This Could Have Been Me

By Kevin Nah, Uniting Distant Stars Intern from University of Minnesota Duluth

For many of us, we have been fortunate enough to have access to quality education throughout our lives. The same opportunities we sometimes take for granted aren’t available to many others. Uniting Distant Stars is excellent when it comes to making education accessible to many youths, particularly in Liberia. Liberia is a nation on the rise filled with young people, who are tirelessly working to achieve their goals and provide a bright future for the country.

The current “Become a Classroom Hero” campaign is something that really resonates with me as a Liberian.  The purpose of this initiative, to raise money to provide training materials for youth in Liberia, so they can gain valuable skills and experience, is very admirable. I believe it speaks to the dedication and commitment that Uniting Distant Stars has to its students. They are bringing hope to a nation that has had many obstacles in its path.

As many may not know, Liberia went through a period of civil war which lasted from 1989 – 2003. As you can imagine, it was a time of violence and chaos which made it difficult for many people. I was born in 1996 in the midst of all that was going on in the country. My family and I were fortunate to make it out of the country and immigrate to the United States. As I grew older I heard stories of all the terrible things that occurred during the war, and how many people struggled daily to find food, water, and even education. Hearing these stories gave me a new perspective on how fortunate I was to be where I am now.

Even as I rose through the ranks at school, it was always important to be appreciative of the fact that I am in a place where I am able to receive a quality education. There are times when I stop to think…what if my situation was completely different than it is now? If my family and I hadn’t left Liberia when we did, would I still have the same opportunities I have had in my life? It’s easy to lose sight of what is important when we have it all in front of us. Uniting Distant Stars and the “Become a Classroom Hero” initiative has given me an opportunity to impact the lives of the youth in Liberia that are working relentlessly to create a brighter future not just for themselves, but for their nation.

As a final thought, education is a gift that should be shared with everyone. In the same way that someone took the time to invest in us when we were young, we can all do the same and make a positive impact in the life of someone else.

Books on Shelves Advances Learning of Children

Books on Shelves Advances Learning of Children

There are many things we are grateful for as we reflect on what we accomplished in 2015. There is no doubt our success is your success, because we are UNITED together to support young STARS in Liberia. We are extremely thankful for the additional $110 donated on Giving Tuesday
to upgrade our learning center. We currently have raised $250 or 10% towards our goal of providing quality after school programming to future educators, entrepreneurs, innovators, and leaders in Liberia. Your
investment in the UDS Learning Center yields a lasting return for the children and youth we serve.

UDS Learning Center Library in Liberia.
Today I read this New York Times article “Our (Bare) Shelves, Our Selves” from December 5 that supports our initiative. It highlights how a
physical book is essential to advancing a child’s learning development as cited below.

After G.N.P., the quantity of books in one’s home was the most important predictor of reading performance. The greatest effect was seen in libraries of about 100 books, which resulted in approximately 1.5 extra years of grade-level reading performance. (Diminishing returns kick in at about 500 books, which is the equivalent of about 2.2 extra years of education.)

Libraries matter even more than money; in the United States, with the size of libraries being equal, students coming from the top 10 percent of wealthiest families performed at just one
extra grade level over students from the poorest 10 percent.

Books donated and shipped from Minnesota in 2014 that are now on library shelves in Liberia.
Most children in Liberia grow up without books in their homes or libraries in their communities. Uniting Distant Stars Learning Center is filling this critical void in the community we serve. We currently have about 100 books on our shelves varying in topics from math to science, and cultural literature to young readers series. Our youth compiled a list of books required in their classes, but not available in their schools or affordable to their parents.  Also, they asked for other materials such as chairs, tables, computers, etc. to improve their overall
learning experience.

Liberian student working on his homework on the porch of UDS Learning Center
A $10 minimal investment towards a child’s education can make all the difference in their academic achievements and career aspirations. Please help us meet our goal of $2,500 to fulfill our youth’s wishes during this season of giving by clicking DONATE for debit/credit cards or contributing by check to Uniting Distant Stars and mail at:

Uniting Distant Stars
4010 Lawndale LN N
Plymouth, MN 55446

Sincerest gratitude and appreciation for your continued generosity, kindness, and prayers for our youth in Liberia!

