“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.

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

Julio Ponce: 2017 Graduate

26190743582_3eedcd05ef_bGraduation is always a time for celebration, reflections, and looking ahead. This week, I had a conversation with Julio Ponce about his education thus far, what might be next, and the people who inspire him to dream big.

Are you going to attend college? And, if you are going to attend, what do you want to study?
Julio: I plan to go to university to study architecture or nursing.

What are some of the most important moments you remember from school – your favorite memories?
Julio: The most important times were spending time with my friends. The most unforgettable date was when I took part in the flag ceremony.

What are some goals that you have for your experience and studies at university?
Julio: My goal is to get a degree in architecture and to create a building that is well known.

Is there a person who inspires you?
Julio: The person who inspires me is my mom since she has always worked hard for me. Now it is my turn to work hard for her.

Have you changed during your time at school?
Julio: Yes, I change my habits at school; now I’m more responsible. I’ve also learned to express myself and am comfortable speaking in front of the other people on various subjects.

How did you discover and develop your talents and skills during school?
Julio: I already had the talent but the more time I spent at school, the more those talents developed. I found I was also able to teach certain skills to my classmates and teachers.

What do you expect to achieve over the next five years?
Julio: Get a university degree and share it with my family so I can help others.

If you could change one thing about your educational experience so far, what would it be?
Julio: I would not change anything because what I’ve learned in school will help me in my life.

Wow! Now that’s a smart and highly motivated Starfish! With this kind of thinking, motivation, and desire to succeed, we know Julio will achieve great things.

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Interview with Lucy Vargas, Starfish Student

Hello again and welcome to the month of March! This week, my travels to Ecuador led me to an interview with Lucy Vargas, one of our very own Starfish Foundation students. I love discussing a wide range of topics with our students, but this week I decided to discuss the future with Lucy.

screen-shot-2017-02-25-at-9-26-38-pmI asked Lucy to tell me what she wants to be when she grows up. Being a very dedicated and determined student, Lucy replied, “My dream is to be a Commercial Engineer when I grow up. However, there are also other careers that I am interested in, like being a veterinarian or a pediatrician. I know that these are three careers that demand effort and dedication. Nevertheless, I will try very hard in order to achieve my goals.” I was instantly impressed with Lucy’s answer and had to know more!

Lucy told me that she has different reasons she is drawn to each of these careers, but that, “behind each of these careers is something that inspires me.” When it comes to commercial engineering she said, “Commercial Engineering fascinates me a lot because my dad worked in a company alongside other engineers. Their goal was to design homes that would later be built, in which several people would be able to live.” I loved Lucy’s enthusiasm to not only design buildings and homes, but to help the people who would live in those homes.

Lucy’s passion for helping didn’t stop there. Her reasons behind becoming a veterinarian or a pediatrician are both based on her desire to help living creatures. “I like the idea of being a veterinarian, because I love animals, especially dogs. In fact, I have a dog named Tobby, who is brown and white and handsome. Finally, being a pediatrician appeals to me because children are my inspiration. They are like little angels. I have two little siblings, who I consider to be little angels sent by God to brighten up my family.”

Thank you again for the great chat, Lucy! Everyone at Starfish is so proud of you and we can’t wait to see what your future holds, either as a commercial engineer, as a veterinarian, as a pediatrician or even something else!


Original Interview:

“Yo de grande quiero ser una profesional de Ingeniería Comercial. Sin embargo, también me gustaría estudiar otras carreras como veterinaria y pediatría. Se que son tres carreras que exigen esfuerzo y dedicación. No obstante, me esforzaré mucho por conseguir mis metas.

Detrás de cada una de las carreras que pienso seguir, hay algo que me inspira. Por ejemplo, de Ingeniería Comercial me fascina mucho porque mi papá trabajó en una compañía junto con otros ingenieros que se trazaron como meta construir viviendas para que puedan vivir algunas personas.

Veterinaria me gusta también porque me encantan los animales y en especial a los perros. De hecho yo tengo uno que es hermoso de color café y blanco y se llama Tobby.

Finalmente, Pediatría porque los niños son mi inspiración. Ellos son como unos angelitos. Yo tengo 2 hermanitos. Considero que son unos angelitos enviados de Dios para alegrar a mi familia.”

