How are you today? We hope you found ways to adapt to the new normal as we move forward with 2020. It seems like things change daily and we learn to adjust as needed. Again, your dedication to Liberian Youth allows UDS to be agile during these trying times. Thank you again for including UDS in your charitable giving!
In Liberia, they are trying to balance managing the cases as they increase with removing some of the restrictions. Let’s look at the current numbers for COVID-19 as August 9: 1,234confirmed cases, 79 people who have died, 714 people recovered, and 267 cases per million people. Again, testing is limited, so these numbers might not reflect reality.
The Government of Liberia announced that the 6th to 11th graders will return on August 10 to resume the 2019/2020 school year. The year will end in December. There is no return of the preschoolers to 5th graders. All schools are waiting on any guidance if we can promote them from what they accomplished during the time they attended. Therefore, the academic year will start either end of December or early January.
Also, universities and vocational training schools are reopening. We have a tentative date of September 15 to start our fourth vocational training cohort. Currently, our tailoring instructor and graduates are making masks for the 6th and 7th graders and the new vocational training students. Additionally, We will be adding extra handwashing stations and taking their temperatures before entering the center. Keeping all students safe is our number priority.
On Saturday, August 17, Kelvin Fomba (UDS Co-Founder & Director) served as the guest speaker for the Bethlehem Commencement Ceremony. As a note, 7 out of 17 Uniting Distant Stars scholarship students attend Bethlehem with one graduating, Deborah Tweah.
Kelvin spoke about 30 minutes talking about the role the teacher, parent and student all possess in achieving academic excellence. In addition, he explained how the UDS Vocational Training Center teaches the necessary skills for young people to learn a trade.
Next, he shared stories of our graduates finding work either through employment or using their skills for paid projects. As a result, the graduates responded and said they would like to attend UDS as they apply for colleges.
After Kelvin completed his talk, some journalists approached him for an interview. They wanted to interview him about our academic scholarship and vocational training program. He graciously shared how UDS brings supporters like you from different parts of the world to help with educating the youth. He expressed his gratitude over the radio for all of you in making it possible to serve Liberian Youth.
Your continued and generous support does changes the lives of young men and women for the better. Thank you for being their Classroom Hero!
Your investment in Liberian Youth pays a dividend of marketable talent ready to make a difference in their nation. We’d like to introduce you to two graduates whose lives were transformed because of you.
Viola Blaine is one of six who graduated with a Diploma in Cosmetology on April 13, 2019 at the Uniting Distant Stars Vocational Training Center (UDSVTC) in Liberia. She is 40 years old and a mom of three children: 16-year-old boy (lives in Ghana), 14-year-old boy, and 11-year-old girl (both live with Viola).
She left Liberia during the civil war in 1996 and became a refugee in Ghana. During that time she took advantage of the United Nations educational programs including graduating from high school, receiving a certificate in cosmetology, and attending a one-month business school. This gave her the opportunity to start plaiting hair and giving pedicures to be self-sufficient.
Viola returned to Liberia in 2012 and continued to work as a hairdresser. In 2018, she was praying to God to find a school to gain more knowledge. While listening to her favorite station, Radio Advent, she heard Kelvin Fomba (UDS Co-Founder & Director) and others talk about UDSVTC. She took down the phone numbers and called the school. She was invited to the campus to complete the admissions form and to attend orientation.
She shared how much she appreciated Kelvin’s encouragement and stressed the importance of learning skills that lead to self-employment. She expressed her gratitude for all the support given to her to achieve her goal of graduating from our program.
Viola shared how UDS provided the advanced skills in manicures, pedicures, facials and much more that she was seeking. She now holds a diploma, and she is looking for a small shop where she can launch her salon business. She currently does home visits to plait hair, and she hopes to continue this service once she finds someone to work with her at the shop.
Quote from Viola: “Thanks go to Mr. Kelvin Fomba from the UDSVTC school where I came from with a diploma in cosmetology. This will provide a good opportunity for me to do my own business. Uniting Distant Stars Vocational Training Center is one of the best schools you can go and get good vocational skills. Thanks to all of you for the knowledge I received!“
Anthony Bombo Kpehe Jr. graduated with a Diploma in Computer. He is 27 years old and the father of one young son. He is also a Freshman at the University of Liberia and is focused on an Economic Major and Management Minor.
