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

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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).

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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.

Leadership School

leadership school 2Last year at the Starfish Foundation we implemented a new project related to the Leadership program, called The Leader’s School, where students learned concepts of how to be a good leader through a set of practice activities.

In the first class participants were able to draw on leadership concepts and see how different types of leadership can be applied in the different facets of life. The conclusion? There is no ideal type of leader. Everyone has different leadership skills and abilities, and the type of leadership required, varies depending on the situation. By the end of the session, almost everyone was eager to share their opinions.

“The Leadership School was excellent, because each one of us participated and we could also share in the group our opinions about how to be a good leader.” – Lucy

In the second class, participants were shown that in order to be a leader they need to know their own interests, weaknesses, and strengths. There was also a discussion about how moral values play a part in determining leadership style and success. To demonstrate this, we held an “Auction of Values”, where students were forced to rank the values ​​in order of importance.

“In my opinion the Leadership School has helped me a lot, because everything I have learned can be used in my daily life, for example, how to be a good leader at school, how to distinguish different types of Leaders and how to lead a group.” – Joselyn del Valle

Cecelia, one of our Starfish educators added, “The Leadership School has been a very enriching experience for the students because they have learned the qualities of a leader and have put them into practice, in addition to learning how certain types of leaders develop. This has allowed them to be more participatory and entrepreneurial in the projects they have carried out.” leadership school 1

As the leadership school continues to meet, we continue to improve the structure of the project – always looking for the best way for students to learn, to have fun, and, above all, to help improve their performance, both now as a student and in the future as professionals.

To help us continue to offer influential programs like the leadership school, support the Starfish Foundation today.

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.

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!

xx
Henry

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-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.

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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.