Your Copy of the 2015/2016 Annual Report is Here

Your Copy of the 2015/2016 Annual Report is Here

As an all-volunteer organization, we are grateful for all those who contributed to our final 2015/2016 Annual Report. This report will give you an:
  • Overview of our project during this two-year period; 
  • Inspirational testimonials from four of our students;
  • Summary of the financial report showcasing how your support made a difference;
  • And much more.
Please enjoy reading what YOUour valued Star Supporter, accomplished for the youth of Liberia. Thank you for your generous support!

2015-2016 Annual Report

2015 Reflection While Welcoming 2016

2015 Reflection While Welcoming 2016

We owe a debt of gratitude to all our STAR Supporters for making 2015 a successful year! Your generosity, kindness and prayers uplifted Liberian youth through the remaining days of the Ebola crisis, and inspired them to reach new heights with learning and skill building opportunities we provided throughout the year. Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) made great leaps with becoming an accredited and registered non-government organization in Liberia, and establishing our base in Monrovia. It took all of you–our village–to raise UDS up during the last 365 days.

We SINCERELY THANK YOU for:

Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project: From February to June, 20 youth were trained how to operate a sewing machine, stitch together recycled drinking water plastic sachets into 150 backpacks, and appreciate the value of creativity and innovation.

  

Nobel Peace Prize Youth Forum Google Hangout: On March 6, 50 Liberian youth virtually connected with their Minnesota peers to listen to Nobel Laureate, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), share their mission of eliminating and preventing the use of chemical weapons.

  

Scholarships: On March 2, 15 students started the 2014/2015 shortened school year that ended in July. In September 16 students started the 2015/2016 regular academic year with two preparing to graduate from high school around July.

5th Annual School Supply Drive: In September and October, about 700 students enrolled in three schools received much needed school supplies to start their 2015/2016 academic year on the right track.

Learning Center: Starting September, 40 to 50 youth visited our center after school each day to either work on their assignments or participate in our study classes. Our center provides what most schools lack: a library, science equipment, and tutoring support.

  

We are INFINITELY THANKFUL for Miracles, like the unexpected delivery of the 2014 school supply drive in August that made it possible for us to expand from one to three schools and equip our learning center.

We are EXTREMELY THANKFUL for the creative talents of some our supporters to helped establish our brand, visualize our presence, and develop our projects.

  

Anna Berch: She created, edited, and filmed our PSA video. Also, she has made updates to our website.

Kevin Cannon: He nominated for me for the Minnesota Lynx Inspiring Women Platform that I received on July 12. This helped increase our visibility.

Rochelle Gibbs: She created, filmed and edited the video from the Minnesota Lynx Game that features interviews and highlights of my honor as a Minnesota Lynx Inspiring Woman.

Joyce Mallery: She fixed our logo, created my UDS T-shirt to wear while being honored as Inspiring Women at the Minnesota Lynx Game, and designed our brochure and flyers.

Mary Rosendahl: She continues to lead our Recipes for Learning Cookbook team. She tested more recipes for the team members to taste, and documented and photographed the ones that passed.

Rodney Johnson: He ensured our connection with each Google Hangout and provided photos, videos and stories of our activities in Liberia throughout the year.

We give a HEARTFELT THANKS to all of you supporting UDS as donors, board members, volunteers, partners, prayer warriors, and Sundance Family Foundation for giving us our first grant of $3,000 for our Backpacks for Peace project!!!
Uniting Distant Stars Gives You Thanks!

Uniting Distant Stars Gives You Thanks!

Dear Star Supporter: Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S. and we want to extend our heartfelt Thanks to you! Your generous support put smiles on countless Liberian children and youth through our Backpacks for Peace training, Nobel Peace Prize Youth Forum Google Hangout, school supply distribution, learning center opening and so much more. Our Liberian volunteers, youth group, and all students are extremely grateful for your prayers and concerns for their safety and well-being with having to endure Ebola. Your love and kindness gives them hope and joy to continue to move forward with their goals.

We appreciate you more than all the stars in the universe!