Anthony’s shares his journey to UDSVTC: “After being a college drop out in 2013 from the A.M.E. Zion University, I struggled with finding financial support to continue my academic sojourn, I was left with no option but to do things that I could sustain myself until the appropriate time came for me to go to school or for me to enter the University of Liberia.
One day in 2017 while I was sitting at home, I received information about a newly opened vocational school located on the Old Road. So, I thought wisely to go and see their information sheet. When I got there, I met my sister Roseline who told me that the school had a scholarship.
Unfortunately, I went late to make an inquiry to the school and was unable to be part of the first graduating class. I was told to wait for the next year which I did. Today, I am proud to be a graduate of the Uniting Distant Stars Vocational Training Center. But before then I was judging myself of what to do when I was given the opportunity to attend the school. So I said to myself since I was studying Economics in college, then I will do computers because it is the future. We in Liberia will depend on them so I will learn computers. This was how my computer studies came about. To my supporters please continue your hard work for UDS and God will richly bless you.”
Anthony hopes to become the Finance Minister or Central Bank Governor and plans to become a computer expert. He will use his skills to create an IT network system that promotes transparency and prevents corruption within Liberia.
You brought so much joy and gratitude to your graduates who received their diplomas in eight trades on Saturday, April 13, 2019.
The celebration started on Friday, April 12, at their class party held at our center. The student council initiated a project to make white polo shirts with the UDS logo and their names underneath it. They funded this initiative on their own. They received their class medals that same night. One side of the medal shows the UDS logo and name. The other side featured the Map of Liberia and the theme, “Vocational Skills Build A Nation” created by Kelvin Fomba, Co-Founder and Director.
The ceremony featured two guest speakers. First, is our dear friend, Reverend Samuel Enders, Founder of African Dream Academy (ADA) and Representative of District 6 in Paynesville, Liberia. He shared how Kelvin provided much needed mechanical work for ADA in 2016. When he paid Kelvin for his work, he asked him what he would do with it. Kelvin said I will put it to opening our school in 2016. Rev. Enders commented on how Kelvin continues to invest his own money back into UDS. He also commended Kelvin for his efforts because people who have far more money are not taking such initiative to help young people.
Our second guest speaker what a representative, Bro. AleiuL Kemokai, to the Honorable Peter S. Bemah, Deputy Minister of TVET from the Ministry of Youth & Sports. Mr. Bemah gave an inspirational talk about vocational training and reminded our youth of the benefits of having trade skills. His presence was welcomed by our team because we have held a TVET (Technical and Vocational Educational Training) Permit since 2016. We hope this connection will get us closer to cracking the code for being short-listed for funding opportunities. For now, Mr. Bemah said he would help with recruiting youth to our trade school.
More photos and stories from our graduates will be shared in the next few issues. For now, please enjoy this moment because this is your success story! Thank you for your generous support!!!
Uniting Distant Stars promotes a blend of education and innovation with our programs. At the height of the Ebola crisis in 2014, UDS piloted two initiatives from September to December 2014. Both programs were in response to our youth seeking to obtain skills while schools were closed. The first program is our backpacks project where ambitious youth were trained how to transform recycled material into durable goods. The other is our lesser known vocational training program focused on auto mechanics, auto electrician and driver’s education.
UDS Country Director and Co-founder Kelvin S. Fomba spearheaded this program, because he is a seasoned automotive technician and commercial driver working with both light and heavy duty machinery and vehicles. Throughout his career he has taught young apprentices in the field or students in the classroom as an instructor at vocational training institutes.
He quickly heeded the call of 14 young men and started their training with no money since it was not included in the UDS budget. Kelvin used his owns tools and vehicles he inherited from friends who moved to the states or were beyond repair. Kelvin and his students raised about $450 from contracted jobs to service vehicles or generators. This was used to purchase parts and supplies like engine oil, rent welding equipment or pay services of other professionals. Kelvin enlisted some of his fellow technicians to volunteer their expertise when needed.
