Liberia – Youth Empowerment Workshop

Liberia – Youth Empowerment Workshop

The Divine Town Community in Congo Town invited Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) to hold a Youth Empowerment Workshop on Saturday, April 23, 2016. This day-long event implanted ideas and concepts on how youth can empower themselves and overcome obstacles in their post-Ebola society that increased the number of student dropouts. Additionally, it provided a space for youth to unite and discover ways to take an active role in their community through sports, civic, social and cultural activities. 

Divine Town Community young Liberians attending Youth Empowerment Workshop

This collaborative undertaking involved many key contributors: 1) Assembly of God Mission (AGM) School Campus in Divine Town Community provided the venue. 2) Reverend Samuel Enders, Founder of African Dream Academy, supplied the projector and sound system. 3) UDS donated $290 for refreshments prepared;and served by our youth volunteers. 4) Six community leaders spoke on different topics addressing important issues as follows:

  1. Mr. Michael A Kharim, PTA Coordinator/Ministry of Education. Topic: Youth and the Community.
  2. Evangelist Godfred Solomon. Topic: The Positive (doctor prescribed) and Negative (addiction) Effect of Drugs.
  3. Pastor Isaac Ndama. Topic: Reasons Why Youth Misbehave.
  4. Brother Trokon Karsor, Acting Youth Leader, Divine Town Community. Topic: Demarcation and Problems of the Community.
  5. Kelvin S. Fomba, UDS Co-Founder and Country Director. Topic: Boldness in Public Speaking.
  6. Brother Janjay Gabriel, Acting UDS Youth President. Topic: Developing Leadership Skills.
Workshop participants listens to one of the presenters.

The workshop provided morning and afternoon sessions with a lunch break in between for 128 participants. Each presenter encouraged young ladies and gentleman to ask questions and offer suggestions during their session. About 70 to 75% of the youth commented that this was their first workshop they had ever attended. The majority of the youth found the information to be relative to their present situation and impressed by the content delivered by each presenter. 

UDS volunteers providing soft drinks and sandwiches they prepared earlier in the day.

Midway through the workshop, Reverend Enders was asked to share his testimony on how he dealt with adversity as a young person. Like so many in the audience, he was forced to drop out of school due to financial reasons as a young boy. When he could finally re-enroll he was much older and had to deal younger students ridiculing him for being in their classroom. Their demeaning remarks did not discourage him from moving forward with his education and he prayed that one day he could go to the United States. Fortunately, that prayer was answered after he graduated from high school. During his time in the U.S., he made another vow to return to Liberia and serve his people. He honored his commitment and came home to start a free school for children in 2012 called African Dream Academy. In 2016, he opened a clinic to provide free healthcare for children up to age 6. Reverend Enders story illustrated how one’s dreams are reachable with determination and effort. 

Reverend Enders sharing his story of overcoming adversity. 

Next up was Kelvin Doe’s TED Talk about how he used discarded electrical devices and repurposed them as batteries, music sets and eventually his own radio station. This young Sierra Leonean received international attention for his inventions and innovations through a YouTube video and became the youngest visiting practitioner to The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Kelvin’s inspiring story left our youth awestruck because he demonstrated how he could make his vision into a reality through precise focus and perseverance. 

The youth’s reaction to Kelvin Doe’s video was reminiscent to our inaugural Youth Leadership Workshop on Creative and Innovative Thinking in 2013. During this two-day event, we played Kelvin’s video along with other TED Talks of young Africans to highlight their innovative endeavors of using “spare” parts to solve problems. Young Liberians can easily relate to these individuals because they are facing the same challenges of living in poverty and uncertainty of their future. Furthermore, they also saw how their resourcefulness brought positive changes into their life.

As the workshop concluded they asked Kelvin Fomba (UDS Country Director) some probing questions like, “Why have we not heard of UDS?” and “How can they get involved?” Kelvin explained why our presence is not widely known in Liberia because we are a small organization trying to grow gradually to best accommodate the education and skill training needs of youth. He followed with how they can best utilize our current programs such as auto mechanics and driver’s training, afternoon study classes, read books in our library, and sign-up for future computer classes. The youth responded with excitement and eagerness to be part of UDS. 

Kelvin Fomba, UDS Country Director, answering the participants questions.

