Spotlight on a Scholar: Jostin

Guest Writer: Lindsay, Year-long CEA Volunteer

UntitledWhen I first met Jostin, I was only a couple weeks into my volunteer program. I was in a brand new, unfamiliar environment. I had virtually no confidence in myself and was very quiet, and often shied away from opportunities to talk to my colleagues. Jostin was the same, but with his peers. I remember sitting at his group’s table, watching them work together on a project, and Jostin sat quietly to the side. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to participate —  you could see he was actively paying attention and listening to his peers. When presentation day came, and it was Jostin’s turn to present his information, he stepped to the front of the room and froze. His face was blank as he shuffled through his notes. The room was silent. A few tears rolled down his cheek. And the presentation ended.

Not long after that presentation, I was approached by our psychologist, Karen, and our education manager, Fred. After meeting, they determined that Jostin needed more individualized attention, for both social and academic reasons. With my background in Special Education, and experience working with students with unique needs, they thought we’d be a good fit. We determined that our main goal with Jostin would be to improve his handwriting, as his slow speed was the reason he was falling behind in classes. I immediately went to the internet, and we purchased different types of pencils and pencil grips that can help build finger strength and improve handwriting. I also came up with occupational therapy activities that can improve fine motor skills. While I was excited to work with him one-on-one, I was also incredibly nervous.

jostin familyAll of my fears were quickly diminished after our first meeting. That first Monday, along with every Monday to follow, Jostin showed up 10 minutes early and eager to learn. He played along with all of my activities, some of which were successful, and others that just failed. He gave me honest feedback on what strategies helped his writing, and which weren’t a good fit for him. I gave him writing prompts to learn more about him personally and discovered that he has a younger sister, some pets, and wants to be an engineer when he grows up. After further conversation with his school, we also learned that he has a particular difficult situation at home, which could be impacting his social skills and lack of confidence.

Over the course of the next few months, our team here at Starfish did everything we could to support Jostin. While I supported Jostin with his handwriting, Karen did weekly reading comprehension lessons with him. Pamela, his educator at Starfish, acted as his cheerleader and was always encouraging him to be his best. We all had the same goal in mind: to have Jostin come out of his shell and be successful in school.

Flash forward to the present, seeing Jostin now is like seeing a completely different kid. If I look over to his table during tutoring, I no longer see a quiet student sitting off to the side. I see a typical kid chatting, laughing, and collaborating with his peers. Recently, he stood in front of the room and spoke to the group with confidence and ease. It was amazing to see how much he was able to transform, all because of the support we gave him. 

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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.

Ecuadorian Women Who Made History

American historian Laurel Ulrich once said, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” In celebration of Women’s History Month, here are a few of the millions of brave women that have broken all conventional rules to make a difference in the world.vera

Noralma Vera Arrata – Former Ecuadorian Prima Ballerina, choreographer, and Director of the National Dance Institute (Instituto Nacional de Danza)
Born in 1936, she began to dance in 1945 in Guayaquil. In 1957 she traveled to London to perfect her skill at The Royal Ballet. Throughout her career she dances in London, Paris, Ecuador, and Cuba – excelling in both Ballet and Modern.  In 1978, Vera founded her own ballet company and academy in her home city. After retiring from active dancing, Vera worked as a diplomat in Mexico and Cuba.
Fátima Ptacek – Actress and UN Activistfatima

As an actress, she is most well-known as the lead actor in the 2012 Academy Award winning film Curfew and its 2014 full-length feature film version Before I Disappear. She has also been the voice of “Dora” in Nickelodeon’s animated television series Dora the Explorer since 2010. As a UN activist, she has played an active role in the #HeForShe campaign for gender equality.  She is currently 16 years old, fluent in Spanish, English and Mandarin, and has expressed interest in transitioning from acting to a career in law someday.

