Ecuador Happenings

Over the school break, the students participated in various clubs including dance, experiments, entrepreneurship, make-up, hair styling, pastry-making, painting, and crafts. There were a variety of activities and the students participating showed great interest in the learning experiences.

In April we hosted our annual Scholarship Ceremony. It was an exciting morning for the students as well as for the Starfish group. The students were very happy to receive all their uniforms and school materials to kick off the new school year. In addition to receiving their needed items, it’s a chance to celebrate their successes from the previous year and congratulate them for the effort they put into their school work.

During the teachers’ vacation week, the administrative team took charge of updating the classroom to welcome the students back to a better-organized space. The students came in on different days to participate in integration activities and get to know each other.

To kick off the school year, we hosted a Math Workshop and a Language Workshop. In the Math workshop, we reviewed basic operations. Scholars were able to play games while benefiting from both visual and auditory learning techniques.

For the Language Workshop we started with the topic of how to write a letter; this is very important because it gives the students the opportunity to learn to express themselves in written form. These workshops will continue throughout the year. Future topics will include subject and predicate, adjectives, synonyms, antonyms, homophones, and homographs.


The End of a School Year

As we start the new school year in Ecuador, we want to take a few moments to recap some highlights from the end of last school year.

Every year, the Starfish Foundation offers a prize to scholars whose grades improve over the previous (year / semester). This March, a vast majority of students received the prize, so a trip was organized to Pisagua, a natural spring-fed water park. The students had a great time and enjoyed themselves.

Another “prize” trip was organized to Ayangue for parents who participated in meetings throughout the year. Ayangue is a small fishing village best known for it’s beautiful sheltered bays with calm waters. The parents had a lot of fun, took a lot of photos, and even went on a yacht. It’s a great opportunity for the parents from Flor and Guasmo to meet one another. Student members of the Therapeutic Group also joined them, enjoying the peaceful beach, burying themselves in the sand, and of course, the outing on the yacht.

Some Club Highlights:

  • Makeup Club: The students were very excited to learn to use different makeup products. It was incredible the changes they could bring about in the photography session.
  • Craft Club: Student members made foamy ice cream and string lanterns.
  • Science Club: Students carried out various experiments including making their own rockets, inflating balloons with vinegar and baking soda, making air fresheners. They also learned to create sound waves, and water that doesn’t spill.
  • Baking Club: Students made marzipan fruits, chocolate and coconut balls, and fruit pizza.
  • Painting Club: Students made landscapes on posters using colored pencils and charcoal; it was very interesting and the liked it a lot because they learned various techniques. In addition, they drew on shirts and painted glass containers with fabric paint.

Once the students left for their break, staff and volunteers worked very hard to prepare so that this school year is full of even more successful programs and opportunities for our students.

Education: A Catalyst for Change

Guest Blogger: Jane Lorenzi is a senior at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, studying International Affairs and Spanish. She has been part of the Starfish family since 2014 and has volunteered both in Ecuador and the United States. She has also spent time in Chile, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic and is fiercely passionate about justice issues in Latin America.

Jane photo - credit Anna Jordan
Photo Credit: Anna Jordan

I’ve come to realize that material things rarely, truly empower people. Rather, it is the intangible things, such as education, that garner the most transformation. Education does not create dependencies; it sustains and empowers, allowing women in particular to be independent.

In a society where theft is a constant fear, education is a beacon of hope. What you learn in and outside of the classroom cannot be taken from you. Education is the catalyst for change, for development, for dreams that become realities, for peace.

Education allows individuals to empower themselves. With knowledge, they can make informed choices — about their health, about their relationships, about their futures. And it is perhaps the greatest hope that this knowledge will translate to understanding and tolerance, which in turn will work to create a more peaceful, just, compassionate world. A world in which every human being is given the opportunity to grow and evolve and improve and empower himself/herself and others, where every person is treated with dignity, respect, and love.

That’s what makes Starfish so cool.

It empowers its students to become leaders in their communities by supporting their academic needs. Focusing on education is a grass-roots approach, which puts power in the hands of locals who more fully understand the complex nature of the injustices that exist in their own communities.

That is not to say simply going to school will fix all the problems. The education system in Ecuador is broken in countless ways (I’ve yet to hear a positive anecdote about the Ministry of Education). Poorly trained teachers, ill-equipped classrooms, and relatively ineffective curriculum based mainly on rote memorization can deter children from being passionate about learning and/or interested in going to school. It’s often hard to explain to the students how important education is when their school day is more or less miserable and boring.