Overall the workshop was a success and helped us learn something about ourselves. While UDS might not be a household name to everyone yet, the Divine Town Community Leadership recognized our efforts in serving young Liberians. The community leaders are grateful for our leadership in providing our youth with resources to improve their education and expand their knowledge. They equally value our partnership in addressing concerns with the growing number out-of-school youth by offering training classes to develop their marketable skills and increase their chances of being contributing members of society. 

Youth of ages attended this one-day workshop.

In closing this post, we are grateful for the efforts of committed individuals who helped organize this workshop to unite youth and open their minds to their own potential. UDS gives special recognition and appreciation to Reverend Samuel Enders, Divine Town Community Leaders, Assembly of God Mission (AGM) School, Mr. Michael A Kharim, Evangelist Godfred Solomon, Pastor Isaac Ndama, Brother Trokon Karsor, Brother Janjay Gabriel, and all our volunteers who made this workshop possible and successful. Thank you!

Outside view of Assembly of God Mission (AGM) School

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?

The
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.
UDS Youth Vitually Participates in the Nobel Peace Prize Youth Forum

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?

The
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.

Young Minds Challenged and Opened

On September 13 and 14, we had the privilege of interacting with some of Liberia’s
rising stars in our Youth Leadership Workshop on Creative and Innovative Thinking that was held at the Business Start-up Center in Monrovia. Most of the young men and women came from the Monrovia area along with four each from Bomi and Margibi Counties. These young people entered the workshop thinking the only means to solve their problem was money. They left realizing that they had other resources readily available that they could use to make a difference in their lives and those around them.

Liberia’s young leaders, who participated in the two-day workshop on Creative and Innovative Thinking.
Prior to the workshop, we had collected some basic demographics about each participant. We had them answer 10 questions that related to solving problems, collaborating with others, identifying one’s strengths, assessing available
resources, and defining leadership qualities. Their answers helped us better understand their mindsets before the workshop. Some of the young participants provided general answers, which others were more detailed in their responses. Here are two of the questions and summarized answers:
  • What do you experience in your daily life that you would like to change? Many of the answers were related to the lack of money. However, a few went deeper and shared how they would like to not drink, womanize, sit around and do nothing, let anger control them, and be afraid to talk with people, all of these can impede one’s ability to make or keep money.
  • What resources do you have available now that you could use to solve a
    problem?
    Very few mentioned what type of resources they had on hand such as a rubber tree farm or house. None of them were able to mention other non-monetary resources such as the sun, wind, reusable trash and junk. Most noted God as their resource.
We had a solid turnout on both days with 54 participants and about 11 observers in attendance. Altogether, with our Uniting Distant Stars team, we had 70 people. We need to pause and mention that we were most appreciative of everyone’s patience, because in Liberia even the best laid plans can be met with challenges that require us to adapt our schedule and start
later.

The youth paid attention, took notes, participated in the discussions and asked good questions.
The biggest challenge was preparing food for 70 people. Six women prepared the food offsite (20 minutes from venue) and had to cook with a coal pot because most people in Liberia do not have electricity and stoves. These constraints made it difficult to meet our time frame for breakfast and lunch both days. The cooks were provided with a taxi to help them transport everything once it was ready. The ladies did a great job cooking delicious meals both days, so it was worth the wait.

From left to right: Some of the cooks and youth enjoying their lunch break.
During the first day, the participants were able to interact with the four presenters—Heather Cannon-Winkelman, Gradieh Wreh, Kelvin Fomba, and Elijah Wreh. The discussions and activities focused on innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity, and knowing oneself. Throughout the day they watched video clips of innovative Africans—William Kamkwamba (Malawi),
Kelvin Doe (Sierra Leone), Duro-AinaAdebola, Akindele Abiola and FalekeOluwatoyin, and Bello Eniola (Nigeria), and Richard (Kenya)—who all made something out of minimal resources. From the outset they were challenged to “think outside of the box” and they were wowed by what they saw [and heard]. This emphasized when they said “seeing is believing.”

Read our article in the Heritage Liberia:
US based organization inspires Liberians.

