I am very proud to be associated with such a great organization as the Starfish Foundation. Ecuador is a very unique country filled with extraordinary people. I was given the opportunity to meet some of the most generous and gracious people whom I now have the pleasure of calling my friends. All of the families we met warmly opened their homes to us and shared their culture and their lives without hesitation.
During the week, the volunteers attend refuerzo, which are the tutoring sessions that occur at the foundation for the scholarship students as well as many of the neighborhood kids. The general set up is an hour and half of studying and doing homework and then a half hour of dynamicos (a game that gets everyone up and moving). There are two locations for refuerzo: one in Guasmo and the other in Flor de Bastion. My job as a volunteer was to help with student’s homework and to explain concepts that they did not understand; my primary role was to assist the students in English, Math, Biology, and Chemistry, all in Spanish. This allowed me to get a glimpse of the education system in Ecuador, which is a wakeup call for most of us. A major struggle that we have to deal with is the fact that the students don’t always have the most competent teachers in their schools. Many times the homework they have is only copying problems or multiple pages out of their textbooks into their personal notebooks without truly understanding the concepts. With this, the kids are only going through the motions because the massive amount of work prohibits real learning and understanding. Despite this, they still keep going and are dedicated and excited to learn.
I found it interesting to observe the differences between the two groups and how they have formed their own community within Starfish. The two towns have their own distinct personalities, both towns being of extreme poverty. Guasmo being slightly more developed and Flor de Bastion only having running tap water for the last three months. One can only imagine how a child would act coming from either of these two scenarios, yet the commonality amongst all of the children and people who I worked with was a genuineness, eloquence, and love that was obvious within the first few moments of meeting them. While talking to one of the other visitors, he made the comment that if you needed to learn how to love you could not find a better teacher then the families in Ecuador.
Given the loving and genuine nature of the people it is hard to imagine that the areas in which they live are in utter shambles. The typical house has windows covered by large metal gates and tin roofs. While lucky families have cement floors and walls, the remainder of the houses are made of dirt floors and cane. What is extraordinary is the happiness that radiates from these people while living in this level of poverty. It is said money cannot buy happiness and you wouldn’t need more proof then to spend the day with the Starfish families.
Written by Summer 2014 Starfish Volunteer in Ecuador, Greg Branigan. Stay tuned for part 2 of Greg’s reflection next week!