Starfish Scholar Spotlight: Jack Neira

This week, we sat down with Jack to talk to him about his education, Starfish, and his hobbies in his free time.

Neira_Jack_2017_preview.jpegHi Jack! Where do you go to school?
Jack: I study at the school known as the Philanthropic, whose full name is the Benemérita Philanthropic Society of Guayas. Yes, it is a rather long name.

What makes your school interesting?
Jack: This school, which is located in Guayaquil, is a technical school. I learn different subjects than students who choose to get a general baccalaureate.

Awesome! And you’re also a Starfish scholar?
Jack: Yes, I belong to the afternoon session at the Starfish Foundation.

 

What have you learned from your time with the Starfish Foundation?
Jack: At the Starfish Foundation, I have learned many good things. During these last months, the most interesting thing that I learned was: periods of history, in the classes given by the educators. Also, I have learned how to use Microsoft Word, which has been very important because it has helped me to complete my research.

Sounds like you’ve gained a lot from this. When you’re not busy with school and Starfish, what do you enjoy doing?
Jack: In my free time, I really like to read books and other documents. I also like music also and one of my hobbies is playing the guitar. I know that I am not a professional, but I practice a lot in order to play well. In terms of sports, I practice basketball with my friends, but this activity is done just for fun.

We can’t thank Jack enough for spending time sharing his story with us.

Want to support scholars like Jack? $30 provides a month of programming for a Starfish Scholar! Or, you can join our StarfishSearch Scavenger Hunt to help raise funds and awareness for the organization.

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A Day in the Life of a Starfish Scholar

Ever wonder what a typical day is like for one of our Starfish Scholars? Well… we asked and they answered:

 

Juleysi, age 12:juleesi.jpg

Right after my school day ends, I return home, hand in hand with either my mom or my dad, who come to pick me up from school. I attend the Starfish Foundation but when I do not have to go, I do a lot of housework with my mom. I love music and during the day I listen to music, even when I do homework. Also, I like to read and on occasion, I’ll go out and play with my friends who are very fun, after I’ve finished my homework.

Leonardo

Leonardo, 10th grade:

When I have free time, I spend it at home, listening to music. I like reggaeton music and watching TV programs. The coolest thing that I do during my free time is play soccer. I really like playing soccer. Last year, I was even part of a soccer training group at the Foundation.

 

Milena

Milena, age 14:

When it comes to my hobbies, I always mention that I like to sing, dance, chat, and listen to music. These are the things that I do when I don’t have homework and the days when I don’t go to the Foundation.

 

Ponce_Emerson_carnet_2017Emerson, age 12:

When I am not in school, I have a great time with my friends, playing soccer, freeze tag, and many other games. Also, my friends and I like to sing, dance, jump, etc. We have a lot of fun like this.

 

 

josselyn.jpg

Josselyn, age 14:

When I get out of school and arrive at home, the first thing that I do is quickly go to see my youngest little sister. I am the oldest of three siblings. At home, when I have free time, I spend it watching TV, chatting, and sometimes I get hungry so I go to eat something. I also play soccer with my neighborhood friends.

 

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.

Throw Back Thursday: Lessons from Ecuador

This week, we’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane to see what various scholars, educators, and volunteers have learned through their experiences with Starfish:

“There is a universal language spoken through hugs, smiles, and laughter.” – Martin, volunteer

527e6-dscn2461“It’s important to give kids more ways to shine than just the classroom or the soccer field” – Danny, volunteer

“My wonderful opportunity to serve as an intern at the Starfish Foundation provides me with a greater insight of issues and circumstances worldwide, and has truly made me more grateful for the everyday things I have access to instantaneously. I have been handed so much in my life and I am thankful for the opportunity Starfish has given me to give back.” – Katrina, volunteer

“I have become more responsible, my skills have grown which makes me proud because I feel that I am a very capable person.” – Joselyn, scholar

“Without the people of the Starfish Foundation, I wouldn’t have learned more Spanish and how to work with their students. Additionally, without the students of Flor, I wouldn’t have learned how to work with English language learners and develop more skills as an educator.” – Katie, volunteerIntegration Day...in the eyes of a volunteer.