The following is a synopsis of each presentation:
  • Discovering Your Innovative Spirit – Heather
    Cannon-Winkelman: This laid the foundation for the two-day workshop by walking the participants through the innovative process of solving their problems using resources they had available now. They viewed the 6-minute TEDTalk by William Kambwamba, explaining why and how he built his windmill during Malawi’s famine. The participants were asked to examine what William accomplished and how they could apply some of his innovation into their projects. Also, they were given a “Think Outside of the Box” activity to examine if they could see outside their limiting beliefs. One young lady solved it out of the group.
Left to right: Heather giving background on William Kambwamba before showing his video and closing her presentation by challenging them to start creating.
  • The Entrepreneur Within – Gradieh Wreh: This presentation captured all the essentials of creating and growing a successful business: goal setting, planning, attitude, financial management, marketing, networking, etc. Gradieh used her own experience as a successful entrepreneur as
    she traced her process of taking an idea and transforming it into a business. She had the participants do an imagination activity in which she had them close their eyes and were told to see their life in the best possible situation. Only about 30% actually imagined something that matched their passion. Others commented that their ideal world was driven by unfulfilled professions that would make them a lot of money.
Left to right: Gradieh with some of the participants demonstrating synergy in how a flock of birds work together when flying, and her guiding the participants through the imagination activity.
  • Don’t Imitate, Do Create – Kelvin Fomba: His presentation showed why creativity is important for addressing everyday problems. He shared how creativity is rooted in Africa with its long tradition of art, music and storytelling. Kelvin demonstrated his own creativity as an automotive technician and grassroots innovator. He showed two examples of cars where he designed and made his own intake manifold to replace the old one and replaced the diesel engine with a gasoline one. He also modeled his wearable goods that were made from discarded drinking water plastic bags. He illustrated how to make “the impossible possible” and “something out of nothing.”
Left to right: Kelvin explaining the importance of creating over imitating, and also modeling a product line that he co-designed from discarded drinking water plastic bags.
  • Harnessing One’s Own Power – Elijah Wreh: This presentation guided the participants in self-examining their confidence,
    strengths, passions and desires. Elijah shared the process he used to develop his successful career. He had the participants determine their top
    five strengths and had five young men and five young women come up to share theirs. He provided tools and tips in how each person can continue to develop their self-awareness and build confidence. He encouraged young people to not give up on their dreams and to strive to realize their potential, which could result in a worthwhile business career. Elijah also gave out some personal development books.
Left to right: Elijah presenting on Harnessing One’s Own Power, had young people rank from 1 (least) to 5 (best) their Unique Abilities: Wisdom and Insight, Relationships, Communication, Leadership, etc.
There were many interesting questions and insights that the young men and women shared with us. Couple of these led to some thought-provoking discussions and revelations. The first one was culture, where they expressed their
disappointment on how this is not part of their education. For example the only languages taught in school are English, French, and Chinese. The second one was about emulating a famous person such as President Barack Obama to strive to be more like them. This idea was challenged when they watched Kelvin Doe’s TEDTalk and how his YouTube video had more views than President Obama’s victory speech in 2012. Young Kelvin’s example revealed that each one of them can achieve greatness in their life.

See more great pictures of our trip to Liberia on Uniting Distant Stars Facebook Page.

The second day of the workshop, many told how they went home thinking-thinking to extent that some could not sleep. Before they stared working on their projects they heard from Lawrence Yealue of Accountability Lab (Lab) and Business Start-up Center (Center), our two Liberian partner organizations. He described the services of both and how they were prepared to provide for those ready to develop their ideas into businesses. Both the Lab and Center greatly contributed to the success of the workshop. 

Picture from Accountability Lab Twitter Page. Lawrence Yealue is talking about the services that Accountability Lab and Business Start-up Center provide.
From Day One, we promoted collaboration with participants while thinking and designing their projects. When we opened the “lab” on the second day to start their project development, more than 75% found at least one other person to work with. They had two and half hours to create and plan their project concepts. Some were still “stuck in the box” with their thinking by developing micro businesses to sell common things in the market like charcoal and sandals/slippers. We challenged their ideas and
reviewed what they saw and learned from the day before. They were then able to go back to the drawing board and come up with new ideas.

