this teacher for always taking bribes from students. So they decided to take the matter to the principal of the school. The principal asked for the teacher’s name and then sent for him to come to his office. The principal asked the teacher if what the students were saying was true or not. The teacher denied it and said he did not know what the students were talking about. However, the principal continued to receive numerous complaints from the students about the same teacher, so he the prepared a letter of dismissal.

The principal again called the teacher to his office and presented the letter to him. The principal stressed he never wanted to see him anymore, because his school is well known and has a good reputation. Therefore, he will not allow one teacher to tarnish his school’s image. This skit also encouraged other students to not act like the students in the play, who bribe teachers for grades. Also, they admonished teachers who are in the habit of receiving bribes from students for grades and asked them to please stop what they are doing. They added that this is not helping our students, because it will not bring about the positive changes we want from Liberia’s youth to make in their respective homes, surrounding environment, and the nation as a whole. Everyone was very pleased with this play and gave the UDS youth a round of applause.

Russ Wood’s MC for Russ Wood’s Back to School Program.

The MC of the program on behalf of the principal, teachers, parents and guardians extended their thanks and appreciation to the Uniting Distant Stars youth, staff and executives for their hard work in forming this youth group. He stated this is what the nation needs today in fostering unity among students and also encouraging them to be creative. The MC introduced the UDS co-founder and country director, Kelvin Fomba, who was the guest speaker of the program to give his remarks. Kelvin started by thanking the youth for their wonderful performance and how they make him fill proud of having them as young UDS volunteers willing to bring about the change that is needed in the nation.  Kelvin also encouraged these young people to continue with their good work, because it will make them to become brighter stars in the future.

Kelvin sharing the story in now the backpacks were made by our youth.

He continued by thanking the teachers, who are spending countess hours, helping these young children to become the nation’s builders of tomorrow. He repeated the message from the youth group’s performance to any teacher who might take bribes from students to relinquish this habit. He stressed this behavior will lead students to steal or into other bad activities to obtain money to pay for grades.

Kelvin next addressed the parents and guardians by thanking them for their wonderful and brilliant children. He said that if we are to succeed in building up these youth to become prosperous in life, we need their support. He then stated in order for these young children to achieve their goals, the parents and guardians need to play their part. This includes encouraging their children to value education more than silver or gold, because when you educate a child you educate a whole nation. He pleaded with them to stop sending their children to sell market goods
on the street when school is in session or during study time. He also asked if they could put their children’s homework time before doing house work.

Parents and guardians sitting with their children during the program.
Kelvin ended his remarks by informing the parents and guardians of the opening of the UDS Learning Center and encouraged them to send their children for study classes organized by the UDS youth. The youth are voluntarily helping to teach young children on how to use these materials donated by our UDS counterparts in the USA. After Mr. Fomba’s remarks, the backpacks and some other school materials was presented to the students of Russ Wood Christian Academy by the UDS team. Everyone was happy and the parents admired the handy work of our youth when they saw the backpacks. Other people requested to get backpacks for their own children, who were not attending Russ Wood.

This little girl received her red backpack filled with school supplies.
This boy’s smiles shows his delight in receiving his backpack filled with school supplies.

This boy is holding his new backpack filled with school supplies with care.

This little girl is delighted to receive her backpack filled with school supplies.

The program ended with Russ Wood students, UDS volunteers and UDS youth group taking general group photos.

Russ Wood Students’ holding holding up their gifts.
Here is a wider view of Russ Wood’s Students showing their gifts.
Some Russ Wood Students wearing their backpacks as they go home.
Two girls standing outside Russ Wood school at the close of the program.
Thanks to everyone with Uniting Distant Stars in Liberia and the United States of America in making sure this program was a huge success. Let’s not forget our sponsors and donors all around the world for their support. If it hadn’t been for all of you, we couldn’t have reached this far.

Our fabulous UDS Youth Group (light blue shirts) and Volunteers (dark blue shirts) celebrating a successful day.
Kelvin Fomba squatting in the middle of his hard working and dedicated team.

Thanks again Rodney for your fabulous report! If you like to see more photos of all three back to school programs for City of Joy, Rogma International, and Russ Wood Christian Academy, please view our Facebook Album (click here).

As you can see, our youth in Liberia are taking an active role with our programs. They receive their encouragement and inspiration from you as one of our Star Supporters! Please feel honored in what you have helped accomplish in Liberia with our youth. Thank you for your generosity and kindness!

UDS Youth Vitually Participates in the Nobel Peace Prize Youth Forum

For the second consecutive year, Uniting Distant Stars, Inc. (UDS) in Liberia participated via Google Hangout in the Nobel Peace Prize Youth Forum (NPPY Forum) at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 6, 2015. This was a unique experience for our 50-plus youth representing students in primary to college level as well as young people unable to attend school due to financial reasons. 

We displayed this banner at the beginning of the week and it spawned great enthusiasm by our young beneficiaries. This was donated by our two co-founders–Kelvin Fomba (Liberia) and Heather Cannon-Winkelman (United States)
In preparation of this much anticipated event, our Country Director Kelvin Fomba held a workshop the day before. He reviewed the activities along with sharing some background on the Nobel Laureate, the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), who they would be listening to during the forum. Also, they watched the TEDTalks of William Kamkwamba from Malawi and Kelvin Doe from Sierra Leone for some additional inspiration.

