Liberian children need access to primary level education

Liberian children need access to primary level education

Schools started opening this week in Liberia; however, not all children will be enrolled. In fact, “Liberia has the highest proportion of children missing out on primary school education, the United Nations said on Thursday, with nearly two-thirds of its children never stepping inside a classroom (source: Thomson Reuters Foundation News).” This equates to 62% of Liberian children not receiving primary education. As we all know, elementary school is the foundation for our educational careers and without it, we are less likely to secure a livable wage job.
UDS Star Supporters have been delivering school supplies to Russ Wood Students since 2012. They hold all classes in this one room building from kindergarten to seventh grade.

Since 2011, Uniting Distant Stars has provided scholarships to young students, who had no financial support to stay in school. Our sponsors are committed to supporting their students either through 6th grade or 12th grade. We had our first high school graduate in 2014 and two more in 2016. This is one of three programs that UDS supports the education of children and youth in Liberia.

During the 2015-2016 academic, four dedicated Star Supporters sponsored 15 students. Out of the 15, seven maintained an 80% or better for the year and six were between 70% to 80%. We have not received the grade sheets of the two graduates yet, but we know both passed. 

Unfortunately, we had our first drop out this year. This student was in the 5th grade and 18 years of age. Their education was disrupted by the civil war, poverty, and Ebola that forced them to be an older student in grade school. It is quite difficult and frustrating to be an older student sitting among younger children. All attempts were made to mentor this young person this past year to stay in school by their mother, teachers and vice principal, and UDS country director and  volunteers. However, this young adult decided to quit and we had to honor their wish. UDS doors are always open for this young person and we hope they will want to resume their education when they are ready. 

This student’s story stresses the importance of helping children attend school at an early age. In addressing this concern, UDS has added to new young students attending kindergarten through one of our sponsors. We hope to add two more young children as we wait for confirmation from two other sponsors. We currently have 15 scholarship students enrolled and their total tuition is $4,025 for this school year. 
As mentioned earlier, our scholarship program is one way we support education in Liberia. The other two are our learning center and annual school supply drives. The UDS Learning Center allows students to access a library and after school study classes to complete homework and prepare for tests. Our annual school supply drive provides 700 students with the basic necessities they need to take notes, complete they daily lessons and so forth. Sadly, several students are returning to school empty handed because their parents are unable to buy these essential supplies. 
Your generosity is extremely appreciated by the children and youth you serve in Liberia. Also, your continued support ensures young Liberians have an opportunity to achieve their academic requirements. Finally, your investment in the education of Liberian students provides a return of their employability in the job market or ability to start a business. 
Our 6th Annual School Supply Drive is about to end but there is still time to donate, share and encourage others to support Liberia’s young children. Click here for the different ways to donate or share this post on your social media sites. Remember #EducationMatters. Thank you!!!
Reaching New Heights for Liberia’s Children and Youth

Reaching New Heights for Liberia’s Children and Youth

2016 has been a phenomenal year for Uniting Distant Stars. Our learning center has become the “hub” for children and youth seeking educational assistance and vocational training. Since introducing the computer lab in March, word got out, and youth are coming to our site from several different areas throughout Monrovia to receive this training. Without a doubt, we have outgrown our current site with serving over 100 students. 

Youth attending introduction computer class in UDS Library.

A few months ago, our co-founder and country director, Kelvin Fomba, found a building less than a five-minute walk from our current location. The property had not been occupied for two years, the building was deteriorating, and its grounds had become the community trash dump. After several weeks of negotiations, the landlord agreed to a 5-year lease for $7,500 and required half down to secure it. After sharing this opportunity with one of our long-time donors in Minnesota, they generously donated $3,750 on May 22. Two weeks later we received the lease agreement and keys to the building. The remaining half of the lease must be paid after the renovations are complete. 


This is our next challenge.
The building had stood empty for two years. Along with a leaking roof, parts of the interior were heavily damaged by water. The rainy season started about April/May and the roof became the number one priority. The question was how?

However, we have been blessed to receive a $1,000 donation from a sustaining supporter in Liberia. This generous gift covered the cost to replace half the roof. Our team worked overtime on Friday, July 8, and Saturday, July 9, installing new sheets of zinc metal on half the roof. Another $1,000 will complete this job to prevent any further damage from the heavy rains, and we are hoping to reach this fundraising goal soon.