Here are some of the groups working together on their projects.
Interestingly, many were inventorying their available resources and how they could use them for their projects. Some of these resources were their homes, farm land, old shoe bottoms and scrap cloth from the tailor shops, clay and rocks, and old usable equipment lying around their homes. A few young men and women saw how they could pool their skills and talents in developing a small business plan. Many were focused on how their projects could benefit others, which led to various training center ideas.

After lunch, the groups presented their projects and answered two questions from their peers. Very eager to share their ideas, the first few weren’t able to summarize their projects within the five-minute allowed time-frame. Thus, two of the facilitators became timekeepers so we could hear all project presentations before we ended the day. As each presenter shared their creative ideas, their concepts were listed and categorized into sectors that were similar in nature.

Some of the groups presenting their ideas on Day 2.
After the presentations, we grouped the ideas into four sectors [or industries]: fashion, food, sanitation and training. Now they had a chance to network with each other. When we had them vote on the two best projects, they all voted for their own! Since no determination could be made, the five Uniting Distant Stars workshop coordinators and facilitators voted on the
top two sectors that were the most creative. These were food and fashion. The groups that fell into these sectors will be collaborating together and meeting with our two Liberian project team members Kelvin Fomba and Rev. Elijah Wreh to show what they have accomplished. Based on the results of what each groups produce in the next month or two, the fashion and food groups will each receive a small seed grant of $200 for use in further developing their collaborative projects.

Lef to right: is the Sanitation Group and Food Group networking.
The feedback received from the participants–both verbally and on the evaluation forms–was very positive. Most suggested that we offer the workshop in the counties (rural areas), and also have them more often during the year. Though we don’t currently have the capacity to go out to the counties or do this more than once a year at this time without additional sponsors, we already plan to return in October 2014 to conduct the next workshop. Official planning for 2014 will begin after the first of the year.

Overall, we did observe that the 2-day workshop did have an impact on our young participants’ thinking. We need to keep the momentum going by engaging these future leaders to think outside [or with no] box. Even though our capacity is limited, Kelvin and Rev. Wreh are committed to supporting our young creative geniuses as best they can, and with the help of our
partners Accountability Lab and Business Start-up Center. 

We were invited to a radio talk show on 5 FM on Monday, September 16 to talk about the workshop. From left to right: Gradieh, Elijah, Kelvin, and Albert the talk-show host.
To prepare for next year’s workshop, will we analyze both the pre-workshop information form and the post-event evaluation. We will “think outside the box” to learn how to improve upon meeting the challenges we faced this year and provide more substantive support beyond the workshop.

We want to Thank all of our supporters who helped make this workshop possible. We are grateful that you joined with us in challenging the minds of young Liberians to realize their own power to make positive changes in their lives. We believe “a mind not challenged, is a mind wasted” and with your help these young rising stars are more open to the possibilities that are within their reach.

Young Minds Challenged and Opened

On September 13 and 14, we had the privilege of interacting with some of Liberia’s
rising stars in our Youth Leadership Workshop on Creative and Innovative Thinking that was held at the Business Start-up Center in Monrovia. Most of the young men and women came from the Monrovia area along with four each from Bomi and Margibi Counties. These young people entered the workshop thinking the only means to solve their problem was money. They left realizing that they had other resources readily available that they could use to make a difference in their lives and those around them.

Liberia’s young leaders, who participated in the two-day workshop on Creative and Innovative Thinking.
Prior to the workshop, we had collected some basic demographics about each participant. We had them answer 10 questions that related to solving problems, collaborating with others, identifying one’s strengths, assessing available
resources, and defining leadership qualities. Their answers helped us better understand their mindsets before the workshop. Some of the young participants provided general answers, which others were more detailed in their responses. Here are two of the questions and summarized answers:
  • What do you experience in your daily life that you would like to change? Many of the answers were related to the lack of money. However, a few went deeper and shared how they would like to not drink, womanize, sit around and do nothing, let anger control them, and be afraid to talk with people, all of these can impede one’s ability to make or keep money.
  • What resources do you have available now that you could use to solve a
    problem?
    Very few mentioned what type of resources they had on hand such as a rubber tree farm or house. None of them were able to mention other non-monetary resources such as the sun, wind, reusable trash and junk. Most noted God as their resource.
We had a solid turnout on both days with 54 participants and about 11 observers in attendance. Altogether, with our Uniting Distant Stars team, we had 70 people. We need to pause and mention that we were most appreciative of everyone’s patience, because in Liberia even the best laid plans can be met with challenges that require us to adapt our schedule and start
later.

