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!

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  • 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

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

Speedy Championship

Hey there!

Your favorite fish here and I’m here to give you a special update on a soccer tournament that we recently pulled off at Flor de Bastión.

The soccer tournament was a new endeavor and as with any new endeavor, the students and staff were a little nervous when they first decided to hold the tournament.But in the end, they pulled of an incredible event – The Starfish students and staff helped organize everything from recruitment to photography, and from selling snacks to security.

Together, they were able to recruit nine teams of seven players from the community and from other parts of the city. How great is that? On June 5th, the players, students, and staff gathered for a day of 5 v 5 soccer, and, as you can see, the teams had so much fun!

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The first and second place teams took home small cash prizes (and the joy of winning), and any remaining money from registrations, as well as proceeds from the water and empanadas sold, went as a donation to Starfish – raising over $230.

The students report, “everyone went home content and satisfied… We went beyond our goals.” A huge thank you to the teachers, parents, students, and community members who made this possible!

The successful “Campeonato Relampago” as they called it, and all the money raised is going to renovating the Starfish office space to help more Starfish dreams come true.

So what dreams are our little starfish working on?

Our little Starfish have been busy with community service projects and high school senior projects. At the start of the year, many of them wondered “how can I get involved in my community?” Starfish staff worked with them to help them identify their skills and talents so they could share them with the local community. While continuously welcoming new members to the service group, these students have been visiting shelters, planning activities for Starfish, and doing communal work in the area. I, for one, couldn’t be more proud of them!

These kids are full of good ideas, good will, and a love for helping others. Their reward? Meeting challenges, the experiences they get from meeting new people, and the smiles they get for their efforts.

Let us be part of the change! How many smiles are you willing to draw?

More soon!

-Henry

Feliz Navidad!

To offer a glimpse into our communities in Flor and Guasmo, here is what we’ve been up to recently!

A few months ago, we introduced a workshop for our educadores, the purpose of which was to cultivate technology and communication skills, thus enhancing our educadores’ confidence and abilities in the professional world. We’ve been continuing these professional development workshops, which have so far been a great success! Furthermore, as we mentioned previously, our new psychologist, Karen, has been creating more workshops, which strive to further inform, educate, and empower our students.

In terms of more exciting news, we recently took the students on a field trip to a water park as a Christmas present! Our bingo event held this past November provided us with these funds, and we and the students are grateful for this opportunity to receive such a gift.

The Advent season, a period of four weeks in preparation for Christmas, is a time of hope, faith, joy, and peace, each theme represented by one candle on the advent wreath. These virtues are visibly present in our students, who continuously demonstrate these beautiful virtues.

Christmas, especially, is a time in which “We must give cheerfully and accept gratefully” (Maya Angelou). Our students bring us hope, faith, joy, and peace, and they teach us how to give and receive with open and happy hearts. We are grateful for our students, our educadores, and all of the support we receive in the forms of donations and volunteers.

Below are some photos from our Fiesta de Navidad where both of our Starfish communities from Flor & Guasmo came together to have fun & celebrate.  Also a big thanks to Colegio “Domingo Savio” and “Big Cola” for providing donations to make this event even better!! i


It looks like Santa joined us for our fiesta!


In addition to our games and gifts, our Christmas festivities included face painting!

October Update from Flor

Our educadores in Flor highlight the recent events of the past month at Starfish. October has been packed with activities for our students! In the past few weeks, there has been a short vacation from school, in which the Flor Starfish educadores hosted a flea market to generate funds for Starfish. Also in the past month, our students have participated in several workshops, including a Sexuality and Gender Equality workshop, whose aims are to bring awareness, knowledge, and confidence to our students!

Words from our educadores: 

We began vacation time with a flea market that for us, was very successful! Many people came and bought large amounts of clothing, and other items as well. There was such a high demand for items that we sold out, and people had to wait for a second batch of items to come in. This in and of itself was very rewarding, as this was the first time that we had organized this type of event and, prior to executing our plans, we were worried that perhaps people wouldn’t be interested. Our fears weren’t realized, as all went well and many more people attended than we had anticipated!

