We Asked; They Answered: Favorite School Subjects

Hi all,

Happy December! This week I floated on over to Ecuador to ask some of our scholars “¿Cuál es tu materia favorita y por que?” so they could let us know about their favorite subjects and why.

Joselyn is a huge fan of Language Arts. When I asked why, she said:

“I like it because it teaches us how to express ourselves and not be afraid in to speak in front of others. In my school my Language teacher always asks us to summarize what we understood from the lecture; we also act out legends or real life stories.

This subject is really important for us because we learn to express ourselves and be well spoken when it’s our turn to speak.

Joselyn also talked about the importance of speaking well to provide examples for others. “Nowadays there are many people who use language incorrectly, especially in certain neighborhoods.” When children hear this, they pick up bad habits and start speaking the same way. “So let’s be conscious of that and be part of the change!” she encourages.

Bryan is also partial to Language Arts. “I think it teaches us a lot of things, such as how to express ourselves, how to develop skills like spelling, speaking, and calligraphy.”

Bryan also thinks this subject is important because he hopes to grow up to be like one of his idols, Eugenio Espejo. “Why like Eugenio Espejo? Because he was a great Literature writer, and he could always perform well in every field he practiced because he was a well educated and prominent person.” Bryan also hopes to make his mother proud by meeting each of the goals he sets for himself. Studying literature helps bring him closer to meeting his goals.

eugenioFun Fact: Eugenio Espejo was a writer, lawyer, and medical pioneer from Ecuador. He was Quito’s first journalist and hygienist.
You can read a full bio here in English
Or here in Spanish 

Geovanny’s favorite subject is English. He likes the subject because he finds it interesting and hopes to speak the language fluently some day. Sometimes reaching that goal is hard, and his advice for anyone who is struggling with a subject is “to continue studying, and find something that motivates you. My family motivates me because it is because of them that I am going to graduate, and be able to help them.”

As always, it’s a treat to check in with our scholars. I hope to see you all again next week!

Until then,


Starfish Scholar Spotlight: Ysis Matias

Hello, Henry here! I recently checked in with Ysis Matias, one of the Starfish Scholars, to get a feel for what an average day is like. We talked about her goals, her role models, and life in Ecuador. I can’t thank her enough for taking the time to share her thoughts with us, so without further ado, I’m passing this over to Ysis.

Hello, my name is Ysis. I imagine myself being in another country within 7 years. My favorite subject is English because I think it’s very important to learn since it’s universal and it will help me a lot in life. I’d like to be an orthodontist because that profession really calls my attention, or I’d like to keep learning languages because I really like learning other languages.

The person that’s helped me realize my academic strengths is my mom. She always supports me in all my big ideas for what I’d like to do.

At 7am I get to school, I hang out for 20 minutes with my friends and classmates and then leave school at 1:45 to eat lunch. After I go to Starfish and do my homework and then head home. I have to think about what I value more when I get home, when I see my parents working hard to give me everything they really motivate me. I’m proud of them and of my country and its great president who’s made our country known to a lot of the world.

The thing I’d like to change would be how society thinks, to get everyone talk and see the realities of society and what really is happening, then we can find a solution if we only look together.

Wow, what an amazing young lady! I’ll share stories from more students throughout the Fall, so stay tuned to get an inside look at what our Starfish Scholars are thinking, dreaming about, and getting excited about. I can’t wait to share their stories with you.

Until next time!

Spotlight on a scholar: Itaty

Meet Itaty Morocho, a bright, talented 14 year old Starfish scholar whose determination and hard work has enabled her to reach for, and achieve, her goals.

The oldest of 5, Itaty serves as a motivated, positive role model for her younger siblings. Itaty and her mother are very involved in our community, always willing to devote their time and energy into Starfish, thus entering into the cycle of receiving and giving that we try to cultivate here at Starfish. Itaty is an inspiration to her classmates, her family, and the entire Starfish community! A few months ago, she and Luiggi were nominated to go through a competitive selection process to be on the city-wide student council in Guayaquil (as we elaborated on in a previous blog post: Guayaquil Student Council! ).

And as of recent news, Itaty has been nominated for a prestigious English scholarship! The road to winning the scholarship is long and intense, and Itaty has had to prepare for several interviews and presentations. 70 students from the Guayaquil’s school system were chosen to enter into the scholarship contest, and 30 of those original 70 actually receive the scholarship (becado). For the first stage of the scholarship process, Itaty prepared a papelografo, a large poster board, and she also participated in group activities in which all the candidates’ skills were evaluated and critiqued. The next phase is a house visit, in which the scholarship committee went to the candidates’ homes and conducted an informal interview. A formal interview is the last step in the determination of who receives the scholarships. Best of luck, Itaty!

Update as of February 21, 2016: 
Itaty got the scholarship!!!

She will get to study English for three years free of cost at an excellent school sponsored by the U.S. consulate. At the end of the three years she will take an exam that will prove her proficiency in English. March 7, 2016 is her first day of class! Congratulations, Itaty- we are so proud of you.