The youth paid attention, took notes, participated in the discussions and asked good questions.
The biggest challenge was preparing food for 70 people. Six women prepared the food offsite (20 minutes from venue) and had to cook with a coal pot because most people in Liberia do not have electricity and stoves. These constraints made it difficult to meet our time frame for breakfast and lunch both days. The cooks were provided with a taxi to help them transport everything once it was ready. The ladies did a great job cooking delicious meals both days, so it was worth the wait.

From left to right: Some of the cooks and youth enjoying their lunch break.
During the first day, the participants were able to interact with the four presenters—Heather Cannon-Winkelman, Gradieh Wreh, Kelvin Fomba, and Elijah Wreh. The discussions and activities focused on innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity, and knowing oneself. Throughout the day they watched video clips of innovative Africans—William Kamkwamba (Malawi),
Kelvin Doe (Sierra Leone), Duro-AinaAdebola, Akindele Abiola and FalekeOluwatoyin, and Bello Eniola (Nigeria), and Richard (Kenya)—who all made something out of minimal resources. From the outset they were challenged to “think outside of the box” and they were wowed by what they saw [and heard]. This emphasized when they said “seeing is believing.”

Read our article in the Heritage Liberia:
US based organization inspires Liberians.

The following is a synopsis of each presentation:
  • Discovering Your Innovative Spirit – Heather
    Cannon-Winkelman: This laid the foundation for the two-day workshop by walking the participants through the innovative process of solving their problems using resources they had available now. They viewed the 6-minute TEDTalk by William Kambwamba, explaining why and how he built his windmill during Malawi’s famine. The participants were asked to examine what William accomplished and how they could apply some of his innovation into their projects. Also, they were given a “Think Outside of the Box” activity to examine if they could see outside their limiting beliefs. One young lady solved it out of the group.
Left to right: Heather giving background on William Kambwamba before showing his video and closing her presentation by challenging them to start creating.
  • The Entrepreneur Within – Gradieh Wreh: This presentation captured all the essentials of creating and growing a successful business: goal setting, planning, attitude, financial management, marketing, networking, etc. Gradieh used her own experience as a successful entrepreneur as
    she traced her process of taking an idea and transforming it into a business. She had the participants do an imagination activity in which she had them close their eyes and were told to see their life in the best possible situation. Only about 30% actually imagined something that matched their passion. Others commented that their ideal world was driven by unfulfilled professions that would make them a lot of money.
Left to right: Gradieh with some of the participants demonstrating synergy in how a flock of birds work together when flying, and her guiding the participants through the imagination activity.
  • Don’t Imitate, Do Create – Kelvin Fomba: His presentation showed why creativity is important for addressing everyday problems. He shared how creativity is rooted in Africa with its long tradition of art, music and storytelling. Kelvin demonstrated his own creativity as an automotive technician and grassroots innovator. He showed two examples of cars where he designed and made his own intake manifold to replace the old one and replaced the diesel engine with a gasoline one. He also modeled his wearable goods that were made from discarded drinking water plastic bags. He illustrated how to make “the impossible possible” and “something out of nothing.”
Left to right: Kelvin explaining the importance of creating over imitating, and also modeling a product line that he co-designed from discarded drinking water plastic bags.
  • Harnessing One’s Own Power – Elijah Wreh: This presentation guided the participants in self-examining their confidence,
    strengths, passions and desires. Elijah shared the process he used to develop his successful career. He had the participants determine their top
    five strengths and had five young men and five young women come up to share theirs. He provided tools and tips in how each person can continue to develop their self-awareness and build confidence. He encouraged young people to not give up on their dreams and to strive to realize their potential, which could result in a worthwhile business career. Elijah also gave out some personal development books.
Left to right: Elijah presenting on Harnessing One’s Own Power, had young people rank from 1 (least) to 5 (best) their Unique Abilities: Wisdom and Insight, Relationships, Communication, Leadership, etc.
There were many interesting questions and insights that the young men and women shared with us. Couple of these led to some thought-provoking discussions and revelations. The first one was culture, where they expressed their
disappointment on how this is not part of their education. For example the only languages taught in school are English, French, and Chinese. The second one was about emulating a famous person such as President Barack Obama to strive to be more like them. This idea was challenged when they watched Kelvin Doe’s TEDTalk and how his YouTube video had more views than President Obama’s victory speech in 2012. Young Kelvin’s example revealed that each one of them can achieve greatness in their life.

