Your compassionate giving opens doors for young Liberians who need support in furthering their educational goals. You have shared our journey of empowering Liberian Youth (children, teenagers, and young adults) in Liberia with educational resources (scholarships, school supply drives, etc), leadership development (youth virtual exchanges and workshops) and vocational training courses in the fields needed in their country. You have contributed to our growth by providing the means to offer programs that our youth have requested.
Your generosity toward our “Become a Classroom Hero” campaign will soon be at work! We wired $4,300 on Friday to purchase the learning materials for the five courses: Catering, Cosmetology, Electricity, Plumbing, and Tailoring. Some of our students will be completing their courses in November, and it is important that we can deliver the hands-on training they need, so they can find employment or start a business when they graduate. We will continue to promote this campaign so we can raise the remaining funds for needed practical materials.
Recently, at the “A Gathering of Stars” House Party, Miriam Monono Isaac (Board Chair & Sustaining Star Supporter), shared how your charitable contributions are used for the betterment of our students. She highlighted how our commitment and resolve toward helping young Liberians to become self-sufficient has been made possible because of your continued support. Please watch to her compelling talk about why supporting Uniting Distant Stars is a good investment and benefits our youth in their personal development.
June 2nd, 2017, marked our four-year anniversary as an official non-profit organization. Your generous contributions each year have made a profound difference in the lives of children and youth in Liberia. Your gracious commitment to walk this journey with us in building and growing a grassroots organization allows us to serve ambitious and eager Liberian youth. Your compassion and dedication are what lights the hearts and minds of Liberia’s promising young stars. Your unyielding support makes this all happen and we are eternally grateful. Thank you.
June 1st is the start of our fourth month of vocational training courses. Our nine-month courses will reach their halfway mark on June 15th. The results of these first four months are astounding. As our faithful partners in doing good, you have enabled youth to acquire skills that they can apply with confidence. During the next five to seven months, our students will require more materials to achieve their course requirements.
This month we will be launching our “Become a Classroom Hero” campaign to raise funds for five courses that need extra learning materials to ensure they receive the marketable skills to graduate and start a job or business. This post will share some of the latest photos of various courses and students accomplishments. You will soon see how your investment is returning smiles of success on the faces of our students.
Auto Mechanics Course
Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder and Country Director, works with his students three times a week and most of the time they are working on vehicles. At times, Kelvin provides classroom lectures when they are moving onto a new concept. The two photos below are from a classroom discussion on June 1st.
You encourage these students to learn.
You engage these students in asking questions to understand.
This is our largest course with over 40 students divided into four classes that meet three times a week. Our students are nearing the end of the Microsoft Word section. Saturday, June 3rd, all students from each class took a test to measure their knowledge of Microsoft Word. The students walked way feeling confident and proud of what they are learning. Kelvin, who is also one of the teachers of this course, said, “I cannot afford to stop doing this because look at the smiles on these beautiful faces.”
Your generosity brought smiles to these beautiful faces.
You give these students the reason to focus on their exam.
You made this computer lab possible.
Your continued support uplifts our student’s spirits.
The students in this course are advancing each and every day. In these first four months, they went from plaiting (braiding) hair that was tied on a string to working on each other or volunteers. They also are now providing manicures with custom designs on artificial. They continue to provide free haircuts to children in the neighborhood to gain experience and give back.
You spark that inner talent of each student.
You give our students reason to enjoy their work.
You encourage her to be precise and thoughtful in her work.
You guide students to produce results like these nails.
You are the example for these students to give back.
We’d like finally to introduce this 12-month course. This is one of the courses that is need of learning materials. The instructor has received periodic contracts which he can bring the students into the field and apply the knowledge they learn during their lectures. Gratefully, the instructor has been bringing some of the tools and materials to give practical application of this trade. Our goal for this course is to provide the tools, pipes and fittings, and other basic materials so that they can understand how to install or repair any plumbing in between opportunities to go in the field.
Your dedication motivates these students to learn despite the challenges.
The instructor is empowered by you to share his knowledge with these young minds.
This 9-month course started two months after the other ones. We have provided sewing course in the past such as our Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project. We have an interest in this course but students are struggling to pay the $75 fee. Again as we shared before, most of this is returned to the students in uniforms, ID Cards, and basic learning materials such as course handouts. We started with four students and increased to six. Students that are in their later twenties or earlier thirties are showing a greater interest in tailoring.
Students of all ages are welcomed to gain skills from your whole-hearted support.
Student ID Cards
After some search, we found someone to make our student ID cards. As each student received theirs in the last few days, they were beaming with pride. The ID Card and Uniform allow the students to identify as Rising Stars in our program.
Our students now wear their ID Cards with great pride because of you.
You should feel honored and proud of how your charitable deeds are changing young Liberian lives for the better. You have continued to invest in our students, and the return is not measured in dollars and cents, but in confidence and smiles.