The rest of our vacation time was very relaxing and chévere (cool, fun), and we were able to spend time with the children in different groups. The variety of activities brought us and the students a lot of enjoyment. For a few days, we were able to leave behind the monotony of everyday work activies and the daily routine, such as homework and other work-related activites, and instead focus on fun and friendships. Furthermore, we were able to see how the group team-building activities and workshops strengthened our bonds, both in and out of the classroom. The group activities included contests and other games, and we witnessed the students working together. More importantly, these activities were, in reality, a way to teach the students cooperation in the group setting. In these activities, the students share ideas and knowledge, and by doing so, they realize that they learn and achieve much more together than they do separately. Witnessing the students’ infectious, enthusiastic energy brings us joy as educators, and being a part of this environment enables us to realize that each moment with our students in unique and special in its own way.

Successful flea market shopping^

Our community enjoys the flea market during their vacation time.

Members of Starfish and the Flor community wait in line to check out the flea market!

Our students work together during the Gender Equality and Sexuality workshops.
En español:

Iniciamos Los vacacionales con un mercado de pulgas en el cual nos fue muy bien ya que muchas personas llegaron y llevaron prendas en gran cantidad al igual que los diferentes artículos, que incluso esperaron a la segunda ronda, para continuar con la compra, esto fue muy gratificante ya que era la primera vez que hacíamos este tipo de eventos y tal vez no habrían muchas personas interesadas, pero no, tuvo buena acogida que incluso llegaron más personas que las que se había planeado.

El resto de los días fueron muy chéveres ya que pudimos compartir con todos los chicos de los distintos grupos y los cuales se alegraron de verse nuevamente; en las diferentes actividades que realizamos nos permitieron divertirnos más, dejando por unos días la monotonía de los deberes y dar cavidad a la diversión y el compañerismo, pudimos ver como el trabajo grupal en los concursos y en los talleres se veía fortalecer, eso nos entusiasma mucho ya que ellos demuestran que pueden lograr muchas cosas tan solo con proponérselo y eso hacía que ellos puedan lograr ganar, además que podíamos intercambiar conocimientos y adquirir nuevos, pero de maneras didácticas, ser parte de ese entusiasmo hacia que el momento se tornara diferente, que cada uno sea especial y ameno.

Ecuanomics ~ a Volunteer Perspective

Ecuanomics 

Bananas, prawns, cocoa, oil, and coffee – that’s what the Ecuadorian economy is made of, according to the statistics. Take any bus from Guayaquil to the sierra and you can’t miss the acres of leafy green banana plantations, the hectares of skeletal cocoa plants left barren after the May harvest.

But there’s one additional factor to add to the list, something that you’ll never read about in The Economist or Forbes or Bloomberg BusinessWeek; one very simple principle that keeps the world turning here in Flor de Bastión and weaves its way through the very fabric of the national economy.

It starts with the education system. Imagine you govern a developing country with limited financial resources and a significant poverty level. One of your many responsibilities is providing free primary and secondary education, but here’s the problem: there are five million schoolchildren in your country and only enough schools for half of them. What do you do?

You divide up the school day, of course. Half the kids in the country go to school in the morning from 7am until noon; the other half use those very same schools in the afternoons from 1pm until 6pm. Every building, every desk, every single facility is shared in order to open up access to education and further social equity.

Don’t have the resources you think you need to survive? Doesn’t matter, you can still manage. Just share the resources you do have: that’s Ecuanomics.

The same idea applies to the local economy here in Flor de Bastión, a fairly young invasion community in which every resident is living dangerously close to, if not well below, the poverty line. Not everyone has all the money they need to buy the ingredients for groceries or toiletries or household items every day, so the existing money in the community is borrowed and lent in a complex system of partial payments and zero-percent interest.

Pay me half today, I’ll manage for tomorrow, and next week when I need to buy school supplies I’ll come to pick up the other $5 you owe me: that’s Ecuanomics.

But these unspoken agreements extend far beyond mere financial agreements between vendors and clients; they also include time and service. A local church group, made up of people who are themselves heavily economically disadvantaged, make regular visits to local people even more in need. The same mothers who have to feed a family of six on $12 a day will take a bunch of bananas, a pound of rice, or a few eggs from their own homes and take them to the houses of the sick or otherwise needy, will sit with them and provide company and conversation, will clean their house or feed their dog or take their kids to school.

However little you have, you’re still in a position to help someone worse off than you: that’s Ecuanomics.

