“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

2017 So Far

Wow everyone, I can’t believe it’s already April! Now that we’re three months through 2017, I think it’s time to take a look back at what we’ve accomplished so far!

January:

  • In January, our volunteer Ellie continued with the English classes with both the students and educators. Also, the students were able to hold a party for Three King’s Day, on January 6th. The party involved playing and having a grab bag for each student. Next, there was a meeting held on January 15th, in which scholarship recipients completed activities related to the leadership school. The students had a great time and enjoyed it a lot!

Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 10.56.53 AM

  • We have also continued our tutoring classes! This month the classes were focused on nouns, sentences, comma usage and other grammar points.
  • Finally, we held a Community Service Workshop. Overall, January was a great month for the Starfish Foundation!

February:

  • In February, our volunteer Ellie completed the English classes with the students and educators. Great job, Ellie!
  • Students presented their final projects at Starfish, where they were able to demonstrate the skills they learned at our new and improved classes these past 5 months. Their project was called “Around the World,” and each group was to pick a country they had never researched previously. Then, they were to research, make a PowerPoint and present to the class, while including a creative piece such as traditional dress, traditional food, etc.Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 10.58.11 AM
  • The high school students also carried out three projects with the community in February, which they’ve planned throughout the year. Stay on the lookout for our upcoming blog posts to get an update on their projects!
  • This month, our tutoring classes were held in conjunctions, upper and lowercase letters and public communication.
  • Finally, the Leadership School held their second workshop this month, where the topic was how to be a good leader. Activities were created for students to find out their flaws, virtues, interests and values and then how these attributes make them a good leader.

March:

  • This month was the end of the school year for students!
  • In March, we received over 100 scholarship applications and are excited to welcome 54 full scholarship recipients and 16 conditional scholarship recipients!
  • We also held our year end ceremonies in March. In Guasmo, the ceremony was on March 12th and in Flor de Bastion, the ceremony was held on March 17th! For the students with the best grades, we went on a field trip to Bucay at the end of the month.
  • Coming up, we have a new summer reading initiative! Starfish students are expected to read daily, complete a reading log and attend weekly sessions for 1 month to discuss what they’re reading, with our educators.

These past three months were absolutely great and we can’t wait to see what the next three have in store!

Until next time,
Henry

“I Choose to Learn” and Other Initiatives

In addition to the work done with our scholars, The Starfish Foundation also works with adults and other members of the community through “The Parents School” and “I Choose to Learn”. I spent some time this week learning about these various initiatives so I could share the information with you.

The Parents School happens once a month (the last Sunday of the month). During this time, Psychology professionals conduct workshops and therapies. Although children are not required to participate in parents school, about 15 to 20 scholars are involved per month.

At the first meeting of The Parents School staff took the time to get to know the concerns of and ask suggestions from them to use for future meetings.choose-to-learn

These monthly meetings also allow them to make connections and converse with other parents, as well as for Starfish staff to meet with and have a better understanding of their lives. The open communication helps everyone see from each other’s point of views, and encourages everyone to be open-minded.

In October, the topic of the month was “Equity in Household Activities.” Given by psychologist Edwin Alvarado, its objective was to understand the difficulties that the parents have when designating household chores.

During this session, parents and children worked in groups to make posters “indicating the discomforts of families and possible suggestions when designating the tasks at home”. Through this, participants realized the importance of their functions within the home, and parents gained an appreciation of the importance of having patience, as well as good balance between showing love and the authority.

What an important lesson! Next I got to hear about the “I Choose to Learn program” offered.

I Choose to Learn was originally a program aimed at mothers, but is now open to both mothers as well as youth in the community (both scholars and non-scholars). The goal is to help these individuals create items or complete tasks that generate income. Some projects include making wallets, purses, holsters, change purses, hairbands, and foam crafts.

The methodology for maintaining income is that for each item made, the participants will sell it and then half of the profit is for them and the other half is to buy the materials.

I wish them the best of the luck as they become aspiring entrepreneurs!

Until next time,
Henry

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

Día de los Difuntos

In Ecuador, every November 2nd is a national holiday. This is the day that cemeteries are decorated with crosses, crowns and flowers. This is done to immortalize loved ones that have passed away to eternal life. This is the day that the ones that pray meet with the ones that have already met death.

On the days leading up to Día de los Difuntos, Ecuadorian families clean their loved ones’ coffins so when the day comes they can fill their day with prayers for them or share customs that the loved one used to do when he or she was alive.

Lastly, in remembrance of this day, people make colada morada and traditional guagas de pan. On this holiday in November, families get together to visit the loved ones that have passed.

Fun Fact: Colada morada is a traditional Ecuadorian beverage prepared with black corn flour and fruits such as naranjilla, babaco, pineapple, blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries

Fun Fact 2: Guagas de pan also known as T’anta wawa is a type of sweet roll shaped and decorated in the form of a small child or infant. They are generally made of wheat and sometimes contain a sweet filling.

I checked in with some of our educators and staff in Ecuador to see how they and their families spend Día de los Difuntos.

Jessica Párraga says, “Each November 2nd, my family usually gets together in the morning at the Gardens of Hope Cemetery  to visit our family members that have passed away. In the afternoon, the entire family goes to one of my uncles’ houses to have lunch, and play secret Santa which is another one of our traditions that lets us get together again for Christmas…For us, the Day of the Dead is a holiday where my entire family gets to be together.

William Segura says, “It is an incredible holiday!”

He continues, “In my opinion, the November holiday is one of the most fun, along with Carnival. My entire family gets together to share experiences and make delicious food, which is the most representative thing about this holiday. The food is delicious because it incorporates fruits from the mountain, flours, and more. During Día de los Difuntos, many families take advantage to visit their loved ones. My family is no exception. I have relatives spread throughout the country and every holiday I get to go to a different place.