See more great pictures of our trip to Liberia on Uniting Distant Stars Facebook Page.

The second day of the workshop, many told how they went home thinking-thinking to extent that some could not sleep. Before they stared working on their projects they heard from Lawrence Yealue of Accountability Lab (Lab) and Business Start-up Center (Center), our two Liberian partner organizations. He described the services of both and how they were prepared to provide for those ready to develop their ideas into businesses. Both the Lab and Center greatly contributed to the success of the workshop. 

Picture from Accountability Lab Twitter Page. Lawrence Yealue is talking about the services that Accountability Lab and Business Start-up Center provide.
From Day One, we promoted collaboration with participants while thinking and designing their projects. When we opened the “lab” on the second day to start their project development, more than 75% found at least one other person to work with. They had two and half hours to create and plan their project concepts. Some were still “stuck in the box” with their thinking by developing micro businesses to sell common things in the market like charcoal and sandals/slippers. We challenged their ideas and
reviewed what they saw and learned from the day before. They were then able to go back to the drawing board and come up with new ideas.

Here are some of the groups working together on their projects.
Interestingly, many were inventorying their available resources and how they could use them for their projects. Some of these resources were their homes, farm land, old shoe bottoms and scrap cloth from the tailor shops, clay and rocks, and old usable equipment lying around their homes. A few young men and women saw how they could pool their skills and talents in developing a small business plan. Many were focused on how their projects could benefit others, which led to various training center ideas.

After lunch, the groups presented their projects and answered two questions from their peers. Very eager to share their ideas, the first few weren’t able to summarize their projects within the five-minute allowed time-frame. Thus, two of the facilitators became timekeepers so we could hear all project presentations before we ended the day. As each presenter shared their creative ideas, their concepts were listed and categorized into sectors that were similar in nature.

Some of the groups presenting their ideas on Day 2.
After the presentations, we grouped the ideas into four sectors [or industries]: fashion, food, sanitation and training. Now they had a chance to network with each other. When we had them vote on the two best projects, they all voted for their own! Since no determination could be made, the five Uniting Distant Stars workshop coordinators and facilitators voted on the
top two sectors that were the most creative. These were food and fashion. The groups that fell into these sectors will be collaborating together and meeting with our two Liberian project team members Kelvin Fomba and Rev. Elijah Wreh to show what they have accomplished. Based on the results of what each groups produce in the next month or two, the fashion and food groups will each receive a small seed grant of $200 for use in further developing their collaborative projects.

Lef to right: is the Sanitation Group and Food Group networking.
The feedback received from the participants–both verbally and on the evaluation forms–was very positive. Most suggested that we offer the workshop in the counties (rural areas), and also have them more often during the year. Though we don’t currently have the capacity to go out to the counties or do this more than once a year at this time without additional sponsors, we already plan to return in October 2014 to conduct the next workshop. Official planning for 2014 will begin after the first of the year.

Overall, we did observe that the 2-day workshop did have an impact on our young participants’ thinking. We need to keep the momentum going by engaging these future leaders to think outside [or with no] box. Even though our capacity is limited, Kelvin and Rev. Wreh are committed to supporting our young creative geniuses as best they can, and with the help of our
partners Accountability Lab and Business Start-up Center. 

We were invited to a radio talk show on 5 FM on Monday, September 16 to talk about the workshop. From left to right: Gradieh, Elijah, Kelvin, and Albert the talk-show host.
To prepare for next year’s workshop, will we analyze both the pre-workshop information form and the post-event evaluation. We will “think outside the box” to learn how to improve upon meeting the challenges we faced this year and provide more substantive support beyond the workshop.

We want to Thank all of our supporters who helped make this workshop possible. We are grateful that you joined with us in challenging the minds of young Liberians to realize their own power to make positive changes in their lives. We believe “a mind not challenged, is a mind wasted” and with your help these young rising stars are more open to the possibilities that are within their reach.