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 Scholar Spotlight: Oscar Vargas

Hello all! Henry here with more stories from Ecuador. This week, I swam right on over to Ecuador to have a conversation with Oscar Vargas about school, his daily routine, and education.

My daily routine for school begins at 5:30 am, the time when I get up everyday, although sometimes I’m still a little sleepy. Then I put on my uniform, and once dressed, I brush my teeth so that I can have breakfast; a delicious breakfast my mom prepares for me with a lot of love everyday. Once I’m finished with breakfast, I check my backpack to make sure I have all the supplies I’ll need according to today’s class schedule. When I’m ready, my mom gives me a kiss on the forehead and tells me to have a great day…

Getting to school does not take long because, fortunately my school is close to home and I don’t have to take a bus. Everyday I walk and it takes me about 10 minutes or less.

I always arrive on time to school, so I can greet my friends and other people without any problems.


Mi rutina diaria para ir al colegio, comienza a las 5:30 de la mañana pues a esa hora todos los días me levanto, aunque en ocasiones con un poco sueño todavía, luego me pongo mi uniforme, una vez vestido me dirijo a cepillarme los dientes para poder desayunar y recibir ese rico desayuno que todos los días con mucho amor me lo prepara mi mamá, una vez que termine de desayunar, reviso mi maleta para saber si llevo todos mis útiles de acuerdo al horario correspondiente, cuando ya estoy listo mi mama me da un beso en la frente y me dice que tenga un excelente día.

Para llegar al colegio no me toma mucho tiempo pues afortunadamente mi colegio queda cerca de casa y no tengo que coger ningún bus, todos los días me voy caminando y esto me toma unos 10 minutos o menos. Siempre se llegar con tiempo a mi colegio, así puedo saludar a mis compañeros y otras personas sin ningún tipo de inconveniente.

Thanks Oscar! I love getting a sneak peak into Ecuadorian life through the eyes of our scholars. I hope all you students in the US are having a good first few weeks back at school. Education is important the whole world over.

Global Education: A Brief Look

Greetings, Starfish readers! We are launching a new blog series on global education. Also keep an eye out for posts from our volunteers and tutors, Starfish event highlights, and more every Thursday! We look forward to your comments.

Many people, myself included, were excited to hear President Obama speak about the possibility of free and universal community college in his State of the Union speech this week. This new initiative raises hope. Not only for those who would directly benefit from it, but for also everyone who recognizes education as a powerful, positive force.

Investing in education is, of course, an investment in the future. At Starfish, we know education has the power to change lives; it gives young people more opportunities and the ability to build up their communities. And it is encouraging to think that the President’s newly introduced policy may be part of a trend towards a greater global focus on education.

To nurture this trend, however, there is still much to be done. A recent report released by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics indicated that 58 million children and 63 million adolescents worldwide were out of school. In other words: 1 of 11 children are not in the classroom; 1 in 5 adolescents are not.

The global community intended 2015 to be a benchmark year for universal primary education and yet progress has been slow. Barriers to education include: poverty, child labor, gender discrimination, national and regional conflicts, geographic location, language challenges, malnutrition, natural disasters, teacher shortages, and disability.

A disproportionate number of girls, children with disabilities, and children living in rural areas leave school early or miss out on their educations entirely. UNESCO reports that the solution isn’t a matter of simply building more schools, but maintaining education in times of upheaval, combatting the above deterrents, and further determining why students aren’t in the classroom.

The situation isn’t hopeless, but rather complex. Still, change is possible. Last year, for example, in Ecuador, public school enrollment increased by 16%. The national literacy rate increased to 93%. The state spent a net $1.3 billion on education and made a plan to raise their secondary education graduation rate to 80% in the next several years. It will take hard work to put that plan into action, as it will take hard work to get students worldwide into their classrooms, but it’s worth it.

Exciting News from our Flor de Bastión Employees

Newly painted walls in our new place!
Students comfortably fit in our new &
 improved BIG classroom in Flor!

We are very happy to write to you all again after a few months.  We want to tell you that things are getting even better every day here.  Now we have a bigger space and we have a lot of hopes, we’ve thought about a lot of things that we are going to do.  The most important to highlight is that we are like a big family, and united we are going to achieve all of our goals.