“I’ve learned to express myself and am comfortable speaking in front of the other people on various subjects.” – Julio, scholar

“Community can’t be taught, it must be built with time, trust, and consistency.” – Martin, volunteer

“Through reading, I learn more about myself and the world around me, and it has helped me to become who I am today.” – Sara W., scholar

Happy 5th Birthday Starfish!

Earlier this week, the Starfish Foundation celebrated it’s 5th birthday! That’s five years of providing scholarship, tutoring, and leadership development to youth living in extreme poverty in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Over that time frame, Starfish has grown and grown – and currently serves over 120 scholars in Guasmo and Flor de Bastion.

Jenn and beth.jpgThe idea for the Starfish Foundation developed after co-founders Beth and Jenn volunteered for a year in Ecuador, where they volunteered at a shelter for former street kids. A lot of these kids had no family or little support at home. Though many of them had the motivation to study, they lacked financial resources to be able to attend school once leaving the shelter.

Though public schools in Ecuador are free, families often still struggle to provide all the necessary materials (uniforms, books, school supplies, etc) while living on minimum wage and trying to feed a whole family. For many, the easiest solution was to not go to school. The Starfish Foundation works to fill a need that focuses on the importance of education as a catalyst for future success of each student and their communities, and provides scholarships and mentoring to students in financial need who have the motivation to continue their studies despite challenging circumstances.

But the success comes not just from funding scholars, but also seeing bright, caring, thoughtful individuals find the means to achieve their goals. It’s about seeing faces light up with smiles. It’s about promoting confidence through talent shows and interviews. It’s about creating a sense of community through outreach. It’s about improving our environment by encouraging sustainable living and recycling. It’s about service and instilling the values of hard work and giving back to the community in our scholars. It’s about big dreams, and big plans, and big ideas.

It’s about giving every scholar the boost they need to be the best version of themselves.

Over the last 5 years, there have been a lot of incredible moments for Starfish. Some highlights for Beth include:

  • On the trip last year, there was a moment when we got together all the “original” Starfish Scholars. It was kind of like the end of A League of Their Own – very nostalgic to remember back those early days, but impressive to see how these young adults (now) have grown up and are now giving back to Starfish as employees or volunteers!
  • Bringing my parents and best friend (basically my sister, in Spanish they call her my ñaña) to see Starfish. They are SO supportive and it was so special to have them meet our Scholars and their families!
  • The experience of growing our Board this fall. It was really the first time we had done anything quite like this – but the interviews with so many WONDERFUL people were delightful. I have loved getting to know our new members and seeing their positive energy. They have already started to give back in so many extraordinary ways!
  • Our 5th birthday! It was a tiring week, and a challenging time to see our country divided in the election, but in the midst of stress and discord, it was something to celebrate. The amount of people who wished me a happy birthday that day — I wondered if I should double-check my birth certificate 😉

As we look back, we’re so thankful to everyone who has been a part of this journey – we’re thankful for the support, friendship, prayers, and donations. As we look back, we know it is also important to look ahead, and look forward to continuing to grow and serve in the coming years. Some of our goals include:

  • Putting together a robust U.S. Operations team. We’re well on our way to doing so – an amazing set of Managers / Advisers for Development, Communications, and Volunteer Management, efficient Admin team of our Sr. Admin Assistant, Accountant, and Tech Guru, and an amazing team of Social Media interns. We have work to do, though, in creating the best structure to maximize capacity and efficiency – and I’d love to see us get to a great point with that.
  • Officially registering in Ecuador, buying land, and building our dream “house.” It’s the longest, most complicated process EVER, but we are nearing the end, and that’s pretty incredible.
  • Supremely increasing the attendance at our Giving Tuesday and An Evening for the Stars (Baltimore Benefit Dinner) events. We have some SNAZZY new tricks up our sleeve (this year, for example, just your presence at any Giving Tuesday results in a $10 donation to Starfish – thanks to a generous match!)
  • Seeing the amount of people who learn about Starfish continue to increase!

I hope you can agree it’s been an incredible Journey, and yet an even more amazing one awaits us. I also hope you’ll join me in wishing Starfish a very warm and loving HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

starfish-birthday

More Than a Magic Night – a Talent Night!