A day in the life of a Starfish Volunteer

A day in the life: Thursday 23rd October 2014

I shuffle around in bed trying to silence my alarm clock before it wakes the rest of the house. Get up, get washed and dressed, bread and honey for breakfast and some strong, sweet coffee to wake me up. I eat with Nancy, a fellow volunteer, and our host mother, Filadelphia. Charge our volunteer phones. Out the door.

“It’s chilly today,” we say to each other. It’s 24ºC/75ºF. The bus pulls up, Nancy and I give the driver 25 cents each and hang on for dear life. People going to work, children going to school.

We pull in to the bus station and hurry across the platform to the next Metrovía. Only three stops on the express service, packed like sardines in a tin can. We disembark when the exotic Iglesia Victoria gardens slide into view.

We cross the street and the number 49 arrives after a couple of minutes. 25 cents to the bus driver, take a seat on the empty bus. We navigate the busy city centre, the bus filling up rapidly as we take turn after turn. Men selling coconut water, boiled sweets and apples get on and off again.

The bus reaches the motorway, the breeze whips through our hair, huge green hills and the dusty air lays a soft coffee-coloured haze over everything we see. Newly built roads and bridges and parks, with a message from the Mayor: “esto es tuyo – cuídalo”. This is yours – take care of it.

We hop off the bus and catch an auto rickshaw hasta bloque 15 por favor. It’s 31°C/88ºF. Up the dirt road, down the hill, across the rope bridge over the sludgy stream, two houses up and three to the left. No street signs in Flor de Bastión.

At the Foundation building, we greet the educadores with a kiss on the cheek and take a seat. Just two of us this week; the other volunteer is giving guitar lessons to the local children in the suburb where we all live. I help Joselyn with her algebra homework, and as usual Mirka has a thousand and one intelligent questions about yesterday’s English lesson at school.

I teach this week’s English lesson at the Foundation using World Food Day as our theme. The kids pore over images of exotic dishes from around the world. Does tagine come from Morocco or Egypt? And what ingredients go into a bowl of ramen?

The kids go home to get ready for school. We are taken in by the Rodriguez family, close friends of Starfish who volunteer to look after us until the afternoon, solely out of the kindness of their hearts. The entire house is the size of my parents’ living room. We talk to Señora Leonela about her sewing business, look through family photos and play with little Ashley and Emily. The sun shines through the newspaper glued over the wooden slats that form the walls. The mango tree outside is beginning to bear fruit.

Lunch is a steaming bowl of soup, followed by marinated chicken on a bed of rice. Mugs of freshly squeezed orange juice sit on the table. I know they are pulling out all the stops for us. As we eat, Kiara and Michelle arrive home from school, where they have been since 7am that morning. We’ll see them again at the Foundation in the afternoon.

We say muchísimas gracias and chao, and return to the Foundation. It’s one large room with a dirt playing field outside. Inside, the walls are covered in photos of community service days, visits from American board members, the kids with their families, the kids working with volunteers, the kids playing pelota. One wall is covered in colourful handprints, our way of christening this beautiful new space.

The students who had school in the morning arrive for the Foundation’s afternoon refuerzo session. This cohort is older and has a larger percentage of becados – pupils who receive academic scholarships from Starfish in return for consistently high grades, regular attendance at the Foundation’s monthly meetings and good behaviour. Cristhian greets me in English and Pamela asks me about my life in London; as usual they are impeccably presented, witty, smiling, inquisitive, bursting at the seams with youth and ambition.

The English lesson goes down well, to say the least. We are writing about our favourite foods, and the usual suspects surface: encebollado, arroz con pollo, ceviche. Then we write about the foods we’ve never eaten that we’d like to try, and the list is more varied: American deep-dish pizza, Japanese sushi, Indian curry, Greek salad, Mexican tacos, Italian lasagne. For a second I imagine winning the lottery and taking the entire group to Europe for a food tour.

We’ve overrun by half an hour. The tables have been cleared but Argenis is crouching on the floor, leaning his paper against a chair and asking me about forming the conditional mood in English.  I wish for 25 hours in the day or at least enough time to give all the Starfish scholars the private lessons they deserve.

Jenn has given us a lift all the way to the bridge but we’re late because we’ve stopped to buy chocolate coconut cake the size of our fists for 30 cents each. On the bus back I daydream about a future in which the Starfish students achieve their dreams of becoming doctors and teachers, of travelling the world, of supporting their families on the journey out of poverty. Today was one more step along that road.

We race past the softly lit river as dusk begins to fall. Overhead, two huge flags fly proudly in the evening breeze: red, blue and yellow for this diverse and captivating country, and blanco y celeste for our city, beautiful beyond words.

We’re back in Guasmo. I rearrange my English lesson for use the next day, then try and fail miserably not to fall asleep.