Roof before the replacement. 
Kelvin Fomba on the roof during its replacement. 
The brand new, shiny roof. 
Our youth played another important role in the development of our new site. About 50 kids came out on Saturday, July 9 and worked 8 hours removing the trash from all sides of the building. These boys and girls completed 75% of the trash removal during this one day. Our youth want this center to open as soon as possible that they pray each day for this to happen. They wanted to show you, as our supporter, what this means to them by investing some sweat equity with cleaning the place.
Our youth outside the fence cleaning up the garbage.
Our girls worked just as hard as the boys shoveling up trash.
Youth cleaning trash between the fence and building.
Empty rice bags were used to place the garbage as it was scoped up by shovel.
Girls and boy working together to clean their future learning center.
Two young ladies hauling a bag of garbage. 
As you can see from this last photo, this building was a school and perfect place for our new learning center. Our goal is open this year and we need $25,000 to cover the remaining costs as follows:

  1. Complete all renovations for the roof, three bathrooms, ceiling tile and doors, and painting the interior and exterior that includes materials and labor.
  2. Buy equipment such as desks, chairs, benches, storage cabinet, and additional computers, sewing machines and library books. Also basic office supplies.
  3. Install the electricity and interest, and pay for the first-year of service.
  4. Pay stipends for computer and sewing trainers, study class teachers, security guards, receptionist/secretary, and janitor. These stipends for 11 people are below market value, but a starting point to employ Liberians. 
We are reaching out to individuals and organizations interested in partnering or sponsoring this initiative. If you know anyone that could help, please send an email to [email protected]. We are available to meet in person, or through Skype or Google Hangout. 
Your generous support allowed Uniting Distant Stars to reach new heights in providing educational resources and vocational training to Liberia’s children and youth. Thank you for being our Rock Star!!!
Computer Training for Liberian Youth

Computer Training for Liberian Youth

The computer may be an integral part of homes, schools, and companies in developed nations but for Africans, it is a distant dream. This could be one of the reasons why young Africans are incapable of competing in the global market. For those aspiring to learn computer technology, they need to enroll and pay tuition at computer training centers separate from their schools.  When you add in the current economic and social barriers, it makes this training inaccessible when almost fifty percent of the African population live from hand to mouth.

Traditional schools and colleges in African nations have facilities for basic computer training, but tragically these can be outdated and unable to prepare graduates for competitive positions. Furthermore in Liberia, nearly 50% of the population is under the age of 15 when it is the right time for them to learn this technology.

Ironically in this information age, many graduates have never used a computer. Their inexperience drastically narrows job opportunities both at home and internationally. Technology is the mainstay in private and public sector companies, and jobs paying decent salaries demand computer proficiency. Currently, job applications are accepted as electronic forms only, thus depriving young Liberians of applying for entry-level vacancies due to insufficient computer knowledge as well as access to email and Internet facilities.

This is why Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) opened a Computer Lab in order to provide young Liberians with free training to become computer literate. UDS created an avenue for youth to develop basic computing skills and learn standard software applications. Students who complete this course will be better equipped to find and secure jobs in the future.

Written by Rodney Johnson, UDS Computer Trainer and Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-Founder and Country Director
Introducing UDS Learning Center 2.0

Introducing UDS Learning Center 2.0

Liberian children and youth witnessed their wishes being answered in the past two weeks. Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) raised $2,042 (shy of our $2,500 goal) from our generous Star Supporters to upgrade our Learning Center in Congo Town, Liberia. Our Liberian team led by Kelvin Fomba, Co-Founder and Country Director, went the extra mile to check off the items on the students’ original wish list. In the last eight days another $360 was donated from new and existing benevolent supporters. Their gracious generosity will buy other items on the list such as fans to keep the center comfortable, additional books for the library, chalk board for instructors, and other crucial needs for its operations.

Like any good upgrade you need to have a release party. On Friday March 25, UDS Learning Center hosted two programs. The first one was organized by the UDS Youth Group. Since it was Good Friday, they focused on Easter. During this three-hour program they talked about the meaning of Easter, played some games, and also had a Bible quizzing contest between the boys and girls. They had two rounds with each having 20 questions and one question was worth 10 points. The boys and girls tied in the first round. However, in the second round the boys out scored the girls 120 to 80. Our Youth Group’s program was a resounding success and everyone had a great time.

Youth Groups Program
UDS Youth Bible Quizzing Contest
The second program followed soon after to introduce our youth to the new UDS Computer Lab. They have eagerly waited for this lab ever since we started the upgrade campaign last year. The original plan was to have four computers, but Kelvin reached out to his connections and helped secure six used PCs–four laptops and two desktops. He is still negotiating on adding one or two more computers. Our team also built computer desks and bought a stabilizer to protect the PCs from power surges and outages, because electricity is neither consistent nor reliable. Another stabilizer will be purchased with the recent donations to ensure the electrical load is distributed evenly.

