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,
Launched Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project on 02/23/15

Launched Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project on 02/23/15

There is nothing better than seeing an idea become a reality! After tireless hours of planning and fundraising by our teams in Liberia and the U.S., we launched the Backpacks for Peace Service Learning Project on Monday, February 23, 2015. We have embarked on a three-month training program that will teach 20 youth in Liberia from ages 12 to 20 how to:

  1. Operate and maintain a treadle sewing machine
  2. Transform recycled
    material into backpacks that are needed by Liberian students
  3. Cultivate innovation with limited
  4. Build relationships beyond personal and national borders
 Video of the students practicing their pedaling during the first week of the program.

Below are pictures of the first week of this training program. The
main focus was to teach our students how to properly operate the sewing
machines, because precision in pedaling minimizes the breakage of
needles and thread. The second objective was to teach the initial
stage of production, which is preparing the plastic.

of the first day of the youth practicing to pedal the sewing
machine. We offer two training sessions, one morning and one in the afternoon.

three photos show the steps 1, 2 and 3 of the backpack production. The photo on the left shows
the students washing the plastic to ensure it is clean. The middle photo shows the
students packing the plastic in groups to dry it . The photo on the right shows the students hanging the sewn strips of plastic on the line to finish the drying, before they are joined together to create the “fabric” for making the backpacks.

Backpacks for Peace Sponsors:

  • Sundance Family Foundation, based in Minnesota, gave a $3,000
  • African Dream Academy supplies the recycled plastic and Liberia Partner.
  • Uniting Distant Stars donors contributed $1,260 for this project.

Along with the Backpacks for Peace project, our 20 young trainees and 30 more Liberian youth will participate via Google Hangout in the Nobel Peace Prize Youth Forum on March 6. 2015, at Augsburg College in Minnesota. This forum will showcase our Backpacks for Peace project along with the other great service learning projects developed by youth groups in Minnesota.

Our youth will be involved in the forum for about three hours during the morning session, due to a six-hour difference between Liberia and Minnesota. Take a look at what happened last year during this program to connect youth on both sides of the Atlantic in a virtual environment. This year we are taking a more active role and will participate by:

  1. Listening to a speech by Leiv
    Sydnes of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (2013 Nobel Laurette)
  2. Asking one question of Leiv
  3. Joining the World Cafe discussion that focuses on three questions about peace building in their communities and schools that can be turned into actionable initiatives.

This year Uniting Distant Stars will be the host for the forum in Liberia. We had a successful first test of the Google Hangout On Air platform with the much appreciated assistance from the forum tech crew this past week. Also, we raised $385 in four days for the March 6 activities that will be used to provide refreshments for the participants as well as logistical needs (projector, generator, etc) to ensure a proper connection.

The photo on right is from the 2014 NPPYF with our co-hosts iLab Liberia. Photo on left is from the January 2015 meet & greet Google Hangout with the young cabinet members of youthrive.

youthrive is the producer of the Nobel Peace Prize
Youth Forum and a Minnesota Partner organization for Uniting Distant Stars.

Finally, another important announcement: We are now registered as a non-profit in Liberia and anticipate that our programs will be accredited through the Ministry of Education by the end of March 2015. This was a necessary step to show our dedication to providing innovative youth-focused educational programing in Liberia.

We extend our heartfelt Thanks to all our sponsors and donors, who have graciously contributed to these projects!

Press Release: Grant from Sundance Family Foundation, 2015 Board Officers and more.

Press Release: Grant from Sundance Family Foundation, 2015 Board Officers and more.

Minnesota, February 2, 2015: on Saturday, January 24, 2015, Uniting Distant Stars (UDS)
received our first grant from Sundance Family Foundation for
$3,000. This grant was given to UDS to support our Backpacks for Peace
service learning project in Liberia.  This project is part of an Ebola Recovery initiative for the upcoming Nobel Peace Prize Youth Festival. Sundance Family Foundation invited us to apply for this opportunity at the
initial launch of the Backpacks for Peace campaign on December 2, 2014. UDS
is extremely thankful to Sundance Family Foundation’s President Nancy
Jacobs and the Board of Directors for approving this funding to help us
build this project into a youth-focused vocational training program that will develop tomorrow’s social entrepreneurs.

Sunday, January 25, 2015, UDS installed it’s new board officers for the
coming year. We are happy to announce that Diane Anastos is the new
chairperson of the board, She has extensive non-profit experience in
leadership, development and strategic planning. Mary Rosendahl will
continue her role as secretary along with Saah
Kpakar as treasurer. Please learn more about our 2015 officers and the
rest of the board by reading their bios (click here). We are very
excited for this new leadership as we move forward with our planning
in 2015.


or before Saturday, January 31, 2015, UDS emailed or mailed
the 2014 Giving Statements to our generous donors for their tax
reporting purposes. We sincerely appreciate the continued support with
our youth focused programming in Liberia.

Uniting Distant Stars, Inc. is a 501(c)3 tax deductible organization, and is registered as a non-profit corporation in Minnesota. Its programs serve
youth in Liberia, West Africa. We have been providing educational
support since 2011 with scholarships and distributing school supplies.
We also offer innovative programming to cultivate future leaders. For
more information, please visit our website at or contact us at [email protected].