Left photo: Kelvin conducting the workshop. Right photo: our youth watching William Kamkwamba’s TEDTalk “How I built a windmill”.
On the day of the event, our organizing team in Liberia was eager and ready to connect about two hours before the forum started (Liberia is six hours ahead of Minnesota). Shortly after the program opened, our youth were given a warm and hearty welcome from their Minnesota peers when they popped up on the two large screens on both sides of the stage at Augsburg’s Kennedy Center gym. This is the moment that made this experience real to our youth as they saw over 600 Minnesota students waving and saying Hello to them.

This photo was taken by UDS Executive Director at the forum when the Liberian youth appeared on the screen during the welcome at the forum. (The lighting was challenge to taking photos of the screen.)
As the program continued, the emcees of youthrive, the organization that produces the NPPY Forum, took a few moments to review their four simple rules for engaged leadership–Show Up, Speak Truth, Change Yourself, and Lead! The Change Yourself rule was the one that intrigued our youth the most. This led into a more detailed discussion after the forum on why this is important in order to bring about positive change in their communities.

Kelvin (red shirt) talking with our youth at the forum at the start.
Next, our youth were captivated by the talk from Leiv Sydnes of the OPCW and they gained a great respect of this organization’s dangerous, but invaluable work on eradicating the world of chemical weapons. At one point during his presentation, he showed a slide of a patient being treated for chemical burns that had the doctors wearing masks and hazmat suits similar to what they saw with the Ebola outbreak. This sparked a discussion with Kelvin on whether Ebola was a chemical weapon. He explained how many chemicals have no smell or can be seen, and like Ebola these suits are worn for their protection.

The banner is hanging with two rain suits next to it on each side. These rain suits are created with the same plastic used for the backpacks. Also, hanging on the wall on the left side is one of the backpacks made during the first phase of this project.
At the end of Leiv’s presentation, our youth were the first ones to ask him a question. They were interested in knowing the OPCW strategy in how they will eradicate production and uses of chemical weapons in order create world peace. Leiv responded by saying that chemical weapons only represents a small percentage of the issues challenging world peace. So while the OPCW is working on their part, these other areas of concern such as wars need to addressed as well.

Here our youth watching the forum in Liberia. The two youth in the front on the right are drinking water from the plastic sachets that are used for our Backpacks for Peace program.
The final activity that involved our youth was the World Cafe. The purpose of the World Cafe was to have the young people divide up into smaller groups and spend 15 minutes each on three questions involving peace and community building. Our youth participated in this activity simultaneously with the Minnesota students. After each question’s discussion, the individual groups had to agree on one idea that could be shared later to everyone. These ideas would be transformed into themes that would become actionable initiatives.

Here is a candid moment with some of our youth.
Here are the responses (edited for clarity) from our youth that were emailed to youthrive to be shared with the Minnesota students and we hope to receive theirs soon to learn more about each others challenges and perspectives.
1) What does a peaceful environment in a community or school look like to you?
A peaceful environment in a community or school means a lot to us in Liberia. The most important aspect is development, because whenever peace exists there must
be development such as quality schools, job opportunities, etc. 

2) Think about your own community or school… What kind of things have happened that wouldn’t be described as “peaceful”?

A lot of things
happen in our community and schools that would not be considered peaceful due to a lack of well-trained
security officers, equitable justice, etc. For example, during the EBOLA crisis, some youth
were killed by military personnel in the West Point community (a large slum) in Monrovia, and since then nothing has been done about this incident.
3) Think about what was said in Question 2… What kind of things can you do to take action in making your community or school more peaceful?

Liberian youth are appealing to the world to help train the security, so that they will be able to protect the people and the entire
nation. The youth are also pleading to get support in education and
vocation training, because when you are engaged in any good thing
this will help young people to be more focused with school and work.
The refreshments being served in this photo was organized and prepared by our own volunteer Princess Fomba. UDS provided sandwiches and soft drinks to everyone present.
In regards to their response in question 3, UDS is active in addressing their plea by offering scholarships and providing vocational training opportunities such as our Backpacks for Peace and automotive apprenticeship program for mechanics and drivers. However, we like to work with our youth more in seeing how they can find ways to respond to these concerns.
At the end of the program in Liberia, our youth created two groups–young ladies and young men–and each sang a song to Thank UDS for their participation in the forum.
In reflecting on this most memorable day, our youth expressed their interest in starting a group that would fall under Uniting Distant Stars. They exchanged numbers with each other, so they can plan a time to meet. We will support them as they move forward with any plans in making this a reality. Also, they stressed the importance of being involved in this forum or similar programs, because it was an enriched educational experience that is currently not offered in their schools.

Here are some youth expressing their joy at the end of our involvement in the forum.
We want to end this post by giving a much deserved Thank You to the UDS organizing team lead by Kelvin Fomba in Liberia and our donors in the United States and Denmark; youthrive’s staff–Maddy Wegner, Donna Cook, Callie Aguilar, Anne Parish, and their youth trainers–Malika Musa and Kevin Nguyen; and the Nobel Peace Prize Forum tech team including Mark Holterhaus and Adam Davis-McGee for making this event possible for our youth in Liberia!

Before you go…here are some special videos from our youth that were taped after the forum.

UDS girls and young women created this Thank You song for Uniting Distant Stars.

UDS boys and young men created this Thank You song for Sundance Family Foundation, who gave the $3,000 grant for the Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project.