The student’s first assignment required dropping an engine from a Toyota Camry (Japanese made) with a fuel injection system and standard transmission into the chassis of a Toyota Tercel (U.S. made) that had fuel injectors and automatic transmission. Basically this was putting a square peg into a round hole, because it required several conversions to make it work such as replacing the failed fuel injectors with a carburetor. This is where students learned how to create and weld both an intake and exhaust manifolds, and engine seats to securely place this heavy chunk of metal into the Tercel’s chassis. Our students triumphed with their assignment and now had an operable vehicle for teaching driver’s ed.
UDS Students working on an engine while interested youth observe the process.
The results of this effort were impressive. Out of 14 students trained in one or two of three trades–auto mechanics, auto electrician, and driving, are presently independently working for themselves and supporting their families. The others decided to stay with UDS for continued training. Although they are qualified to start their career, they opted to receive advanced training to land better paying jobs.
Below are photos and stories of some of the UDS graduates from auto mechanic, auto electrician and driver’s education programs.
Amara Kamara at the back and Abrahim Kamara at the front during their practical test to overhaul the Honda Passport engine, which they successfully passed.
UDS sponsored both young men in 2013 for six-month auto mechanic training program at Humanity First Ahmadiyya Vocational College. Kelvin was instructing this course at that time. When Liberia shut schools and markets during Ebola’s onslaught in 2014, Amara and Abrahim sought out Kelvin to provide advance training to hone their skills. This additional training paid off, because both are working for themselves today.
On the left is Ismael Boakai. He is a high school graduate and also was sponsored by UDS to attend Humanity First auto mechanic program in 2013.
In 2014, he took both UDS auto mechanic and driver’s training. Ishmael is very patient and obedient student and this led to him receiving his professional driver’s license for exceeding the requirements. He decided to continue his training to advance his skills as an auto mechanic while waiting to enroll in college if he can get the support to attend.
On right in the same photo above is Lamin Massalay, a graduate and beneficiary of UDS auto mechanic trainingGrand Cape Mount County about 90 minutes from our site and stayed with Kelvin to complete his training. He’s passionate about this work and took his time learning all aspects of this trade. He is now working and supporting himself.
On the right is Mohamed Koromah during his practical test to assemble a Toyota four cylinder engine. He graduated in auto mechanics and driving, and received his professional driver’s license.
He lives in Duala, another suburb of Monrovia. He heard about Kelvin from his older brother when he asked how he could take his training to another level. He worked hard throughout his training and now supports himself as an auto mechanic.
Emmanuel Zayazy and James Kolli in the truck doing their practical test while Kelvin supervises. Emmanuel and James both trained as auto mechanics and drivers. They received their driver’s licenses and now working for themselves.
Mohamed Sesay, at the rear right, is receiving training as an auto mechanic and auto electrician. This determined young man graduated from both programs and started his own garage.
This is Abrahim Massaquoi, a high school dropout, working hard on a Chevy truck. He shared his unfortunate story about how he had no financial support to continue his education after 10th grade, but had a strong desire to learn and acquire skills. After being introduced to UDS, he jumped in and started as a trainee with the backpacks and auto mechanic programs. He appeared in our backpack video and shared why he was seeking this training.
From his steadfast dedication to learning both trades, Abrahim received a scholarship to return to school as a 11th grader in February 2015. He is now a high school senior and will be graduating next year (2016).
Kelvin continues to train UDS students and provides practical experience for his students at a vocational training center where he teaches part-time. Most of his students are male, but has one female student who is a rising star as an auto mechanic.
UDS plans to start a vocational training institute in the future that teaches both perfect and imperfect world application of various trades. Our programs have shown youth how to be innovative in transforming unlikely resources into workable vehicles or usable products like our backpacks. Both projects established their core curriculum and learning objectives in 2014. Our next step is to scale our programs by locating a suitable space and searching for potential funders.
While Ebola devastated Liberia, it did not deter its young people from gaining knowledge and experience to improve their lives. UDS heard their pleas in 2014 and provided vocational training they needed to become self-sufficient.