Friends From Another Continent

I was lucky enough to visit Ecuador twice, once before starfish was founded and once a couple summers ago.

Kim_painting_of_Cape_Cod_for_Pamela

I met Pamela and Arelisa the first time I visited. They were so sweet. They had prepared kind words to welcome our family and performed a fun dance. I loved that there was a mixture of music more familiar in South America and some songs from North American artists. It was great to find out we like some of the same musical artists!

Once starfish started, I was able to have Pamela as my pen pal. I was excited to hear about how she was pursuing her dreams through an internship at a hotel. I also loved hearing about her siblings and stories of their cat.

This year, when doing the starfish scavenger hunt, I was excited Arelisa was participating because one of the tasks was to send a package of something they couldn’t get. I sent a snowman ornament and some sour patch kids! I love that candy and I was excited to learn that Arelisa loves it too! She had only ever tried original so I put some of those in along with the best type, watermelon! I can’t wait to hear how she likes them.

kim's second trip 1

I remember them both as such bubbly and kind spirited scholars who became my friends. We have since become Facebook friends and I enjoy keeping up to date on their lives!

It’s meant a lot to me to be able to connect with friends from another continent. I have learned so much about their culture, celebrations, hobbies, food, etc and it has helped me in my own classroom. When we get international students, I feel like I can connect with them better thanks for my friendships with Pamela and Arelisa!

This post was guest written by Starfish Supporter Kim. If you would like to learn more about having a Starfish pen pal, check out our 4 tiers of Sponsoring a Scholar or visit our website to see how you can exchange letters and cards with one of our Ecuadorian students.

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#StarfishSearch Winners (and other highlights)

This past weekend, 9 teams competed in the 2nd Annual #StarfishSearch Scavenger Hunt. The 35 participants represented 3 countries and 7 states.

Participants had 72 hours to complete 53 tasks – some focused on community service, some on creativity, some on exploring Ecuadorian culture, some on raising awareness for Starfish, and some that were just silly.

Although these pictures / videos didn’t win, here are some of our favorite moments from the search:

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When asked what their favorite item was was, participants said:

  • “The one we had the most fun with was riding on the handle bars of the bike singing the bicycle song!!” – Julia G
  • ” I can’t choose one! I had so much fun!” – Jenn Z.
  • “I loved making colada morada” – Anna J

The Winners:

The information you’ve all been waiting for – who won the search?

First Place: Mischief Management

– Kim Pulsford (Captain)
– Jenn Z
– Joe G
– Julia G
– Pete L
Mischief Management had team members in Ecuador and the United States and they completed all but 7 of the 53 tasks. They ended the hunt with 1,654 points. They continually impressed us with their submissions and creativity. The unanimous favorite item from their submissions was their nature art of Juan José Flores, also known as The First President of the Republic.

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2nd place: Los Que Come Cuando Hay

– Josue P (Captain)
– Arelisa R
– Diego B
– Genesis R
– Geovanna Sandy G

Los Que Come Cuando Hay was a team based entirely in Ecuador. They finished the scavenger hunt with 1,441 points. They were the only team to get the Starfish Foundation mentioned on the radio, the only team to write in chalk on a pack animal, and one of only two teams to draw a starfish on a bald human head. We were most impressed by them getting on the radio, and the judges favorite item was their handstand at the border.

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Favorite Photo: CONSTELACIÓN ALFA Y OMEGA

Another team comprised entirely of Ecuadorians, Constelacion alfa y omega also ended the search with over 1,000 points. They really impressed us with their submission for item #15 – Create an image of a famous Ecuadorian from history using only objects found in nature. Caption the photo (when uploaded) with the person’s name and why you chose them. We choose this as our favorite photo because of the attention to detail and the realism in the face.

Best Photo - Constelation #15
Eugenio Espejo, Fue un prominente investigador, científico, médico, historiador, escritor, abogado, periodista, pensador, quiteño ideólogo, político y prócer de la independencia de Ecuador. [Eugenio Mirror, was a prominent researcher, scientist, physician, historian, writer, lawyer, journalist, thinker, ideologist, politician, and a hero of Ecuador’s independence.]

