“Youthrive Event” with Youth from Liberia and Minnesota

“Youthrive Event” with Youth from Liberia and Minnesota

 

On Saturday, the annual Youthrive Event was held at Augsburg college in Minnesota. Liberian youth were able to participate in this forum via Google Hangout, and engage with American youth in the discussions; which, primarily focused on addressing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) issued in 2015 by the UN (see infographic below).

 

On the Liberian end, there were about 100 youth who came to be a part of this Google Hangout meeting with students in Minnesota, and all our UDS instructors were there as well. The youth received refreshments which our catering students helped prepare. Pictured below (left) is a sandwich called “light bread,” made with cabbage, sausage, and other vegetables. Everyone who attended the event in Liberia received two sandwiches and a soft drink.

 

In Liberia, attendees were divided up into 17 groups, and each one discussed a different Sustainable Development Goal; below is a video group #8, discussing SDG: “Good Jobs and Economic Growth.”

 

 

At Augsburg, American students were also divided up into groups to discuss the different SDG’s. This video was shown as part of their table rotation discussions:
                               

 

After the group discussions, UDS co-founder, Heather Cannon-Winkleman, was able to lead the conversation between with our team in Liberia about their thoughts and feelings about the day’s activities.

 

It is incredible the amount of people this meeting was able to reach; because of your continued compassion toward and awareness of our youth in Liberia, Uniting Distant Stars has experienced significant growth in the number of Liberian students being educated over the past year, and had the resources to make this event happen.

 

Youth separated by miles of land and ocean, were able to see, listen to, and interact with one another, they were able to put their invaluable minds together as a part of a global team. Which, is exactly what the UN goals are all about: working together, country to country, human to human, to achieve a world of no poverty, no hunger, quality education, and more.

Thank you for making a world of difference! The future looks bright ahead.

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

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.
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
    resources
  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.

Photos
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.

 These
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
    grant. 
  • 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
    Sydnes.
  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!

Backpacks for Peace: Project for Learning and Giving

Backpacks for Peace: Project for Learning and Giving

In the spirit of this season of giving, we welcome your contribution to inspire 20 youth in making 300 Backpacks for Peace through our innovative training program. The cost of making a backpack is approximately $10, so a generous gift of $50 will get us that much closer to our goal. For the second year in the row, Uniting Distant Stars will invite some of Liberia’s promising young men and women leaders to participate in the March 6, 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Forum Youth Festival organized by youthrive, a Minnesota-based non-profit.

Three Liberian youth modeling our backpacks in each color–white, blue and red
The Backpacks for Peace project will instill peace building within the community and re-spark their creative flame by using recycled plastic to make the backpacks.  The first phase of the program focused on teaching four trainees on how to sew the backpacks and care for the sewing machines as future trainers of this program. The goal of the first phase was to make 250 backpacks to be given to the students at our adopt-a-school program as part of our 4th Annual School Supply Drive.

Video shows launch of our first phase of this project on 09/26/14; narrated by Kelvin Fomba, UDS Co-founder and Country Director.

Twenty young men and women from primary to post-secondary education will launch the second phase of our backpack training program the beginning of January 2015 by making 300 bags that they will give to the beneficiaries of the Straight From the Heart Center in Liberia. This center was founded by Agnes Fallah Kamara-Umunna to provide a space for rehabilitation, reintegration, and reconciliation for youth who were on all sides of Liberia’s Civil War. Agnes is the author of the book “And Peace Still Did Not Come: A Memoir of Reconciliation”.

Photos: Left is project team lead and professional tailor Charles Mamba sitting at his machine on left that he has donated for this project. Next two photos show three of the four trainees.
We have already raised $590 towards our goal of $3,000 to buy four more sewing machines and the supplies such as zippers and thread, to make 300 backpacks. Our partner—African Dream Academy—has been donating the recycled plastic drinking water sachets, the primary material for the backpacks.
No
Items
Qty
Unit Cost
Total Cost
1
Machine
4 each
190
USD
760
USD
2
Zippers
600 yards
2
USD
1,200
USD
3
Thread
3 cartons
50
USD
150
USD
4
Scissors  
5 each
10
USD
50
USD
5
Machine needles
3 packets
25
USD
75
USD
6
Machine oil
8 bottles
4
USD
32
USD
7
Cloth Lining
3 rolls
50
USD
150
USD
       8
Participant
Benefits
583
USD
TOTAL
3.000
USD

Your contribution is not only tax-deductible; it is also developing a sustainable youth training program that teaches life-long skills in sewing and marketing a product needed by many Liberian youth. The need for rebuilding from the Liberian Civil War is still relevan, and it is even more urgent now due to the Ebola epidemic that recently devastated many families in Liberia.

Our team has been working hard and made nearly 200 backpacks when this photo was taken.
Please support our Backpacks for Peace service learning project with a donation by PayPal or by check to Uniting Distant Stars, Inc. and mail to:

Uniting Distant Stars, Inc.
4010 Lawndale LN N
Plymouth, MN 55446

Thank You For Your Generous Support