Henry here, and have I got news for you! Our little starfish recently hosted their second annual talent show at the main Starfish site in Flor, Guayaquil. Over 100 students participated in the show as well as 11 staff members and 8 international volunteers. You can watch the show yourself here, and be amazed by their performances.

stage

“The objective of this event is to showcase the talents of each and every one of our members, this way they can secure the interpersonal relationships, own the stage, and increase self-confidence”, explain Jessica Párraga and Maria Salazar, Starfish teachers, when I ask them why the Talent Show is important to The Starfish Foundation.

“Many values learned in the talent show night were responsibility, closeness, and fellowship among the kids in the foundation. These helped them be more open, have self-confidence, and to make decision that will help them become active leaders in their families and communities. They also learned the true meaning of teamwork,” adds one of their teachers, Pamela Rodriguez.

The show was open to students, teachers, volunteers, and international visitors – each showcasing their skill and sharing a piece of themselves and their culture. Family and friends of students and volunteers, as well as host families to our international volunteers, came out to enjoy the day.

The students practiced for over a month, improving the details of their performances: choreography, acting, painting, singing, and so much more.

I checked in with Luiggi Pluas, one of the student performers to find out about his participation in the show:

“For talent show night I had 3 songs. The first one I sang with my friend Ronny, “Me Voy Enamorando,” (I’m falling in love). The second one I did solo.

When it was show time I was very nervous, but when the music started I tried to do my best; it seems I did a great job because I waited a long time for the cheering to end. I had so much fun! In my last performance I danced to traditional music of Guayaquil with a few other dancing partners. We put so much effort into it, and we did a great job.

The end of the event was nice because everyone started telling their experiences getting there. We all took pictures with the North American volunteers. We made unique memories that will be hard to forget.”outside

WOW. What an unforgettable experience. I also talked to Joselyn del Valle, who acted as the emcee for the night, about her thoughts on the Talent Show:

“In the talent show night I was cheering and introducing every single one of my classmates according to the talent they were going to perform. It was an incredible night!

I also danced to the song “Guayaquileño” with my dance team. For this dance we practiced 4 or 5 times so everything would be perfect and we could all learn our choreography.

My favorite part was the performance by the teachers. They went on stage, dressed in white, the lights were off and the cellphone lights were on. They sang the song “Yo Nací Aqui,” (I was born here). It was a beautiful and moving performance.”

With all this enthusiasm and talent, I know these scholars will continue to do amazing things inside and outside the classroom.

group

xxx Henry

Redefining Happiness Part 2: A Thank You

Hello again! Remember my good friend Katie Malone from last week who shared her volunteer experience in Ecuador? This week, she has some thank-yous to share and some final reflections on the infectiousness of happiness. Thanks for reading!

-Henry

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It is so difficult to put in to words what kind of an impact these wonderful people have made in my life, but I will do my best:

I thank my host family for allowing me in to their home, taking care of me when I was sick (homemade chicken noodle soup cures upset stomachs and hearts), giving me oil to rub on itchy bug bites, showing me how to flush their toilet, washing my clothes, feeding me until I couldn’t eat another bite, and simply being my Ecuadorian family.

Thank you for allowing me to witness your kindness, happiness, laughter, and joy of being together as a family. It made the pessimistic things that mattered in my life back in Ohio seem so, so small. Thank you for giving me a new perspective on the world and showing me what is most important in life.

Also, thank you to the patient, fun, kind, and compassionate workers at Starfish! You were so understanding while trying to comprehend my pre-kindergarten level Spanish and when giving me anything I needed for the English classes I taught. You included me in your daily routine and made sure students who had English homework felt comfortable enough to ask me (or get one of you to ask me) for help.

Lastly, thank you to all of the students who completed my English classes and worked diligently to complete homework assignments, practice the ABC’s, and participate in my review games as if they were fútbol games in the Copa América. You have inspired me to become a better teacher through your dedication and motivation as students and as members of your community and families. Most of you have already gone through more difficult situations and have endured more hardships than I could even imagine. In a way, you are all role models because you continue to learn and thrive, in spite of the negativity in your lives. I thank you so much for pushing me to be a better educator for my future students.

Happiness pulses through each one of you. It is more infectious than any mosquito, spider, cockroach, or other bug we Americans are afraid of.

I thank you for making me a more adventurous, confident, and loving person.

Most importantly, I thank you for being happy.

Gracias Victor’s Vision and Hogar del Niño!