Thank you for being a valued and sustaining Star Supporter of Uniting Distant Stars children and youth!
Once a year a day is set aside to honor the Mothers in our lives. There is a special quality often associated with mothers in how they care for their young children. You possess this special quality through your unyielding support of children and youth in Liberia. You are Nurturing Hope with each and every generous gift you have made to help students learn new knowledge and skills in our vocational training center.
Thank you for helping this student learn how to bake!
You are the reason students show up each day to class to apply and practice what they are receiving from their teachers.
Thank you for helping these young men and women become auto mechanics!
Thank you for giving students opportunities to practice their skills!
Your heart can smile knowing that you are bringing significate changes to lives of young Liberians in order to thrive.
Thank you for inspiring students to harness their creativity!
Thank you for giving students the tools to learn!
Thank you for your Nurturing Hope and being the difference in the lives of children and youth in Liberia!
We are nearing the end of the second month of classes at ourvocational training center. Our students are given ample opportunity to build their skills in their given field. Our instructors provide 80% of the students’ lessons as practical learning. This hands-on training happens in the classroom, out in the field for a contract, or part of community service project. Our goal is to help students gain marketable skills and teach them how to pay-it-forward with their training.
The next course we would like to introduce is Cosmetology. This is a nine-month course that offers young women the chance to learn how to work with hair (washing, cutting and styling), as well as other services like manicures, pedicures, etc. The instructor is Josephine Wabloh, who received her cosmetology certificate in Ghana. One of our students and assistant trainers of the Backpacks for Peace project, Roseline Sonday, is a teacher’s assistant for this course. She knows how to style hair and wants to learn other aspects of this trade.
Our talented team in Liberia built a stylist station for our students to practice working in a salon setting. They have hair to practice plaiting (which is a type of braid) that is draped over sting nailed to a wall. They also have one mannequin head, which is used to practice various types of protective styles. As part of their service learning, they provide free haircuts to children in the community.
The following photos show what our students are learning in this course:
Our students learning how to plait hair.
This is the stylist station built by our team of Kelvin Fomba (UDS co-founder) and Daude (carpenter)
These two students are learning to plait hair on this mannequin head.
Our instructor, Josephine Wabloh (blue & white dress) gives each student attention as they learn this trade.
Josephine shows a student how to plait hair while Roseline (white shirt & jeans) watches other students.
Our students practice giving manicures to females enrolled in other courses.
Our students giving free haircuts to children in the community.
You, our valued Star Supporters, have made this vocational training center possible. Your generous giving inspires our students to pay-it-forward as they learn their desired trade. We Thank You for your continued and heartwarming support of children and youth in Liberia!
This summer we will be focusing on three amazing young leaders and
what they have done to make this a better world. We are excited to start
this series with one of our STAR leaders, who is Gradieh
Wreh. She wears many hats with Uniting Distant Stars by serving as a
founding board member, donor and volunteer along with bringing the
millennial perspective to our organization. She was an instrumental
member of our project team for
the 2013 Youth Leadership Workshop in Liberia both as a planner and
presenter, which she shared her expertise as an entrepreneur.
Gradieh–whose name means surprise–is a very focused and self-determined young women who has built her
successful cosmetology business–Hair by Gradieh–from the ground up.
She has unleashed her passion to promote healthy natural hair through
her work as a stylist and teacher. She offers several types of styles along with her own design of “U Part” wigs. Her most recent endeavor was
launching her own product line for hair and skin using natural
ingredients that are abundant in her native home of Liberia. She
named her product line–Bindu’s Organics–after her Mom, who has been a huge help with this venture.
Gradieh with her Mom Bindu selling Bindu’s Organics and U Part wigs at a show. Photo courtesy of Gradieh Wreh.
I met Gradieh shortly before she married her
husband Elijah in August
2010. Elijah and I connected two months earlier about our shared
passion in helping the young Liberian people access resources to
improve their quality of education. It has been an honor to be immersed
in the lives of this enterprising young couple that forged a lasting
relationship that is both personal and professional.
Gradieh with Elijah. Photos courtesy of Gradieh Wreh.
During that same year in 2010, I became a client of Gradieh’s and really
appreciate the personalized service she delivers. Most importantly as I
have sat in her chair the last four years, I have been able to witness
how she has realized her dreams one bold initiative at a time. She has
grown her thriving business by taking some risks and mixing her talents
as an artist and scientist. One moment she is sculpting an UpDo that is
more of a work of art than a simple hairstyle. The next moment she is
sharing her next chemistry experiment on Facebook that she is conjuring up in her
brother’s kitchen for her ever growing product line.
On the left is one of Gradieh’s UpDo’s and on the right is a new batch of body butter being whipped up. Photos courtesy of Gradieh Wreh.