Judith Gutiérrez Moscoso – Painter
Gutiérrez worked in multiple media including painting, sculpture, graphics, decoratives and applied installation. She also made puppets, costumes, and scenery for puppet shows. Her most famous pieces were the the Paraíso and Nocturno series. Gutierrez was known for ingenious composition of figures, incorporating symbols, and mystical scenes; nature, men, women, and the cosmos, are all the general components of her works. The critic Jorge Dávila Vásquez said that her work featured “the primitivism of those furtive encounters of man with the little demons of his childhood, nurtured by the religious Christian imaginary.”

judith - paraiso No. 2
Paraiso No. 2

aliciaAlicia Yáñez Cossío – Poet, Novelist, Journalist
Alicia is one of the leading figures in Ecuadorian literature and in Latin America, and she is the first Ecuadorian to win the Premio Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, which she received in 1996. Born in 1928 and raised in Quito she had “an extremely happy childhood, maybe a bit boyish, influenced by the first books I read: the works of Julio Verne and Tarzan’s feats.” Male chauvinism is a recurring theme in her writing. Irony, sarcasm and hyperbole make evident twisted masculine superiority and she often critiques social concepts such as virginity and homosexuality.  One of her more famous novels is “El Cristo Feo” (“The Ugly Christ”). In 1996 she received the Premio Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz for the best Latin American novel written by a woman.

While I could write on and on about these women and others, I instead encourage you to look into your own female role models and learn more about the contributions they have made to society – past or present. And, as always, be sure to remember the women who are close to you – teachers, principals, businesswomen – who have encouraged you to find your voice, helped you overcome obstacles, or challenged you to think differently.

Book Recommendations from Starfish Staff, Scholars, and Volunteers

Did you know? March is not only Women’s History month, but also Literacy Month. In honor of this special occasion, I decided to take a swim around and find out what some of people’s favorite books are. Here are some of the book reviews I gathered:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Atrapado sin salida) by Ken Kesey
“I love this book because it tells the story of a misinterpreted group of people. bajo la misma estrella.inddAlso, it is written uniquely through a unprecedented perspective.” – Michelle

Bajo la Misma Estrella (The Fault in our Stars) by John Green
“It’s a romance book about 2 young people who have cancer. They fall in love and live many happy moments together in spite of knowing that they had. They were very happy together.” – Diego

Watership Down (La colina de Watership) by Richard Adams
“It’s a family tradition to read this novel about an incredible journey of fellowship, loss, struggle, and triumph. Every time I read it, I learn more about myself and the world around me, and it has helped me to become who I am today.” – Sara W.left to tell

Left to Tell (Sobrevivir para Contarlo) by Immaculee Illibagiza or Tattoos on the Heart (Tatuajes en el corazón) by Greg Boyle
“The first is a powerful story of forgiveness after the Rwandan genocide through the author’s Catholic faith, and the second is A personal account about his work with mostly-Latino gang youth in LA. I’ve had the blessing to hear them both speak, and it is UNREAL to learn about their real-life experiences and their powerful character! What beautiful people.” – Beth

“Lágrimas de Ángeles” (Tears of Angels) by Edna Iturralde
“I like this book because it helps me realize the kind of life many kids without homes live. They are exploited and forced to work by unscrupulous people. It tells the story of Jaime, who lives with his dad, but runs away and gets lost in a new city. He decides to walk and he finds a girl the same age as him. She lives on the street and works at the stoplights with a lot of other kids. Jaime stays to live with them in the street and that’s when he beings to experience how life is.” – Lili

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
“I love those books because they transported me to a world that I would love to be a part of, even only while reading. I think it also helps that there are 7 of them, so they were with me for the entire second half of my childhood.” – Veronica
“My favorite book when I was younger was the Prisoner of Azkaban – the third part of the Harry Potter series. It’s very exciting to read. It’s about another adventure of Harry, Hermione and Ron, this time a dangerous assassin escapes from Azkaban and is going after Harry.” – William

harry potter

El Prínicipe Feliz (The Happy Prince) by Oscar Wilde
“It’s about a place high up in a city where there was a statue of a prince, and everyone who looked at it was impressed by the beauty and happiness of the statue. For them the statue represented the existence of happy people in the world.”