More space for more supplies!
And a whole field outside just for us! 
Recently, we had a visit from the Board & other friends of Starfish and for us it was an unforgettable experience.  Both the employees and the students were very excited about their arrival.  Some of the students were able to meet their pen pals, and for each one it was really interesting to meet them in person as they exchanged likes and preferences.  The days that they were here in Ecuador were really fun.  Both in the “Olimpiadas” (field day) and trip to the beach all of the students behaved really well and we are really proud of them.

We’ve also had many visits from volunteers during these months.  They’ve been a lot of help in our tutoring program since they share their cultures with each one of us, in addition to teaching small English classes for the students.  Not too long ago ago 2 of them left and we want to tell them through this blog that we are going to miss them and we hope they come back soon.
With love,
The Flor de Bastión Employees

And for our Spanish-language readers, here is their original text!

Nos sentimos muy contentos de volver a escribirles después de algunos meses. Queremos contarles que las cosas aquí cada día van  mejorando, ahora ya tenemos un lugar más amplio y tenemos muchas expectativas, hemos pensado en muchas cosas que vamos a  hacer y lo importante de destacar es que somos una gran familia y todos unidos vamos a lograr  lo que nos  hemos propuesto.
Recientemente tuvimos la visita de la Directiva y para nosotros fue una experiencia inolvidable, tanto los ayudantes como los chicos nos sentimos  muy emocionados de su llegada. Algunos de los becados conocieron a sus amigos de correspondencia, para cada uno fue muy interesante conocerlos en persona pues intercambiaron gusto y preferencia. Los días que estuvieron aquí en Ecuador fueron muy divertidos tanto en las olimpiadas como en el viaje a la playa todos la chicos tuvieron un muy buen comportamiento y estamos muy orgullosos de ellos.
También hemos tenido visitas de muchos voluntarios estos meses, quienes han sido de mucha ayuda en nuestros refuerzos ya que comparten la cultura de su país con cada uno de nosotros además les dan pequeñas clases de inglés a los chicos. Hace poco dos de ellos se fueron y queremos decirles a través de esta blog que los vamos a extrañar y esperamos regresen pronto.
Con cariño,
Ayudantes “Flor de Bastión “

It’s Back to School season! 2014-2015

The new school year hasn’t quite started yet here in Guayaquil, but we’re already getting ready for the new school year here in Guayaquil.  As the students enjoy their last few weeks of vacation, they are also busy getting their new shoes & uniforms.  The “ayudantes” and I have already purchased new backpacks and notebooks for the year.  Both spaces are starting to look more like real classrooms and we even had our first parent & student meeting a couple of weeks ago.  

This year’s scholars in Flor de Bastión!
Meet some of our Starfish families – both new and old!  And stay tuned for more exciting updates as we approach the start of classes on Monday, May 5!
Starfish Scholar Juliana, her sister and niece!
Starfish Scholars Anthony, Evelyn and Argenis, with their mom and sister,
and new addition – Domenica, Evelyn’s daughter! 
Starfish Scholar Mirka with her mom and sister!
Third-year Starfish Scholar Joel with his mom and younger brother!

Ready for the Rain – Flor Renovation Updates

Two weeks ago we were able to make some great progress on the space lent to us in Flor de Bastión.  You might remember in July when we had a similar “minga” or work day to begin work on the space.  Since then we’ve using the space you see below, but we noticed a few necessary additions made more urgent when rainy season kicked into full gear these past few weeks.  
The “Maestro” hard at work!

Mixing the first batch of cement!

Luckily, we have a great group of dedicated scholars and parents who spent their Sunday doing their part to make sure we have a great place to continue our programs throughout the next 5 months of rainy season!

Who says this is man’s work?  Not Betsy & Karina!!
David, one of our youngest and most enthusiastic participants!

On Sunday we had 3 main goals –
1) Finish the back wall of our classroom

Starfish dad, Aníbal, with Starfish Employee, Marcos.

2) Cement a trench/drain so that water that seeks in the through the sugar cane walls will filter out instead of into our classroom

Step 1 of the drain! 
Finished drain!

3) Clean up the area around outside of the classroom.

Students and parents alike helped clean up in the neighborhood surrounding Starfish.
Thanks to Starfish mom Juana for the great motivation!

We are proud to say that on Sunday we completed all 3 of these important tasks and that our space is now ready for the rain!