Nourishing the Minds of Liberia’s Bright Stars

Throughout life we not only answer the call to the hunger pangs in our stomachs, but also to the ones in our minds. When we continually feed our minds with new knowledge, we are more open to the possibilities that lay in front of us. This is why educational nourishment is very fundamental to the development of our young people and an investment to the future of our global family.

For three years running, Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) has been investing into the education of Liberia’s youth. Our Bright Stars program has provided full-year scholarships for primary and secondary students, tuition assistance for young adults in vocational technical intuitions, and school supplies for about 250 students at the Russ Wood Christian Academy in Congo Town Liberia.

2013 Christmas Party where the supplies are distributed.

In 2013, we increased our scholarship students from five to six. The tuition fees for all six were $1,720 along with $60 in UDS administration costs was sent on August 15. These fees not only cover the cost of going to school for one year, but also the student’s uniforms, shoes and starting supplies. One of our students is a senior in high school and this will require additional fees later in year for the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) national exam and graduation.

Also in 2013, we increased the number of 14-cubic-foot boxes from three to four to ship school supplies for our adopted school–Russ Wood. This was a very successful Bright Stars Campaign that has raised about $2,300 in cash and in-kind donations in matter of five weeks. Our sponsors have hailed from Oklahoma, Missouri, Wisconsin and Minnesota. We want to recognize Oklahoma as the super STARS of this campaign by giving a total of 1,752, which we need to also acknowledge Tracy Bishop (a donor and advocate) for reaching out to her women’s group in supporting Liberia’s Bright Stars.

On Saturday, August 31, we completed the initial packing of the four boxes. UDS Executive Director, Heather Cannon-Winkelman, spent the last week in August shopping for supplies with the donated money and ensured everything was weighed and inventoried (shipping company requirement) before the packing crew arrived. Within 30 minutes, our crew of three–Mary Rosendahl (board secretary), Heather, and Saah Kpakar (board treasurer)–were able to pack over 1,700 pounds of supplies in the four boxes. 

Before and after picture showing the 2013 supplies being packed in the 14-cubic-foot boxes

On Monday, September 9, all four boxes will be picked up by our shipping company I.B. Express (Liberian owned and operated) and soon will make their long voyage across the Atlantic. The cost to ship and clear each box is $235 for total of $940. The shipping time varies due to weather and changes in the sea, but we anticipate that these supplies will arrive in Liberia either late November or early December. 

2013 boxes are sealed and ready to ship.

In December, on the last of school before they take holiday break, we will provide a Christmas Party to distribute the supplies and provide a hot meal for all the students, who range in ages from 5 to 22 in grades K thru 6. This party was a huge success last year and we look forward to doing it again. 

On the behalf of our board, U.S. and Liberian volunteers, we extend our heartfelt Thank You for everyone who has contributed to the nourishment of the young minds in our Bright Stars program.

Nourishing the Minds of Liberia’s Bright Stars

Throughout life we not only answer the call to the hunger pangs in our stomachs, but also to the ones in our minds. When we continually feed our minds with new knowledge, we are more open to the possibilities that lay in front of us. This is why educational nourishment is very fundamental to the development of our young people and an investment to the future of our global family.

For three years running, Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) has been investing into the education of Liberia’s youth. Our Bright Stars program has provided full-year scholarships for primary and secondary students, tuition assistance for young adults in vocational technical intuitions, and school supplies for about 250 students at the Russ Wood Christian Academy in Congo Town Liberia.

2013 Christmas Party where the supplies are distributed.

In 2013, we increased our scholarship students from five to six. The tuition fees for all six were $1,720 along with $60 in UDS administration costs was sent on August 15. These fees not only cover the cost of going to school for one year, but also the student’s uniforms, shoes and starting supplies. One of our students is a senior in high school and this will require additional fees later in year for the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) national exam and graduation.

Also in 2013, we increased the number of 14-cubic-foot boxes from three to four to ship school supplies for our adopted school–Russ Wood. This was a very successful Bright Stars Campaign that has raised about $2,300 in cash and in-kind donations in matter of five weeks. Our sponsors have hailed from Oklahoma, Missouri, Wisconsin and Minnesota. We want to recognize Oklahoma as the super STARS of this campaign by giving a total of 1,752, which we need to also acknowledge Tracy Bishop (a donor and advocate) for reaching out to her women’s group in supporting Liberia’s Bright Stars.

