Things I’ve Learned (Part 2)

When you talk to the students at the Starfish Foundation about what they’ve learned this year, you’ll hear everything from math to geography, the importance of plants to the finer points of accounting. They are dedicated to their work, and excited to continually learn new things through both school and the Starfish Foundation.

But in addition to the reading, writing, and arithmetic that everyone is expected to learn, the Starfish Scholars are all learning another important lesson: the importance of relationships.

“The most interesting thing that I have learned this year is the value of friendship with my classmates at the Foundation. I have also learned about many very good subjects that help me in school, such as history and language”
– Emerson, a 12 year old scholar.

Time and time again, this lesson is echoed by the students who are reflecting on their experiences with Starfish – in addition to safe place to learn and grow academically, the Starfish Foundation is fostering team building, healthy relationships, and a sense of community – something essential to emotional and mental well-being.30389139440_e827dfeb47_z

“The most important thing that I have learned this year is to be respectful with my classmates and my seniors, because it is with these people that I coexist. With respect, you can live in a good environment anywhere you go. Another very important thing that I learned is about companionship. Along with respect, fellowship is one of the values that are important to everyone and we should all try to improve.”
– Josselyn


Milena adds, “This year, I have met many new people that have become my friends. I have had a lot of fun with these new friends doing activities that take  place at the Foundation,” showcasing how the Starfish Foundation not only brings bright young minds together, but encourages them to thrive in social spaces.

It has been proven, over and over again, that friendships are vital to learning, self-confidence, life skills, priority setting, emotional health, and empowering people of all ages to make societal changes. That our scholars are able to develop relationships, and recognize their importance, through their participation in the Starfish Foundation, is vital to their current and future happiness and success.

We close today with a Maori proverb:

“What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people”. ( He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata).


Guest blogger Maria Belen is a student at our Flor de Bastión location. She is in 9no (8th grade equivalent) and has participated in Starfish for 2 years.


Hello, my name is María Belén and I think that I have changed a lot during my time at school in many different ways, like my way of thinking, how I get along with my friends. I’ve also changed because there are already so many things that I now know that I didn’t know before I started high school. But my change has not been alone as a lot of things around me have changed because I have started to go to the foundation since last year.

The foundation is very near to my house. Here I have met many new friends that before I had seen in school but never conversed with, perhaps because of shame. In the foundation we can mingle, create very good friendships and besides that also there we learn a lot with the workshops they give. All of this helps me to change and every day I learn more, which makes me very happy.

This year I was chosen as a conditional fellow, that is if I want to win the scholarship I will have to work hard and have excellent grades. I will also need to keep my notebooks up to date and well decorated.

These are the things in which I have changed.

Wherever you are…best regards!


Hola, soy María Belén y pienso que he cambiado mucho durante mi etapa en el colegio en muchas cosas como la forma de pensar y de cómo me llevo con mis amigos y también porque ya se muchas cosas que antes yo no sabía. Pero mi cambio no ha sido solo, también ha cambiado mucho las cosas a mí alrededor ya que desde el año pasado voy a la fundación.

La fundación queda muy cerca de mi casa, allí he conocido muchos nuevos amigos que antes los veía en el colegio pero no conversaba con ellos quizá por la vergüenza. En la fundación nos podemos relacionar, crear amistades muy buenas y aparte que también allí nosotros aprendemos mucho con los talleres que dan, eso también me ayudo a cambiar y cada día yo aprendo más, eso me alegra mucho.

Este año que entre me eligieron como becada condicional, es decir que si quiero ganarme la beca tendré que esforzarme mucho y tener calificaciones excelentes también tener mis cuadernos al día y bien decorados.

Estas cosas son en las que yo he cambiado.

Donde estés… Saludos!

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!

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Since its birth several years ago, the aim of Starfish has been, and is today: to instill hope, inspire, and make change- one student at a time. Our movement, rooted in promoting education and development of the whole person in order to open opportunities for youth in Guayaquil, Ecuador- is certainly a grassroots movement. But it’s a powerful one. We start small- by securing the education of one student, with the aspiration that they will then be the ones to affect change. Student, family, school, community, world. We begin with the student, and watch our movement grow from there.

And that is exactly the change that we have been blessed to see, time and time again. And it starts with our own scholars.