UDS Computer Lab
Our team expected 25 to 30 young Liberians to attend this three-hour program, but it attracted over 50. Computer training is in high demand with Liberian youth, but not everyone can afford to take courses at vocational training schools. This is why our team went all out in preparing the lab and its introduction program.
Kelvin Fomba introducing the computer lab.
Kelvin opened with how the computer lab will operate and its corresponding rules. Next part was to determine who would be the first recipients of this training course. Kelvin and his volunteers devised a raffle drawing to select trainees since there was a ratio of approximately four students to one computer. Our youth anxiously waited to hear who were the lucky winners as each name was pulled. Soon twelve students were chosen to attend one of two classes, because we wanted to accommodate as many as possible.
Liberian Youth learning about the new UDS Computer Lab
The students will learn about computer hardware, basic software and internet functions in this month-long course. Other students wanting to attend this course signed up on a list and will participate in computer theory classes as they wait their turn for the practical training. The training materials and curriculum for this program are being developed by our volunteers in Liberia and Minnesota.
UDS Youth learning about computers.
First Students of the UDS Computer Lab
Another part of the upgrade included expanding our library collection. On Monday March 14, two of our youth volunteers, Patrick and Princess, purchased 52 books from the list of requested titles and topics from our students. These books are required by their schools as part of the curriculum. Though our volunteers bought 80% of the books requested by the students, their list continues to grow. Eventually, we like to purchase additional copies of the main books to allow more than one student to use for their homework assignments.
Additional books purchased for the library
UDS Youth appreciating the new books.
The following day these new books were included in our studying classes. There are two objectives with these study classes as follows:

  1. Students are asked a series of questions about the subject(s) and topic(s) for their assignments and are then shown how to find books in the library and search for the information within the book.
  2. Students are given detailed instruction from one of volunteer teachers on a particular subject area that they are working on at school to help bolster their understanding and ability to apply it in their homework and exams.
Students receiving a tour of  the UDS library. 
UDS first opened our learning center over a year ago with a small library and providing skills training courses such as auto mechanics, drivers ed and Backpacks for Peace. In September 2015, it had its first upgrade with building extra shelves for additional books donated from the U.S. and more tables for students to complete their homework. This second upgrade was centered on the requests of our students to best meet their educational needs since their schools are not able to provide the required books and textbooks or computer labs. Through our growing community of bighearted supporters, our students are extremely grateful and overjoyed with seeing their wishes being fulfilled.

All of us at Uniting Distant Stars extend our heartfelt Thanks and Appreciation to our most generous Star Supporters!

Please read these additional posts about our learning center.

  • Enjoy a Tour of the UDS Learning Center in Liberia
  • Liberia: Read How UDS Learning Center Benefits Deborah
    • Uniting Distant Stars Dime for Dreams Campaign

      Uniting Distant Stars Dime for Dreams Campaign

      Hello, Uniting Distant Stars supporters and followers! Our organization has made a lot of progress this past year and it’s all thanks to you! The UDS programs such as our school supply drives and learning center continue to grow, and so do the students who benefit from your generous gifts.

      Today, Uniting Distant Stars is excited to introduce our new fundraising campaign: Dimes for Dreams. Through the continued help from our supporters, Dimes for Dreams will enable many of you to help contribute in your churches, offices, schools, and communities!

      But, how will Dimes for Dreams work? Uniting Distant Stars is currently looking into ordering custom-made charity coin canisters. With these canisters, UDS will send them to all of our supporters who are willing to help further the education of our students in Liberia by reaching out to local businesses and schools who would be willing to place the coin canisters in an open space on their counters or front desks.

      How will Dimes for Dreams help raise money? Each coin canister will cost UDS on average between $0.80 and $1.25 each. But, do you know how much money could be raised in each canister if it was full of dimes? Almost one HUNDRED dollars! That could mean expanding the UDS Learning Center’s library, purchasing more computer equipment for the students or school supplies for our three schools we support, and that’s only with one full can!

          

      School Supply Drive                                                  UDS Learning Center Library

      Uniting Distant Stars does not expect every canister to be filled with only dimes and quarters, or even be filled up at all. But, we can still raise a lot for our students with very little effort from our volunteer supporters! In order for UDS to make this work, we need any supporters who are willing to find places in their community who are willing to keep a Dimes for Dreams canister on their counters for a few months and then have the money raised be sent back with the canisters. If you are willing to help us out with this new project, please contact us today at [email protected]!

      Thank you to Adam Pederson, UDS Volunteer, for developing this campaign!