There are rays of hope though — that despite broken systems, going to school is definitely not all for naught. That education really does ignite change.

Like when Mikey beams about how much he loves English class and practicing his English with us volunteers.
Or when Cristhian talks about his passion for the sciences, biology especially, and how he doesn’t need help with science homework because he understands it.
Or when Maria Belén, one of Starfish’s first students to graduate high school, attends university to study medicine, pursuing her lifelong dream of becoming a pediatrician.

These remarkable students represent the beginnings of a new generation: a generation of passionate, inspired leaders and doers and shakers.
That sounds like a pretty beautiful future to me.

A future that Starfish is shaping, poco a poco.

Spring Cleaning, Summer Reading

April was a busy month in Ecuador!


While students were on summer break, they embraced a new summer reading initiative! Throughout March and April, Starfish students read daily, completed a reading log, and attended weekly sessions to talk about what they’re reading with our educators! How fun is that?

During summer break, recent Starfish grad, Julio, joined our staff as a work-study volunteer! He’s a quick learner and has been a great addition to the team – we’re so lucky to have him!

April also included some fun for our staff! At the beginning of April they went on their annual staff field trip to nearby pool and outdoor complex to spend a Sunday of relaxation with their work friends. Later in the month, we began a new monthly tradition of staff incentives – or what many of us might have heard called “mandatory fun” at college. This month staff first enjoyed a breakfast prepared by ICD Jenn, and then participated in a lip sync contest, inspired by Jimmy Fallon’s lip sync contests on his late night show. Everyone had a blast and looks forward to future staff bonding opportunities.

The new school year started on April 24th. Two days prior, on April 22nd, we held a meeting and invited all the scholars to come and receive their backpacks, uniforms, shoes, and school supplies. Scholars then participated in the School for Leadership. This month’s theme was humanitarian action, as we took a look back on the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Ecuador in April 2016, and the world’s humanitarian response to that tragedy.

The next day (April 23rd), we held our first Bingo of the year!Games of BINGO are a popular way to raise money in Ecuador. This year we raised about $275 at the event.

The first week of school was spent getting to know each other. New and returning scholars worked together to set expectations and goals for the new year and to review material from the previous semester. The last few weeks have been a lot of fun – we’re keeping everyone busy with clubs, projects, and many small workshops. Tune in next week for more details!

“Summer” Vacation

29719927493_f784eb306d_bOn March 12th, We held our year end ceremonies in Guasmo; on April 24th, the new school year started. For the 43 days in-between Starfish staff and volunteers kept busy. Here’s some of what they were up to:

Staff in Ecuador started off the month of April purchasing all of the supplies for the new school year, as well as uniforms, shoes, backpacks, etc for our Starfish Scholars! We were also able to buy some fun new things for our classroom, like a giant whiteboard!

Once all the supplies were accounted for, they took to setting up and re-organizing our classrooms. Students and staff came together to put a new coat of paint on the walls to brighten the rooms up. The goal was a a better classroom environment and increased organization.

During school break, staff also participated in 3 professional development days. Topics included Teaching Strategies, Observational Skills & Growth Mindset.

Supplies bought? Check!
Classrooms organized? Check!
Walls painted? Check!
Professional development? Check!

So what’s next?

Staff also used April to get ahead on plans for this school year. Apart from our main programs – scholarship, tutoring & leadership development – we are also continuing with the therapeutic group run by our psychologist twice a month, our monthly school for parents, a soccer club, a new & improved community service club, as well as some new ideas for weekend clubs such as computer skills, chess, crafts, dance and more! Whew! We’re going to have a great school year!

We have 50 new students joining us in tutoring this year, with 140 students overall. We spent the first week getting to know each other, establishing classroom expectations for the year, reviewing material from last year, and setting goals for this year. We look forward to sharing updates for the new school year!

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for day to day updates, stories, and photos from our students, staff, and volunteers in Ecuador and around the world.

The Importance of Education

As I’m sure most of you know, In the United States the end of August and the beginning of September signals the start of a new school year for many. The start of a fresh school year is an exciting time, filled with possibilities of new friends, exciting new subjects, and new leadership opportunities for current students, and a reminder to the rest of us to be thankful for the education we received, and continue to receive throughout life.28744314014_d66d2414ab_b

Although in Ecuador we have been in school throughout the summer months, we thought now was as good a chance as any to talk about the importance of education and look at the ways in which it broadens experiences.