On Saturday, August 31, we completed the initial packing of the four boxes. UDS Executive Director, Heather Cannon-Winkelman, spent the last week in August shopping for supplies with the donated money and ensured everything was weighed and inventoried (shipping company requirement) before the packing crew arrived. Within 30 minutes, our crew of three–Mary Rosendahl (board secretary), Heather, and Saah Kpakar (board treasurer)–were able to pack over 1,700 pounds of supplies in the four boxes. 

Before and after picture showing the 2013 supplies being packed in the 14-cubic-foot boxes

On Monday, September 9, all four boxes will be picked up by our shipping company I.B. Express (Liberian owned and operated) and soon will make their long voyage across the Atlantic. The cost to ship and clear each box is $235 for total of $940. The shipping time varies due to weather and changes in the sea, but we anticipate that these supplies will arrive in Liberia either late November or early December. 

2013 boxes are sealed and ready to ship.

In December, on the last of school before they take holiday break, we will provide a Christmas Party to distribute the supplies and provide a hot meal for all the students, who range in ages from 5 to 22 in grades K thru 6. This party was a huge success last year and we look forward to doing it again. 

On the behalf of our board, U.S. and Liberian volunteers, we extend our heartfelt Thank You for everyone who has contributed to the nourishment of the young minds in our Bright Stars program.

Supporting Education in Liberia

It is absolutely amazing to trace the ripple effects of a simple gesture of kindness that started four years ago. These waves of compassion have reached the shores of good-hearted people from all walks of life. By January 2012 this expanding sea of good will result in an adopt-a-school project in Liberia.

It was back in late summer of 2009, my second year of living and volunteering in Liberia. I had no viable source of income, was running low on necessary supplies and had no means of buying Christmas gifts.  My Mom, Donna Cannon, went into action and reached out to a few friends and family to help put together a “care package” and some gifts to send to Liberia. What started out to be one barrel ended up as two.

Since I was robbing my retirement fund to survive, I returned to Minnesota in January 2010 to seek employment. Later that summer, my Mom nudged me into sending some Christmas cheer to my Liberian friends and family. Again we shipped two barrels with food, supplies and gifts to bring joy and hope to even more people. On Christmas Eve, my Liberian family made popcorn and Kool-Aid for a neighborhood children’s party on Christmas Day.

The Christmas Eve elves made the popcorn and filled 
50 bags with each having a piece of candy.
This kids received a bag of popcorn and Kool-Aid. The Kool-Aid 
was poured into a water bag and frozen over night.
The neighborhood kids enjoying their Christmas treat.

By the next year, I was gainfully employed. Again, with the help of family and friends, we filled three barrels of toys, school supplies, food, flip-flops (known as slippers in Liberia), and first-aid kits. Unfortunately, this shipment did not arrive before Christmas. It was not clear what caused the delay, but it finally arrived in mid-January 2012.

When the items were received and inventoried by my partner in Liberia Kelvin Fomba, he was so overjoyed by the abundance that he sought out a small impoverished school to support. With the help of Momo B Moor, a physics teacher from Monrovia Open Bible Standard School, he found a school in great need of help. Kelvin, Momo and few others distributed the school supplies and toys to the children at Russwood Christian Academy. This was the birth of our adopt-a-school project.

Exterior of Russwood Christian Academy
Meeting Russwood Staff before distributing the supplies. 
Kelvin (in the white shirt and hat) with Momo to his left.
Some of the students inside the school.
Momo distributing supplies to the children in January 2012.

Russwood was founded on March 10, 2009 by Reverend Matthew Y Kargar in Congo Town. This school was the offspring of a church founded by Pastor Russ Wood from the U.S. The school was named after Pastor Wood, because he helped open it. This small community school serves children from impoverished families in grades kindergarten to sixth. Since its founding this school has received only sporadic support. Reverend Kargar said that they welcome a partnership since they hope to expand and better serve their students.