Two weeks ago I had the exciting opportunity to travel to Chulucanas, Peru to visit Victor’s Vision – a non-profit started by Villanova alum and friend of Starfish co-founder Beth Awalt –  Emily Felsenthal.  Victor’s Vision is a non-profit that provides students with the resources, support and guidance necessary to pursue higher education as a means to escape poverty.  They do this through after-school academic classes in the core subjects everyday with certified teachers.  Students start Victor’s Vision in 2nd grade and continue through college – a goal that was only a dream for most students before they entered Victor’s Vision.  In the province where Victor’s Vision works, only 37% of finish primary school, and a mere 4% complete university.  All Victor’s Visions students are on a path to making university a dream come true!

The four main programs at Victor’s Vision are academic classes, field trips, nutrition and parent workshops.  Overall it was a wonderful experience and we aspire to accomplish much of what they have accomplished!

While in Chulucanas, I also had the opportunity to visit a shelter for children and teens who were either abandoned by their families or in a dangerous home situation.  The shelter is doing a lot of great work with very limited resources and personel.  Below are some pictures from the shelter.

Check out Victor’s Vision website and like them on Facebook to learn more about this great initiative in the neighboring country of Peru!  Also check out Hogar del Niño Alto Piurano on Facebook!  Thank you to both organizations for being such wonderful hosts and teaching us about Peru and your work!

Lunch time at the shelter.

Sally, 4 years old, a new arrival at the shelter.  
For 4 days straight that beautiful and contagious smile never left her face! 

Hermana Maria Luisa, director of Hogar del Niño Alto Piurano with Starfish Co-Founder Jenn, and Starfish Volunteer, Angelo.

A hungry child can’t study!

Last week we talked about how the rain is affecting the families of Guayaquil and the whole coastal region of Ecuador.  Not only are houses and streets flooding, causing damages to homes and bringing new illness – but the alimentación (nutrition) of already marginalized families may be taking a hit as well.  As reported in Ecuador’s newspaper “El Universo” many rice plantations and the areas surrounding them are currently flooded, cutting off access and driving up prices.  Rice is a staple food in Ecuador, eaten 2 or 3 times a day – and sometimes the only thing a family could afford at what was a mere 30 cents a pound.  As of March 3 rice was at 37 cents a pound, a 23% increase and a huge burden for many families.

Other food hit by rising prices due to the flooding include tomatoes, berries, fish and beans.  These prices are reportedly rising as much as 40%.

Find out at more at: http://www.eluniverso.com/2013/03/05/1/1356/miden-impacto-fuerte-lluvia-zonas-arroceras.html

As part of our 2013-2014 programming Starfish will be providing a healthy snack at all tutoring sessions and monthly meetings as well as providing educational charlas (talks) throughout the year about healthy eating & living habits!  With this new initiative we hope to instill healthy habits and increase the ability of our students to study effectively without the pangs of hunger as a distraction.

Flor de Bastión students enjoying a healthy snack of yogurt, fruit and granola at the October 2012 monthly meeting.

Bienvenidos – Welcome to Starfish 2013-2014!

The new class of 2013-2014 Starfish Scholars has been selected – with many familiar faces, and a few new ones!  Once again we will be working in the 2 neighborhoods of Guasmo and Flor de Bastion.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks to meet our new scholars!

Congratulations to Ana, Anthony, Arelisa, Argenis, Betsabeth, Briggette, Carlos, Cristhian, Dayanna, Eddy, Elian, Evelyn, Genesis, Geovanny, Jerson, Joel, Karolayn, Lili, Maria, Maria Belen, Marlon, Milena, Pamela, Samantha, Solange, Steve & William!

We look forward to working with them in the 2013-2014 school year, however this year the President of Ecuador has decided to start school one month later – in May – to accomodate the many schools that often open late due to flooding in the rainy season.

Want to learn more about rainy season? Check out this picture I took last year and for our spanish readers – read how many parts of Guayaquil have been declared in a state of emergency of last Saturday’s torrential rains.
http://www.eluniverso.com/2013/03/03/1/1445/coe-cantonal-provincial-guayaquil-activan-lluvia-sabado.html

Center of Guayaquil, April 2012. 
The neighborhoods in which Starfish works are not blessed to have paved roads in all areas, making rainy season an even messier scene than the one above.