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

Liberia: Celebrating the Student

Our most anticipated event–2nd Annual Student Celebration–was finally held on February 7, 2014, at Russ Wood School in Congo Town, Liberia. This fun-filled event was originally planned for December on the last day of school before their holiday break. However, we had to deal with a late shipment of supplies that were on a transatlantic cargo container that left in September 2013.

Though this was an initial disappointment for the Russ Wood students and staff along with UDS donors and volunteers, the wait was well worth it! This post features the stories and pictures of the day-long celebration where the students played football (i.e. soccer) and kickball, sang and danced, enjoyed good food and treats, and received their long awaited gifts.

Future players of the Lonestar Football Team. This year we sent six footballs and six kick balls along with two air pumps. The students were divided into various teams and started their day playing these two favorite games. The students expressed their gratitude for the footballs and kick balls, but stressed their wish for jerseys. We will have to figure out how to fulfill their wish.

Students who participated in the games.
Liberia’s Got Talent. When the students have an opportunity to show off their talents, they go all out on being shining stars. Some of this year’s talent was young as four years old, who were able to get up on stage to perform in front of their fellow students, teachers and visiting guests. Each soloist and group were honored by their audience with praise and applause. Their joyful noise resonated outside the walls and attracted some of the neighboring children who were not attending school that day. This is just one example of how the power of music can bring people together.

Here are some of the young performers.
On the left if the young performer (see video below) and on the right is the school’s drummer.
Here are some of the older students performing.
Video of a four-year-old girl name Josephine singing the national anthem “All Hail Liberia”

Liberia’s Rising Leaders. The MC of the day was Ishmael, who is in the sixth grade. This young man enjoys getting up in front of an audience and usually entertains them with his own parables and songs. Today, he was able to share the spotlight with many of his fellow students who got up to perform. Ishmael is very creative person along with being an active leader in his school. Based on his high performance level, he was added to our scholarship program starting this school.

Ishmael making acting as the event’s MC.
During this year’s program, one 5th grade student surprised her entire school. Young Rita took her own initiative to write a Thank You letter to Kelvin Fomba, Uniting Distant Stars Co-Founder and Country Director. She amazed the audience as she got up and read the letter out loud. Rita’s effort showed her determination and leadership abilities, which is why she was awarded a scholarship starting next school year.

Parents Involvement Increased. It was nice to see more parents attending this year’s program. Most of the presentations were focused on the importance of education and how it can shape the future of young Liberians. The parents present were in agreement and offered their support in pray to ensure that the students can continue with their education through college. Somehow this theme echoed outside the school, because it brought in a parent to register their child after the program ended.

Photos: left is some of the parents in attendance, center is Kelvin Fomba making is address on the importance of education, right is a parent joining in on the singing and dancing with the children.
The Educators. This community school is blessed with many dedicated teachers and staff. Their job is not easy since they are dealing with over 250 students in multiple grades and teaching in one room. However, they do their best to manage these constraints and find creative ways to provide a conducive learning environment.

Photos: Left is one of Russ Wood’s dedicated, caring teachers, center are the teachers seated on the stage, and right is Principal Kangar addressing to the audience.
Good eats! A big part of the celebration is providing students with a hot meal along with some Kool-aid and popcorn. We are very grateful to Russ Wood and Uniting Distant Stars volunteers who helped prepare a meal that served over 300 people without the convenience of a modern kitchen. Though we had some extra guests such as the neighborhood children who joined in the activities, there was enough food for all in attendance.

Volunteers toiled over a hot coal pot to make the delicious meal enjoyed by ll.
Volunteers individually package the popcorn and add a few pieces of candy.
Students patiently waiting in line for the Kool-aid and food.
The gifts have arrived! This is the third year that the students have receive a gift packet from Uniting Distant Stars. However, this was the first year that they had to wait longer than expected. When Kelvin visited the school in January in preparation of this program, he was overwhelmed by the students greetings as they said, “My Christmas and News Years is on you!” So it was with great joy that we could give each student a gift pack filled with school supplies, crayons and activity coloring book, comb, toothbrush, etc.

Photos: Left is gift packets being unloaded from the vehicle, and right are the packets being stored in the office until distribution.
Students in line to receive their gifts.
Photos: Left is students showing off their gifts, and right is students as they started to sing with joy for what they had received.
This special day was made possible by the many sponsors from Maryland, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. We need to give a special Thanks to the amazing Distant Stars in Oklahoma who provided majority of the support for this year’s school drive campaign! We are so grateful that this day could be shared with all our supporters.

Russ Wood Students give a heartfelt Thanks for their day of celebration!