What I love the most about this holiday is eating guaguas de pan, which are little dolls made of bread  – and they taste great! – with colada morada made of pineapple, mango and citrus fruits.”

It was lovely getting to learn more about this extra special holiday in Ecuador and experiencing some of our staffs’ family traditions. I thank Jessica and William for sharing their stories with me.

Happy November!
xxx Henry

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.

Blog post from our Educadores: Pamela y Jasmin

Today, we feature a short blog post about the importance of being an active member of a community, from two of our educadores in Flor, Pamela Rodriguez and Jasmin Tumbaco.

If today, we take small actions to improve our community, then in the future, we will be able to see the results of our hard work.
Community
Today, many problems exist within society- within communities themselves. One of these issues is the lack of communication that exists about things that affect our environment- both the ecological environment, and the community that we live in. Our goals, as members of the community, are not limited simply to enhancing the academic or economic systems in which we live; we also strive to impact the youth and children of our society. One way that we can concretely help to better our environment is to recycle, and we have been learning how to use, and reuse, material in a creative way, and helping to make our own community more sustainable!
Do you want to help us change the world?

Pamela Rodriguez

Jasmin Tumbaco

 

en español: 
Si empezamos hoy ayudando con pequeñas cosas a nuestra comunidad en el futuro veremos los resultados.

Communidad! 
Hoy en día existen muchos problemas dentro de la sociedad.

Uno de ellos es la falta de comunicación sobre cosas que afectan al medio ambiente nuestro objetivo no es solo ayudar académicamente o económicamente sino también a jóvenes y a niños una manera de ayudar y hacer conocer a las personas de su entorno que se pueda hacer por mejorarlo y es por eso que aquí aprendemos a utilizar material reciclable de una manera creativa y dinámica.


¿Quieres ayudarnos a cambiar el mundo?

Breaking Bread with Aldefa, a guest post by Annalise Deal

Today we feature a reflection post by Annalise Deal, a sophomore at Boston College studying Theology and English, whose passion for learning Spanish and discovering Latin American culture inspired her to participate in Boston College’s Arrupe program. Thank you, Annalise, for your sharing your experience with us! 

Breaking Bread with Aldefa 

By Annalise Deal

This month, I was fortunate enough to be one of the 150 Boston College students who travelled to Latin America through the Arrupe International Immersion Program. My group of fifteen and I travelled to Puebla, Mexico to participate in a week of service and various immersive activities. We met a lot of people and gathered countless impactful stories along the way, but the story that has stuck with me the most was that of my host mother, Adelfa. For two nights, myself and two other girls stayed with her in her home in the village of Tecuanipan, outside of Puebla city. This is her story. 
Born into a family of nine children Adelfa and many of her siblings have struggled with chronic heart failure since they were young. Due to a lack of affordable health care, they have been unable to receive formal treatment. So despite an effort to change their diets, at age 50, she has already lost three of her siblings, and one is currently not doing well. Also due to their poverty growing up, she never finished elementary school because her parents could not afford uniforms or transportation to get her there. She recently finished elementary and middle school at the adult night school in Tecuanipan center. This year, she took a painting class there, and next semester she plans to take basket weaving. 
She and her husband Aceuencio have two sons: Edgar and Ivan. Before having Ivan, they lost their first baby, likely because of inadequate neonatal care. Their second son, Ivan, was born with multiple brain tumors, which were removed right after he was born. However, as Adelfa said, “su cabeza no funciona” (“his head doesn’t work”) so he was never able to go to school. Now he has a job in Cholula and seems to be doing alright. Their third son, Edgar, migrated to the U.S. six years ago, when he was only 20. He currently lives in Brooklyn and works as a line cook. Adelfa hasn’t seen him since he left, and when I asked if she has ever considered visiting him she clapped and said “que deportarme así!” (“they would deport me just like that!”) She then tried to convince one of us to move to Brooklyn to find her son and marry him, so that she could have grandchildren and a daughter-in-law who would be willing to move back to Mexico. 
Now, Adelfa lives a quiet life with her husband, son, and nephew, in a simple house with a dirt courtyard and a detached kitchen. The have a mule, a horse, countless bunnies and chickens, four adorable dogs, two cats and some doves. Despite all of the tragedy they have gone through as a family Adelfa clings to her Christian faith. Every time we tried to say “gracias,” she would respond, “No, gracias a Dios” (thanks to God). She prays often, loves her bible, and is guided in everything she does by the promise of eternal life which she believes awaits her. Her strength and resilience to come through such a troubled life, and still be so full of joy and constantly cracking jokes was remarkable. 
Before we left, our head coordinator Margaret often reminded us of the word “acompañarse” which means to accompany; it is the essence of solidarity. That word is made up of the Spanish words “con pan” or, “with bread,” which comes from the story of the Last Supper. Jesus, in his life and ministry, often showed the power of sharing bread, and this trip really brought that idea to life for me. It is one thing to know what poverty is, or have an intellectual understanding of the immigration crisis. It is a different thing entirely to sit at a small plastic table late at night, laughing together, drinking warm milk and eating fresh, bright pink pan dulce. 
I will carry Adelfa’s story with me as I move forward in my college career and beyond, attempting to make some difference in the world. I will remember how she broke bread with us, and in doing so, formed an emotional and spiritual bond that transcends geographic distance. Although our week in Tecuanipan did not reverse the seemingly insurmountable problems the people there face, sharing meals with them reminded us of the value and power of community, which knows no borders.