Martin Luther King said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

At Starfish, we agree with both. That’s why our mission is to e a premier means for at-risk Ecuadorian youth to achieve a post-secondary education. We believe that empowered youth will create a better future for themselves through continuing education.

We caught up with a few of our students, volunteers, and friends of Starfish to share their thoughts on education as well.

IMG_9375“When I was a little girl, education was never very important. But today I have realized that it is essential. Education allows you to reach your goals, a goal goes beyond your purposes, to what you want to be.” – Joselyn

“Education is important because it allows you to gain knowledge, reach goals and create meaningful memories. Each person’s educational experience is unique and personal to them. Your education lasts a lifetime and is something that no one can ever take away from you.” – Christie

“It is amazing to see how much students can change when given a meaningful education. They become more confident, curious, and empathetic… As a teacher, it’s about helping students learn lifelong skills, find their passions, and become the adults we need for the future success of our society.” – Anonymous

Do you agree that education is the basis of creating a better future? Are you thankful for the educational opportunities provided to you? Do you want to help underprivileged youth in Latin America achieve their dreams? If you agree with us that education is fundamentally important to not only us as individuals, but to society as a whole, you can sponsor a Starfish Scholar or support our mission and help a student gain access to education.

Thank you for your continued support of Starfish… Now go out and learn something new!

xxx Henry


Sponsor a Scholar today!

Have you had a chance to check out the changes on our website?  There are updated pages on the need for Starfish, Community Partners, our Employees, bios from our Core Team, and a chance to meet all of our 41 Starfish Scholars for this school year.

Please also don’t forget, we are still looking for sponsors for this current school year.  Please let us know if you are able to financially sponsor these young students and/or if you would like to participate in our Sponsor a Scholar pen pal program.  Even if you are not able to financially support a student for the whole year, you may still be eligible for the pen pal program.  The following students are still without pen pals for the current year:




Contact Jenn & Beth for more information!

Check out our new space!

Backpacks, shoes & uniforms ready to be distributed!

Backpacks, uniforms, and notebooks are bought and our students are getting ready to go back to school.  Starfish programming started back up Monday April 29 and school classes start today for most schools!  We can’t wait to see what this new year has in store for our students in their schools.
Guasmo Scholars with Jenn and new employee Marcos!

Flor de Bastión Scholars with new employees Jasmin and Tyrone!

For Starfish a new year means a full year of tutoring, monthly meetings and community service.  This year one of our biggest community service initiatives will involve a few fundraising projects.  In Guasmo we will be in a new space – a move initiated by our students who were ready to have a safe space to call their own.  To pay the rent for our new classroom, the students suggested we raise the money through opening up a small store to sell snacks and planning a bingo in the neighborhood to raise money.  Stay tuned throughout the year as we work toward our goal and in the meantime check out our new space!

New classroom in Guasmo!

The task of purchasing uniforms in Guayaquil

Remember how all students in Ecuador, even at public schools, must buy 2 or 3 costly uniforms?  Try figuring out where, and how to buy them at a fair price when the entire city is trying to do the same thing.  I had the opportunity to accompany Paola, mom of two of our Starfish scholars – Maria and Steve, on her trip to the center of the city to try to get uniforms.  

Paola, Maria and some of the other Bravo children.

We left that day with a complete uniform for one, with the hope of buying the other the coming week.  At one store, we bought pants and Paola was able to get us a $0.50 discount.  Next we found a shoe store where we were able to get a discount for buying both the regular shoes and physical education shoes at the same time.  Next we found socks.  Later we found a lady walking around on the sidewalk selling belts for $1.  We left the hardest part for the end.  For the biggest and most famous high schools in the city, finding shirts was easy.  However, Steve is going to a high school in Guasmo that isn’t as well known.  We went to several vendors before we found one man who was willing to go look for us.  After about a half an hour he finally came back with the shirt we needed and the physical education uniform specific to the high school that completed our set.  With Paola’s expertise, we spent about 2.5 hours and $62 to complete Steve’s uniform for this coming school year! 

Read more about uniform and school supplies demand and prices:

–Jenn Zocco, The Starfish Foundation In-Country Representative