Filadelphia wakes me for dinner. It’s seco de pollo and I can’t eat it quickly enough. Must write that recipe down somewhere. We chat to Leo about his day; our other ñaños are working. I write a quick Facebook message to my family and friends, check my emails, brainstorm ideas for next week’s English lesson.

I set my alarm for 7.45am; we’ll be volunteering here in Guasmo tomorrow morning. Buenas noches.

Written by current Starfish Volunteer in Ecuador, Sanchia Rodrigues (below, right)

Meet our newest volunteer, Danny!

This week we hear from Danny – a recent Villanova graduate and Starfish’s newest volunteer. Danny has worked with Starfish at Villanova through Business Without Borders and a class where he helped design a Salesforce database specifically designed for Starfish’s unique needs. Now Danny personally gets to see the Foundation that he has worked so hard to help over the past year or so!

Danny with Starfish volunteer Andrew, helping Yesenia and Yamileth with their homework.

Wednesday, June 12

“This past week has been a bit of a whirlwind of learning new things, meeting new people, and going to new places. I have never taken a Spanish class and know very little Spanish, so using and learning Spanish was definitely a worry of mine before coming here. It has been kind of fun communicating with students using English, Spanish, hand motions, etc. I have been quickly trying to pick up the most important questions and phrases in Spanish. Most importantly, the first question that the students always asked me during my introductions involved “Barcelona or Emelec?”(The two soccer teams in Guayaquil).

Danny’s first day with the kids. (Jenn’s note – Danny chose Barcelona for his Guayaquil team!)

Communication with me usually involves a student saying a sentence to me in seemingly very fast and mumbled Spanish, me have a confused blank stare on my face, the student changing the sentence to a few key words, me understanding a couple words, another person helping with translation, and finally unanimous jubilation after comprehension is reached!

Danny helping André with some English homework.

I have enjoyed helping students with their English homework. English is not an easy language to learn! It has also been a lot of fun playing games (Uno is my personal favorite) and sharing knowledge of English and Spanish with each other.

Danny & Andrew playing Uno with Starfish Employees Marcos, Yuliana and Valeria during the break!

In the four days that I have been with the students, I can already see their talent, potential, and leadership skills. Quick story: For Solange’s birthday today, we had cake. Once the cake came, a couple curious very young children came and quietly watched us eat. Without being asked, some of the Starfish students went out and offered their cake to the children. I was very impressed with the servant leadership qualities displayed here. Ecuador, and the rest of the world, needs places like Starfish to provide environments for talented and caring leaders like the girls mentioned above to flourish. I am excited to continue to learn and help where I can during the rest of my time here!”

The afternoon crew in Guasmo!

Volunteer Update – Meet Andrew!

Meet our first volunteer of this school year – Andrew.  Andrew is with us doing an internship for Florida Atlantic University’s Honors College.  During his time he will be teaching English and helping out with our tutoring program.  Today Andrew shares with us a reflection on his first week in Ecuador.

Andrew & Steve during our tutoring program.

“I have been working with Starfish now for about a week and I can say with confidence that this will be a week that I will never in my life forget.  Many times when you come across the odd gringo here in South America they look like they are running away from something.  For me, I just want to highlight that my experiences in Ecuador have been something very much running toward.  While I didn’t know what I was looking for when I decided to come here I have found an extraordinary group of students and families here at Starfish and am amazing host family who were willing to open their doors to me and had the patience to work with my basic knowledge of Spanish to try to explain things.

Andrew teaching his first English lesson in Guasmo.
For the past week I have been helping the students with their English homework and attempting to teach English when we have spare time.  What I value most about my time in Starfish is the free time I have occasionally just to sit and talk to the kids about anything and everything we could possibly talk about. Although much is lost in translation, that exchange of ideas I believe is going to have a lasting impact of my perspective on the world, hopefully I also have some useful perspective to share.”

“Aprendamos juntos” or “Let’s learn together” is one of Andrew’s favorite phrases.  Here he exchanges language & cultural lesson with Cristhian and Eddy.

Be a Shooting Star!

Our students may be on break, but we certainly aren’t!  During summer break we are busy working on grants, updating our social media and selecting a new group of scholars among many other tasks.  Want to get involved?  Why not volunteer for Starfish!

We have several virtual volunteer positions available in Grant Writing, Social Media, Website Design as well as positions in Ecuador for a Before & After School Program Coordinator, Music Teacher or other project suited to your interests and skills.  Past and current volunteers have worked on projects in fundraising, database management, grant writing and social media in the U.S. as well as photography, before & after school program help, nutrition & gardening and English in Ecuador.

Our volunteer positions are great for recent grads, summer interns and anyone looking to put in a few hours of volunteer work for a great cause.  If you’re passionate about making a difference in the education and lives of young people in Ecuador, this is for you!

Review our website http://www.thestarfishchange.org/volunteer.html and then contact Jenn & Beth at thestarfishchange@gmail.com if interested in getting involved!