It is her strong faith in God as a Christian that has guided her in
taking this “ordinary career and making it extraordinary”–something
coined by my own Mom in describing her entrepreneurship. It is exciting
to watch her excel in her passion-aligned-profession along with being
one of the first to try out her products.
Bindu’s Organics Body Butter. Photo courtesy of Gradieh Wreh.
Gradieh follows in the footsteps of many in her
generation that have
created businesses that value both profit and people which is often
referred as a social enterprise. In providing a social benefit, she
started offering free workshops this year to
both her clients and general public about understanding the science of
hair and how to protect it from the harsh elements. In attending two of
her workshops, I can say she is a subject matter expert on hair from the
While building her brand in Minnesota, she is also introducing it in the
New Jersey and New York markets. She and Elijah moved out east in 2013
when he landed a job in his field of regulatory science. While
establishing herself at a salon in Newark, New Jersey, she returns to Minnesota
about every six weeks to serve her long-term clients. As one of them,
I’m grateful for her making this possible.
In addition to her a role has an entrepreneur, she is a student
completing her bachelor’s on entrepreneurship and a writer for various
publications for black women. She is definitely dedicated in changing
the paradigm for businesses owned by women and people of color.
Gradieh is an example of someone that pushed
past the expectations of
others to follow her own ideals in living her purpose. Though she has
been challenged by her age and race, she does not let either one hinder her from achieving her goals. Much of this could be attributed to moving to Minnesota from
Liberia at age 9 while it was embroiled in a civil war.
This caused her to be separated from her parents, but she was fortunate
to have relatives in Minnesota to live with during this transition. This
was not easy juncture in her life, because she went through her
formative years trying to preserve one cultural
while adapting to another. I believe this experience helped her gain
wisdom and strength to persevere through many trying times thus leading
to her success today.
Uniting Distant Stars is honored to have Gradieh on our team. She is a
role model for the young people we are serving in Liberia and elsewhere in the world. We wanted to ask her
four questions that would encourage young people to pursue their dreams by
sharing her experience and insight that has shaped her own.
1) When did you first discover your talents and knew this was a path you wanted to take and why?
I discovered my talent of doing hair when I was in the eighth
grade. I needed my hair done and a friend of mine stood me up. I took on the
task and I kept on going from there. I would practice on myself, friends and
family members. I started helping my cousin’s wife in her salon during her
pregnancy when I was in the ninth grade. I loved the salon experience
and I never stop going; it became my after school job.
I love interacting, educating and touching people’s lives.
These are the three things that pushed me to continue my path of doing hair and so much more.
2) What were the top three influences that supported your can-do spirit and why?
First is My faith: Understanding that I can do all things through
Him (God) who strengthens me.
Second is Helping people: There is always a way to help someone and
there are so many rewards you get from doing so. From what I experienced, I can say the disappointment
caused by not helping others is far greater. I love being among people who are realizing
their potential while they are watching me do the same. That is why I love to
share my journey, because I just never know who I’m influencing.
Third is Modesty: I can be painfully modest at times about what I
do and how far I have come, but that pushes me to always want to do more. I have
many little notebooks and planners lying around that have goals and financial
records in them. They go back as far as 2007 (when I was in cosmetology school)
and every time I come across one of them, its an opportunity to see how far
I have come and this is followed with a few minutes of celebration. After that, I
realize how much more I have to do and how “far behind” I am. Bottom line is that there is more to do and
regardless of how much I accomplished, I have committed my life to continue with the
work that has been driven by my passion and desire to pursue my dreams.
3) In dealing with the barriers of age and race, what are some strategies you have applied to overcome them?
Number 1 is Educate myself: Education
brings on a whole new level of confidence. I don’t believe in hanging a degree
on my wall and calling it an education. That was the example of education that
I saw growing up, so the idea of going to college was never attractive to me
until 2011. Education to me is not just formal education, but seeking new experiences and new and innovative ways to do things.
It’s finding how many different ways I can part your hair and how many
different styles I can create and why. By educating yourself, you are equipping
yourself with something that can never be taken away.
Number 2 is Humble yourself: It allows you to grow, gain trust and
build strong relationships.
4) As someone who has found success as a young entrepreneur, what would
be your five top recommendations that you would give a rising
star that may feel hindered by any social biases?
Follow your heart.
Always be good to people.
Invest in yourself before
expecting anyone else to.
Be confident/cautious: Take
time out to understand each step you take and why. Take time out to
understand where you are and why you’re there. What decisions or
circumstances are responsible for where you are and just because you come
across a good opportunity doesn’t mean you have to take advantage of it.
We want to Thank Gradieh for allowing us to share her story to inspire
others to discover and embrace their authentic self. Also, we wish her all the best as she
continues to expand her brand as one of the top haircare specialists in the nation!!!