María Rivadeneira exemplifies the ripple effect of Starfish. A mother of three, including Ariana Sosoranga, a Starfish scholar, María has also been going back to school. María has always encouraged her children to dedicate themselves to their studies, and to never give up on their dreams. Ariana, a top student, completely involves herself in her extracurricular activities, and she assumes the role of a leader both in school and in after school projects here at Starfish. Watching Ariana achieve and succeed, María recognized how important it was for her children to have a role model to look up to, and she wanted to be that example of hard work and perseverance. María never graduated from high school, but took it upon herself to go back to school and complete her studies, with the hopes of eventually becoming a nurse.

After years of sacrificing to support her children and keep them in school, María has achieved her dream, and the one she still carries for her children. She graduated from high school this past Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

But María’s education will move even beyond high school.

She scored high enough on her college entrance exam to secure herself a spot to start her university studies right away, with the dream of becoming a nursing assistant and eventually a licensed nurse! María told us that if it weren’t for the help Starfish provides Ariana, she wouldn’t have had the financial resources or the time to finish her own studies.

María embodies the values of Starfish, and serves as a role model not only for her own children, but for our entire Starfish community. We hope that our organization will continue to reach those beyond its direct impact. In all honesty, it’s not really us that’s affecting change- it’s our students. We put our faith into our students- that they will continue this powerful grassroots movement in inciting change- one by one.

María and her three children

Ariana Sosoranga, a Starfish scholar

What does today’s youth think about education?

starfishOur blog this week features a post from two educadores, William Segura and Allison Rodriguez, who affirm the importance of education and speak of the great impact that Starfish has had on their, and others’, lives. This Thanksgiving, we recognize all whom we are thankful for in our Starfish community: our educadores, our students and their families, our volunteers, and all those who prioritize education and lifelong learning in community. Muchísmias gracias a todo, and happy Thanksgiving!

Education: Fundamental in Life


What does today’s youth think about education? Do they think that it’s important and serves a purpose?

In my own experience, in the past, I used to think that education didn’t matter so much because I knew of people who had obtained educational degrees, but that it didn’t help them much in that they weren’t able to find a dignified job or they felt uncomfortable exercising the profession that they had been confined to due to the limitations of the education system.

However, my opinions have changed since being at the Foundation. The Starfish Foundation, along with the furthering of my own education, has taught me how to see things differently and to deeply consider others’ points of view. Furthermore, Starfish has instilled in me the core values of excellence and determination, which are fundamental to education. I learned that with just a little help, you can achieve anything that you propose.

Education is waiting for you.  Are you ready to change your point of view about education?

We are Starfish!
William Segura and Allison Rodriguez


en español:
Educación: Base fundamental de la vida 
¿Qué piensan los jóvenes de hoy en día sobre la educación? ¿Piensan que es importante o sirve de algo?

En mi caso personal, antes pensaba que la educación no importaba por que conocía a personas que habían llegado a tener un titulo pero sin embargo no les servia de mucho ya que no podían encontrar un trabajo digno o se sentían incomodos ejerciendo la profesión que les había destinado con limitación el sistema educativo.

LA FUNDACION ESTRELLITAS DEL MAR me enseñó una forma de ver las cosas diferentes con respecto al punto de vista de las demás personas con base en la educación y la vida.
Fundamentándose en la excelencia y la determinación, que son la clave de la educación; aprendí que tan solo con una pizca de constancia puedes llegar a cumplir lo que te propongas.

La Educación espera por ti. ¿Estas dispuesto a cambiar tu punto de vista con respecto a la Educación?

¡Somos Starfish!
William Segura y Allison Rodriguez

Taking a brave step, thanks to HOBY.

My biggest motivation as a HOBY Ambassador in 2004 was the keynote speech from Sandy Queen. Sandy’s message centers around a song by Jana Stanfield – “What step would I take today if I were brave?” As I sat there in the auditorium, I knew that I had to take a big step. I can be courageous. I can make a difference. …but how? That question remained to be answered.

After my year of volunteer service in Ecuador, I was asking myself many questions. The original question that Dr. Albert Schweitzer asked Hugh O’Brian was, “What are you going to do about it?” What am I going to do about the poverty I know exists? What am I going to do about the lack of opportunity for jobs, education, and food? After just a few weeks back in the U.S., inspired by many people at HOBY and Villanova, my friend Jenn and I took a big step. We started The Starfish Foundation, Inc.

