My trip to Ecuador — and freedom!

Happy Independence Day, to those reading this in the United States! I’ve been reflecting a lot on freedom, independence and liberty today — grateful for all of those values we have here, and hoping that one day our brothers and sisters globally who do not have the same freedoms we do, can one day have them.

A few weeks ago, I journeyed to Ecuador to visit Starfish! I spent 4 incredible days with Jenn and the students/families, and have just a few moments to share about with you.

4 Freedoms I Love
Disclaimer: Yes, I realize these are in the U.S. Constitution, and I was in Ecuador. They are still beautiful stories that relate to these freedoms! I hope you enjoy.

1. Freedom to Education

Jenn helps Andres (and Danny!) understand long division.

Obviously, the freedom to study is so core to Starfish. I spent Monday and Tuesday of my trip with the students in “refuerzo,” — aka “tutoring.” We have our 28 Starfish Scholars attend homework help twice a week in their respective neighborhood. Additionally, anyone who wants homework help can sign up (if there is still space left) for the tutoring program in their neighborhood. It’s been a great way to meet new students, expand our programming, and hopefully recruit more Starfish Scholars for next academic year!

My favorite moment of the hours of tutoring was when Danny, a Starfish volunteer and Villanova friend, asked me how to do long division. In Ecuador, they teach a different method of long division — so the answer will be the same, but it’s quite challenging to teach another style. Luckily, Jenn came to save the day!

2. Freedom of Assembly

Flor de Bastion gathered the Starfish family to sing together! 

Integration Day happens twice a year at Starfish. All of our Starfish Scholars (and, new this year, all of our “tutor-only” students!) are invited to one of the neighborhoods for lunch, a talent show, activities and community-building. I’ve been blessed to be in Ecuador for the first of the Integration Days for the past two years, and every year I see so many young leaders from different families, backgrounds and demographics come together for a beautiful celebration of hope. We all believe in their future, and we hope with Starfish they will achieve their dreams!

3. Freedom of Speech

The famous skit, written by Valeria (right, brown shirt).

When I think of free speech, I think of little else than the skit performed by the students in Guasmo. Scene: at Integration Day. Yuliana narrates, Marcos is the teacher, and Valeria, Solange, Betsabeth, Joel and many other Guasmo students starred in the skit. Valeria wrote the skit, working through some challenging issues: slacking in school, drugs, alcohol, gangs, family problems and peer pressure. The best part of the skit was the debrief at the end — when they led a great discussion about how to avoid these problems (especially peer pressure). Audience participation and engagement were high!

4. Freedom to Travel

Valeria, Yuliana, Tyrone, Maricruz, Jasmin, Jenn, me & Marcos.

This one, one of my biggest blessings. What a pleasure it is to travel to Ecuador, to spend time with this wonderful group of people. I’ve seen 20 of our Starfish Scholars grow over the past year, and just now met 30+ more students involved with Starfish in some way. I spent time with the employees (pictured with Jenn and I here), who I am impressed by more and more each day. I also spent time with a few of the families, whose hospitality, love and kindness speaks volumes to their character.

While in Ecuador this trip, I asked each student and employee, “What is your dream?” Their dreams motivated me — especially when I saw how passionate many of these students are about achieving those dreams. So, my question for you — what is your dream, and how are you going to achieve it?


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