The Kite Runner (Cometas en el cielo) by Khaled Hosseini
“This is one of those books that I just couldn’t put down; I read the whole thing in a day, and thought about the story for months afterwards. Following the story of two young boys from Kabul, it is a powerful story of mistakes, guilt, betrayal, relationships, forgiveness of others and yourself, and the struggle for redemption.” – Amanda

Beloved by Toni Morrison
“Although I hated Beloved upon my first reading, revisiting it for a college course completely changed my opinion of it. While I still struggle with some aspects of it, it made me question the way that I judge other people and their decisions, and gave me even more motivation to be an open-minded reader and individual overall.” – Sara W.IJ00335601_sobrecub_canterville.indd

El fantasma de Canterville (The Canterville Ghost) by Oscar Wilde
“I had a mix of many emotions when I was reading this short story about a rich family from the United States who buys a castle where a ghost was living. The ghost had scared away many families who had tried to live in the castle previously, but, this family didn’t pay attention to the actions of the ghost.” – William

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

Semana Santa en Ecuador = Holy Week in Ecuador

As you may know, it is Holy Week!  Christians around the world celebrate holy week beginning with Palm Sunday and all throughout the week leading up to Easter.  Here in Ecuador, traditions are similar to what a Christian in the U.S. may experience.  Many people attend extra daily masses, especially on Holy Thursday and a special service on Good Friday.

What’s different about the celebration of Holy Week in Ecuador is the importance given to these days.  Generally, large community wide activities are planned, and many people participate in these gatherings.  It is a time for church communities to reflect and pray together.  One common tradition across many communities is the acting out of the Stations of the Cross.  As is common in many churches around the world, many faithful participate in the stations of the cross weekly throughout Lent.  In Ecuador, communities come together to act out the stations of the crosses, going from house to house or various locations for each station.  Pictured (above & below) are youth from a local youth group acting out the stations of the cross a few years ago.  Processions take over city streets and even those who might not regularly attend mass take some time out of the day to participate in these events.

Holy Week & the Easter season in Ecuador is also characterized by certain foods, traditionally only served at this time of year.  One such food is Fanesca (pictured below), a pumpkin based soup with various beans, grains and codfish or “bacalao“.  It sometimes also contains plantains, eggs and other seasonings.  Many varieties specifically contain 12 different kinds of beans or grains to represent the 12 disciples.  Other traditional Easter foods included arroz con leche, humitas (prepared similarly to tamales), colada de maíz, and mashed potatoes.
Since Ecuador is predominantly Catholic, most of the country shuts down to take part.  Holy Week in Ecuador is truly something special and very powerful to experience.

Noise – A Reflection on Life in Ecuador

A Reflection on Life in Ecuador through the Eyes of a Starfish Volunteer

        I woke up the first morning to noise. The rooster´s shrieks were the first to catch my attention. Then the dogs began to compete with the roosters to see who could be louder. Next began, what sounded like, nonsense words yelled by an adult followed by a chanting response from a crowd of kids. Motorcycles roared by and street vendors yelled promoting their products. All of these noises sounded like they were happening right beside my bed due to the lack of a windowpane in the window.

I laid their in my bed, wide awake, wondering what I had gotten myself into. Where was my quiet and peaceful room? There are no roosters or street vendors in my middle-class American neighborhood, and my room has windows to keep out any noises on the street.

But, as I spent more time here in Ecuador I began to understand more. Those rosters are a source of food and nutrients; those dogs are the people´s pets; the kids are students learning their syllables through repetition; those vendors are working hard to provide for their families. As I learned more about the life here, the noises just became sounds, and after awhile the sounds became somewhat musical.

The sounds don´t wake me up any more – they don’t bother me at all; it actually feels strange to hear the sound of silence.

Written by current Starfish Volunteer in Ecuador, Patrick Lydon