Peace and blessings from Uniting Distant Stars
Backpacks for Peace: First Month Project Report

Backpacks for Peace: First Month Project Report

Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) completed the
first month of the Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project on March 20, 2015. This blog post shares the
project report from Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder and Country Director in Liberia. 
Kelvin Fomba (brown shirt) interacting with our students’ while they wash the plastic squares.
First of all, we
thank God plenty for saving our lives during the EBOLA crisis. We ask
God to forgive and bless the souls of all those that died from it, and
may they rest in perfect peace. Although we have not been
declared Ebola FREE yet, we pray that this will happen soon. Secondly,
we also want to give our THANKS and APPRECIATION to all those who
made this project possible! 
Our instructor, Charles Mamba, (standing in the middle) supervising the students while they wash the plastic that has been supplied by African Dream Academy.
The students’ progress has been remarkable during this first month. This training has shown how
the Liberian youth possess the eagerness to learn. They focus on their
lessons, show up regularly for class, and cooperate with their trainers
and fellow students. Additionally, the two instructors and the two
assistant trainers clearly demonstrate their dedication to our training program. They enjoy
interacting with our students and guiding them in achieving the training objectives.
They easily handle the obstacles that may arise with not having an ideal training space. They
are comfortable with teaching both the practical and theoretical concepts
of sewing and using non-traditional “fabrics” to make these backpacks that will
benefit our young people. 
The students taking notes during the classroom sessions.
We have seen a vast improvement in our students performance from the first day of this project. For the first three weeks, the students practiced how to properly pedal the sewing machines and each one passed this part of the training. During week four, they transitioned into sewing the individual plastic squares into long strips. These strips are then cut into smaller ones of four squares each. Three of these smaller strips are then sewn together (three squares wide by four squares long) to create the appropriate sized “fabric” that will be used for the backpacks. At this time, 80% of our students have accomplished this part of the training, whereas the other 20% need more practice with threading the machine correctly from the top and bottom to securely sew the plastic together.
Our other instructor, Mohammed Sesay (black shirt) is inspecting the strips of plastic.

From this experience, our young trainees quickly realized that learning is the key to success. This is evident when a student brings their school uniform for repairs and they can fix it themselves on the sewing machine. This added benefit of repairing their own clothes enforces the importance of how continued practice leads to a developed skill. They also appreciate how UDS goes beyond this basic training initiative by impacting them with valuable knowledge through
expanding their world view, like connecting them with other youth in the
U.S. with Google Hangout.

Our students sewing the individual plastic squares into strips.
In particular, they cannot stop talking about the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Youth Forum. For a few of the youth who attended this unique event, they commented how this allowed them to see and talk with white people for the first time. The forum made our presence known in the surrounding communities, that we have had young people come and ask how they can join our training program. With having limited space, we are not able accept additional students for this current session. However, we are recording their names to participate in future training courses.
Another view of the students at work.
Clearly, the training and the forum have left quite an impression on our students and they enjoy sharing their experience with their families. This prompted a few of the families to accompany their children to our site to show their appreciation for UDS, Sundance Family Foundation, youthrive, and all our donors who contributed to our
programming. They are pleased with how we are teaching their
children to think-outside-of-the-box in regards to making a useful product with limited resources. Furthermore, these parents and guardians give their thanks and prayers for our supporters to prosper and that God will provide everyone
strength to continue helping the youth of Liberia. They expressed their gratitude for UDS providing a light lunch with this
training. Though our efforts may seem insignificant to some, for these families
it means a “million” to them. 
Our students busy with sewing the long strips together.
With the successes, we also face plenty of
challenges that required adjustments to
our programming. Here are two examples: 
  1. Holidays: During the first four weeks, Liberia has had at
    least three holidays where no training was in session. 
  2. School schedules: All schools are now open. However, some
    of the teachers release the students late and a few
    youth are required to attend a study class after school. Therefore, the scheduling process has
    become a crazy endeavor. 
These challenges have taught us to be flexible. Even
though we had less training days, our young trainees have kept up with
their lessons and demonstrated their ability to meet or exceed the
expectations. We adjusted our times to meet our students’ schedules to ensure they benefit from both their academic
studies and vocational training. Their learning and development is our major concern and responsibility. 
Kelvin (orange shirt) checks in with the backpack students while conducting mechanical training in the carport.
Overall, this opportunity has been beneficial to the 20 students recruited for this innovative training
project. We have observed their confidence increase as they move forward with each step of the training. We have welcomed their ideas and suggestions on how we can improve and expand this program to train additional youth in the future. We are pleased with the results and look forward to advancing their progress in the coming month.
This closes our first month project report. More updates will follow as we go.
Best regards,
Kelvin

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.