Uniting Distant Stars Learning Center | GiveMN

Change the Story, Change the Mindset

On any given day our news media outlets paint a bleak picture of the world, airing the same discouraging stories of corruption, crime and war. If one relies solely upon mainstream news sources for information about what is occurring around them, one is likely to feel hopeless and powerless. Fortunately, we have a choice on what type of news we want to consume. It takes a minimal effort, to thoughtfully glean the Internet for stories that describe what is right in this world. There we can find inspirational stories of people whose seemingly small achievements has made a significant impact in the lives of the people around them. When we consciously access this new storyline of Good Works, our mindsets change. Now we can see a world of hope, and begin to recognize and embrace the power we possess to make a positive difference.

The Uniting Distant Stars Project was created to encourage youth to develop an optimistic national perspective. By acknowledging their problems and telling their stories they can inspire their peers around the globe. This is because our youth are more connected than ever before in history, thanks to the advent of the Internet and social media platforms. As the old perceived boundaries vanish, young people can clearly see that what affects them in their nation also affects their counterparts in other countries.

If you take a moment to examine the reaction of today’s youth to multiple economic and environmental challenges, you can sense their collective frustration. On any given day the news around the world contributes to a growing rebellious attitude among its young people. First, their high international youth unemployment
rate, where three times as many youth are unemployed than adults (source: International Labor Organization). Next, having entered college with the expectation of starting
or advancing their careers, far too many graduate with staggering student loan debt and unpaid internships that don’t lead to jobs (source: The Jane Doe). Then there are those starving for food and education, who get involved in anything that they feel will feed their pockets and stomachs (source: New York Times Kristof Blog). Lastly and tragically, the destiny of the remainder is violence: to be recruited as weapons of war (i.e. child soldiers), persuaded to
participate in violent riots against oppressive institutions, or provoked by a sense of worthlessness to openly shoot or bomb innocent people in public places.

Above and beyond the present hardships, our global youth must confront soul-searing uncertainties about their futures. These dismal story lines are not only found in the media, but are also repeated by their families, academia, business, government,
and religion. One story is that they are heirs of national debts generated by policies that solely benefited the older generations. Another is that
they will likely inhabit a desolate planet resulting from short-sighted environmental policies that led to degradation to the landscape and mass extinction of
a variety of species. Then there is the continuous storyline that one
culture, class, race, or religion is better than the rest. Hearing such negativity over and over again can create hopelessness in young people and lead to the conclusion that there is no point in even
trying.

When our young people believe they have no options, they are easily persuaded by those who can fill their needs even though it can come at a cost. We have heard about certain groups that influenced our young people to commit heinous crimes against humanity. For example, I met and talked with a man from Pakistan in 2012, an educator working in
war affected areas, who enlightened me on the definition of Taliban which
means student. If you think about it the word itself is not a bad
thing, but it was who got to these young people first with the means to take care of their needs. Another example comes  from what I have learned about the conflict in Somalia while volunteering with American Refugee Committee. One day I was curious to learn more about
Al Shabaab and discovered that it meant youth movement. Again, the
“name” itself does not mean something to be feared, but it was who there first to provide a solution to their desperate situation.

The Uniting Distant Stars project has been developed to create a new storyline that will be
re-written by our future leaders, innovators, educators, etc. As has been stated before, the
inspiration behind this project–and even the transformation of Uniting
Distant Stars in 2012–came from William Kambwamba, from Malawi, the hero in the book, The Boy Who
Harnessed the Wind. In 2001 when he was 14 years old, his
nation experienced a deadly famine that forced him to drop out of
school. While he was hearing his hunger pangs call in his stomach, he
chose to answer the ones in his mind. By doing so he successfully built
his windmill with limited resources: his own talent, a U.S. scientific textbook, and access to local scrapyard. Young William did not succumb to the
dire situation that faced him, but instead looked ahead at a future that
was filled with nothing but hope. His example of starting something on
next to nothing, can be done even by those who are blessed with far more
resources then him.

William is one of many young
“super” heroes in Africa and other developing nations around the world who
have created grassroots innovative projects with determination,
persistence, hope and whatever resources they can find in front of them. These are the stories that we want to expose our global youth to as reminders that they do have options. Also, this will allow them to claim their place in our greater society as key players in future development.

The Uniting Distant Stars Project is excited to join with 50 young men and women of Liberia, who will write the next chapter of their nation’s history on how the youth can come together and be a force for positive change. They will illustrate how if we change the story, we can change the mindset.