As a Starfish volunteer, I’ve been lucky enough to experience more than my fair share of this generosity. As well as opening their homes and kitchens, Starfish families have offered me a special insight into this fascinating country. They’ve shown me what it means to be Ecuadorian, they’ve taken me in like a long-lost daughter, they’ve given me the gift of melodic Pacific-Coast Spanish. From an impromptu house invite for fresh ceviche one week, to a complete history of Latin American dance styles (complete with demonstrations) the next, I can honestly say I feel nothing less than privileged to be accepted into this community.

Of course, the golden rule of sharing economies like these is to contribute an amount equal to or greater than what you have received. But as eager as I am to share my passion for teaching, my love for the English language, and my mathematical knowledge, I can’t help the feeling that I’ll never really be able to reciprocate for what has been offered to me.

Giving on this scale is more than just a financial gesture; it has left an indelible mark on me, forever changing the way that I connect with others, challenging me to open myself in a way that I hadn’t thought possible before.

And that, in a nutshell, is the definition of Ecuanomics.

~Sanchia R, Volunteer.  Sanchia returned to Starfish this summer as our Volunteer Coordinator after volunteer for 3 months last fall.  She is a certified English teacher and a seasoned world traveler.  Check out her other blog posts at: trueeast.wordpress.com

Vacacionales and First Ever Starfish Open House!

Hola again from Guayaquil, Ecuador.  We’ve had a few really exciting weeks here.  Last week we shared about the graduations of our 6 seniors, but that’s not all we’ve been up to!

For the last 3 weeks we’ve held vacacionales, sort of like day camp, for our students with a wide range of activities planned mainly by our educadores.

Some of our female students were able to participate in community service at a local shelter and school for young girls who either don’t have families or have suffered some sort of abuse and have been removed from their homes.  Our students were able to share some activities and friendship with them several days during vacation.  We hope this partnership can continue so that our students can continue to give back to their community!

Other activities included spiritual retreats, teamwork activities, a treasure hunt, and more.  On the last day we also thought about our dreams for Starfish and created this poster (above, right) so that we may keep our dreams in mind always.

  

In Flor, the main activity was learning how to make various things from recycled materials (above).  Spearheaded by educadora María, the students learned how to make many items using just plastic bottles, newspaper, empty toilet paper rolls, and other materials found around the home.  On the last day we held an open house where parents and other family members came to learn about the projects the students had been working so hard on over the past few weeks.  We concluded the open house with the first ever “Miss & Mr. Starfish” where students modeled various outfits – including their very own dresses & suits made from recycled material. Congrats to Oscar & Itaty for winning this year due to their hard work on their recycled outfits as well as their confidence in expressing themselves!

Towards the end of our camp, we also held our closing ceremony for the 2014-15 school year, recognizing our students, employees, and parents for their efforts during the year.  We started off with some inspiring words from Milena’s mom, Mariana & Scholars Geovanny & Mirka.  Then we recognized all of our employees with some awesome Starfish hats and awards.  Educadores Tyrone from Flor and Cynthia from Guasmo were recognized by their co-workers as “Educador del Año” or Employee of the Year.  Jordy’s mom Norma was recognized as “Parent of the Year” for always going above and beyond what is asked of her.  Yesenia from Guasmo and Jordy were recognized for earning the most stars on our star chart that tracks grades, attendance, behavior, community service and more.  Our 6 graduates also received framed graduation pictures as our special gift to them!

Scholars who have been with us since the first year!
Mariana, Milena’s mom

Flor Scholars with their families!
All of our students acting a little loco to celebrate their hard work!

¡Felicidades Graduados!