Just about a year after my return to the U.S., I spoke at HOBY’s World Leadership Congress (WLC) in Chicago to share the impact that HOBY has had on my life. Truth, I’ve been involved in numerous adventures that led me to where I am today. But more importantly — I was finally able to answer Sandy Queen’s question.

I wanted to blog just a bit about speaking at WLC for a few reasons. HOBY is very important to me, and many HOBY alum have been so supportive to Jenn and I in this endeavor. The Ambassadors at WLC were an incredible audience – mainly because many of them have also started non-profit organizations! I feel confident in saying that many of these students are going to take VERY brave steps in the next few years. 

Here are some pictures from my time in Chicago! Thanks to Angie U. for taking them 🙂

About to speak alongside LTC Brian Yee, HOBY MD 1986, and Laura Limarzi, HOBY Canada and WLC 2011, about keeping the HOBY spirit alive.

Explaining the millions of thoughts running through my head as a high-school sophomore in 2004.

Reiterating that ever-important question: what was I going to do about all the poverty that I knew existed?
Sharing the story of The Starfish Foundation, Inc.!
–Beth Awalt, Co-founder of The Starfish Foundation, Inc.,
HOBY Maryland and Central PA Volunteer

My Story. (written by Samantha)

This is my story.  My life was very sad.  Since I was 6 years old I was raised by my grandparents.  They took care of me.  They gave me their love since I didn’t have my mom.  They gave me all of their affection.  They helped me study.  They did everything possible so that I could succeed and every year I strived to succeed since they were doing everything to help me.  Sometimes they stopped buying things they needed so that they could buy me what the school required me to have.  Later, it was time for my siblings to study too.  Now it wasn’t only me, but 3 kids for whom my grandparents had to buy school supplies.  Even though this made it even harder for my grandparents, they never gave up.  They always pushed forward.  Later, I finished primary school and my grandparents were so proud of me because I was a good student.  But then, the teacher wouldn’t give me my certificate because I owed 2 years of monthly payments since it was a private school.  Because we owed so much money, the school didn’t want to let my other siblings matriculate.  Later, they supported my grandpa so that my brother and sister could study.  Many days and months passed, and I kept telling my grandparents that I wanted to continue studying but they told me that they couldn’t do anything else since we owed so much money and I didn’t have the papers I needed to matriculate in a high school.  I lost hope.  At least I had finished primary school.

            I want to study because I want to be someone in life and education is the most important thing that one can have.  I want to study to be able to help my brothers and my grandparents have a better life.  Because of my papers, I missed two years of school but now I live with my aunt and uncle and I asked them to support me to start my high school studies.  They told me that they would help me, when suddenly Jennifer (In-Country Representative for The Starfish Foundation, Inc.) appeared and she encouraged us.  She offered me one of the scholarships.  This made me feel very proud because now it wasn’t just the support of my aunt and uncle, but also the support of one more person that I could count on.  Now I am very happy because I am going to study again.  Thank you for your support and now I am happy!
Samantha and Arelisa, another Starfish Scholar.

Samantha in her house in Flor de Bastion.

–Samantha, a Starfish Scholar in Flor de Bastion

Ecuador’s President on Education

In a March 31 press conference, Ecuadorian President Rafeal Correa said, “There will not be development without education.

Correa is one of the most respected and well-liked Ecaudorian presidents of recent times, especially among the poorer population.  Correa was not born into a particularly wealthy family and as a child, he also had to overcome his situation in order to rise to the position of power and influence he holds today.  One of his major initiatives has been to improve the education system in Ecuador.  In his March 31 press conference televised on all public channels in Ecuador, he spoke of a plan to create incentives such as paying a minimum salary for those university students who choose to study education in order to become teachers.  He believes that this is the most important major one can choose.  He remarked that often times good students who are looking for quick money choose to study medicine for financial reasons, but he stresses that these elite students are the ones that Ecuador needs in teaching positions.  With the elite teaching its citizens, Correa and the Ministry of Education believe that their country can progress and develop.

Another interesting fact that Correa noted: According to university entrance exams – there is no difference in the aptitude of students coming from rich and poor families.  Sometimes there is a difference in knowledge if more economically fortunate students have had more access to resources, but in aptitude rich and poor students alike scored the same.  He believes there is hope for all to succeed, to help Ecuador and to help themselves break the cycle of poverty.

Source: Televised March 31 press conference