This year has been filled with many blessings. In June, my cousin who teaches at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School in Brooklyn Park notified me that they were replacing their old reading program and wondered if they would be of use in Africa. My answer was a definitive “Yes.” So four of us–my mom and brother, and another special lady who I consider my second mom–took three cars on a very hot July day to pick up this amazing collection. It included textbooks, workbooks, teacher lesson plans and so much more for grades K thru 6.

Though I had no immediate plan on how to ship these books to Liberia, I knew that my dear friend Lynda Gardiner’s husband John was planning to send a container home. I reached out to her and explained that I had received these books, but did not have the capacity to ship them to Liberia. I was delighted when Lynda and John agreed to help out. The books were recently packed so that they are ready to be shipped. John is finalizing his plans on when to send his 40-foot shipping container since he plans to travel home for the first time in about 20 years and wants to be there when it arrives.

The complete collection of reading books for kindergarten to sixth grade.
The reading program was packed into 28 boxes and are ready to be shipped.

In late July, I began looking for good deals on school supplies and decided to post photos of my first week’s purchases on Facebook. I was overwhelmed by the response to help from family and friends beyond my usual supporters. Previous years, this annual campaign was emailed to the main supporters, so it was great to see how others were excited to be part of this project.

First week of purchases in July 2012

For six more weeks, I received in-kind and cash donations for toys, school supplies, flip-flops, tooth brushes and teaching aids. The items purchased for that given week were shared on Facebook and an email update. Each week the support grew until we were receiving donations coming from Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. Some of these supporters were from Ghana, Chile, Eritrea and Liberia. Two of the supporters have advanced Multiple Sclerosis and enjoyed seeing the pictures of what was purchased with their donations. A young Liberian woman donated from her employer some pencils, post-it notes, t-shirts and other items imprinted with the company’s old logo. Finally, my Mom’s dentist office, Forestview Family Dentistry, donated a box of children’s toothpaste. So this campaigned represented the spirit of Uniting Distant Stars where people from diverse backgrounds come together for a greater good.

This is what was purchased or received from donations on week 3.
160 pairs of flip-flops (i.e. slippers) from toddler to adult sizes
Half of the toothbrushes that were sent.
The donated toothpaste from the dentist office.

This year we switched from barrels to large wardrobe boxes, because a box holds more volume than a barrel. So, we started out with filling one box, then two and finally three. On September 18, we shipped out three boxes with over 1,000 pounds of supplies that we hoped would arrive before Christmas.

Three large wardrobe boxes filled with over 1,000 pounds of supplies.

Well, as I said before, this year was filled with many blessings. This week I received notice from the shipping company, IB XPRESS, that the boxes estimated arrival is November 5. My eyes could not believe what I saw, so I had to reread the letter and was overjoyed with such wonderful news. For the last three years the shipment usually arrived the week of Christmas or in the case of 2011 nearly a month late.

Once these boxes arrive at the port, it takes about 10 business days for them to clear customs before being transported to the warehouse for pick-up. Kelvin and his team of volunteers will inventory what was received and start making packets for the kids. When we shipped these boxes it was around the start of the school year and at that time we were told there were about 160 enrolled students. Well now it has been confirmed that there are 211 students in this tiny school. We have enough notebooks and pencils to give to each child. We will have to give each child either one toy or a pair of flip-flops as their special gift since there was a limited number of these items. We received a few backpacks, so these will be awarded to the top performers of the school to encourage academic achievement.

Here some of the backpacks that were sent. 
They will be given to the top performers of the school.

We will be organizing a lunch and program in early December with the school staff, students and the parents. This is when the items will be distributed and we will explain our partnership with their school. We want to engage the parents so that they can take an active role in ensuring their children’s academic success, since this project is in the developmental stage.

We will be posting updates of the December program and also announce when the reading books arrive. I will be making my sixth journey back to Liberia next year and look forward to visiting Russwood Christian Academy and seeing what more that we can do to improve learning environment. Again, I want to Thank everyone who helped launch this adopt-a-school project, because what started as a ripple crossed the Atlantic and became a wave of hope.