¡Felicidades Graduados! – Congrats Grads!
Last week, 6 Starfish Scholars officially completed one of their goals – they are now high school graduates!! We are so proud of them; They’ve accomplished so much and have so much more to come.  
Graduates Pamela, Cristhian, Eddy & Lili with Co-Founder Jenn
Lili, Pamela & Cristhian are 3 of the inspirations for Starfish.  I first met them when I was a volunteer in 2010-2011 at Casa Don Bosco, a shelter for street kids that at that the time also ran an after-school program for neighborhood kids.  They were all in the equivalent of 8th grade, but already leaders.  Their perseverance in the face of challenges was part of my motivation for wanting to return to Ecuador and help educate more youth.  Eddy joined this group of inseparable friends 3 years ago when he met the others at school and then joined us at Starfish.  Watching all of them grow up over the years has been amazing.  Each one of them continues to inspire me and teach me new things every day.  
Graduates Joel, Pamela, Mirka, Lili, Cristhian & Eddy at our year-end celebration!
Now Lili is working as a seamstress and with hopes of completing a year of volunteer work in a different part of Ecuador through Casa Don Bosco.  Eddy dreams of studying communications and becoming a TV presenter.  Cristhian dreams of becoming a pilot, and Pamela a flight attendant.  Although they have graduated, Starfish continues to support all of them as they find out all of the options to achieve their dreams! Mirka is the last addition to the Flor de Bastión group of graduates.  Joining us just this past year, she quickly left a grand impression on all of us.  Her maturity is way beyond her years and for this reason our employees chose her to give the welcoming speech and reflection this year as a representation of the whole Flor de Bastión community in our closing ceremony.  Mirka will be continuing her studies this year at the state university where many of our employees study.
Joel and his mom with his acceptance letter to a prestigious college scholarship program!!
Last, but certainly not least, is our lone graduate from Guasmo this year – Joel.  Like some of the others, Joel has been a Starfish Scholar since our first days here in Guayaquil.  He has always shown us 100% effort to do his best in everything that is asked of him, and especially in his studies.  Joel is a natural leader, and a dedicated student.  We always knew Joel was special, and now someone else has recognized him too!  A few months ago we attended a talk about a scholarship open to any student achieving a 9 or higher average in school.  Joel sounded like a good fit and he applied.  After a rigorous application process complete with an interview, tutoring sessions, test and home visit, we found out that Joel was selected for a 100% scholarship!  He will be completing a business degree at the Tecnológico Espíritu Santo along with some of the country’s best and brightest students.  Due to the high costs of the university, this privilege is usually reserved only for the country’s wealthiest.  Thanks to his efforts, Joel now has an excellent opportunity to really break the cycle of poverty in his family and we are so excited to see where this journey will take him in the future!
Flor grads with special gifts from their educadores!!
All of our grads have been invited back to continue to help us as role models and volunteers in the next school year, so we look forward to keeping you updated on their continued accomplishments!!

It’s Christmas Time in the City…of Guayaquil!

The holiday season is in full swing here in Ecuador.  The city center is decorated and Christmas music is playing at all of the malls.  Concerts, parades and other presentations to celebrate the holidays take place on a daily basis.

At Starfish, our celebrations have started as well.  Our classrooms are decorated and Christmas traditions have commenced.  Last Sunday in Guasmo and this coming Saturday in Flor mark the dates for our now annual Christmas party for the younger siblings of Starfish.  Christmas is a season of giving, and as part of our Scholars’ commitment to their scholarship, they plan and host a party each year for their younger siblings as a community service project.  There is music, dancing, presentations, snacks, face painting and more.  This year the Guasmo crew even chipped in to buy a piñata!  The Scholars’ siblings all leave with a special toy and gift bag of candy as a treat to celebrate Christmas!

Starfish Scholars and tutoring students will also celebrate Christmas this coming week with music, dancing, Secret Santa, and a raffle for some donated clothes.  Follow us on facebook & twitter for more Christmas updates from our students during the 12 days of Christmas!

A Volunteer Perspective – Why I Stayed

Extending my Visa

Ecuador is a country filled with diversity, culture, and most importantly life. Why would anyone want to leave Ecuador? This question was always running through my thoughts during my first month of working with the Starfish Foundation.

It was so easy and comfortable adjusting to life in Ecuador, with the warm welcome from the Starfish families. With that in mind I decided that my journey in Ecuador didn’t have to end so soon, and so the next step was to extend my visa.

Extending my visa is the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve had more time to make memories and bond with the students while chatting about future plans and goals.  And best of all, every day I am able to walk into a classroom filled with warm smiles, and share time with families who open their homes to us strangers.

Working for the Starfish Foundation has been a blessing and great experience.  I wouldn’t change it for the world. There is no other place like Ecuador and that’s why I decided to make it my home as long as I possibly could.

Written by current Starfish Volunteer in Ecuador, Nancy Landeros

*Note* Nancy is doing a gap year between high school and college and first heard about Starfish through the extended HOBY network, of which co-founder Beth is a part.  Originally Nancy had planned to say for the 90 days that a tourist visa allows, but quickly decided she would like to spend more time in this beautiful country.  So she embarked on the challenging journey of obtaining a visa extension and was rewarded after much hard work and patience with a 6-month extension that will allow her to be with Starfish until the end of March!