Favorite Video: Seas the Day

Seas the Day was our only two person team, and impressed us by earning over 1,000 points despite having the fewest number of participants. They had one member from the United States, and one from England (our first European participant!). They had a lot of wonderful submissions, but we were most impressed by their stop motion video for #22 (Tell the Starfish story in a stop motion video). It was clear that a lot of time and effort went into creating this item, and it deserves recognition.

best video - seas the day #22.png

Thanks for Making us Laugh: Goin’ Starfishin’

Goin’ Starfishin’ was a three person team from Maryland. This team had a lot of fun throughout the hunt and it clearly showed. As judges, we went through the submissions many times, and every time we went past this item we stopped to admire it – not only was it visually appealing in terms of composition and lighting, but it also always brought a smile to our faces. They captured the expressions of the arm-wrestling competitors perfectly, and we thank them for making us laugh with their submission for item #31.

Made us Laugh - Goin Starfishin #31

Thank you to everyone who participated! You were all amazing, and we loved all your submissions!

We hope you’ll join us again next year. If you missed this year’s hunt, but want to make sure you’re on a team next year, email amanda.benton@thestarfishchange.org and we’ll make sure you get a personal invitation to join next year’s search.

 

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

An Evening for the Stars…CT style!

Beth & Jenn with former Starfish volunteer and photographer for the night, Maria!
A few weeks ago, we held another successful, “Evening for the Stars,” this time in Windsor Locks, CT.  For the third time now, friends of Starfish gathered together for a night of good food, great company and a chance to learn a little bit more about our programs.  
Delicious buffet dinner
The night started off with some social time to browse the silent auction items and participate in a 50-50 raffle.  This year’s auction not only featured several items from Ecuador, but also many local products.  In total there were over 35 items up for auction!
Auction Items from Ecuador!
Once all of our guests had arrived, we sat down for a delicious meal of rice, beans, enchiladas, chicken & more.  We shared with our guests about the need for Starfish and shared some of videos of our students. 
Guests Nadia, Joe, Matt, Rachel, Liz, Alyssa, Jenn & Jeff
As dinner was winding down, we had one last call for the silent auction before our keynote speaker, Don Awalt, gave a heartwarming and thought-provoking reflection on his recent trip to visit Starfish in Guayaquil.
Don during his reflection

All in all, it was a great night to share with friends, and a very successful fundraiser.  Between ticket sales, auction, raffle and general donations including those received from friends who could not attend, we raised 10% of our total budget for the entire year in just one night!

Guests Gabi, Julie, Shane, Nicole & Marcus

See our newsletter for official numbers, and if you don’t already receive it, don’t forget to sign up!

This night would not have been possible without the dedicated help and organization of many volunteers like those pictured below.  Thank you, gracias, from the bottom of our hearts!

   

 

Las Olimpiadas – Starfish Olympics, by Genesis

The winning team with their medals!

A few months ago, one of our Starfish scholars, Genesis, approached me with the idea of doing “Starfish Olympics”.  You see, here in Ecuador all schools hold Olympics each year where students participate in many field day-like activities, almost always ending in a soccer tournament between all the classes.  Genesis thought it might be a good idea to have Starfish Olympics as one of our Integration activities between our 2 neighborhoods, Guasmo and Flor de Bastión.  And she sure was right, the first ever Starfish Olympics was blast!  Here’s Genesis’ version below:

Genesis and the rest of the yellow team!

“Olimpiadas was great because there was integration and fellowship amongst the kids from Guasmo and Flor de Bastión.  For me, the best was that we got to play and that the teams were made up of students from each sector of the Foundation.  The best was that there were boys and girls that I know on my team.  That was good.  Also I got stepped on while playing and then I couldn’t play anymore.  Even though my team lost, it was awesome and fun.  It was great to spend the day with everyone from The Starfish Foundation.  I hope to see all my friends from Flor de Bastión soon.  I liked watching my friends play, and screaming for them to win!”

Sack Race!

Cheering on the rest of the teams!

Wheelbarrow race!
Break from the races to play some games 🙂

And let the soccer begin!

The Championship game (that ended in a Penalty shoot-out, so much suspense!)

Bueno, las Olimpiadas fue excelente porque hubo integración y compañerismo entre los chicos del Guasmo y los de la Flor de Bastión.  Para mí lo mejor fue que jugamos y que los equipos estaban compuestos de ambos grupos de integrantes de la fundación.  Lo mejor fue que me equipo tocaron chicos y chicas que conozco.  Eso es lo bueno.  Pues también porque al jugar me pisaron pero bueno no jugué más.  Aunque mi equipo perdió fue vacan y divertido.  Fue vacan al pasar un día con todos los chicos de la Funación Estrellitas del Mar.  Espero ver de nuevo a mis amigos de la Flor de Bastión.  Me gustó ver jugar a mis compañeros y gritar para que ganen!

Oh and…check out our new snazzy sign!

New video – Starfish Family United at Integration Day!

Remember Integration Day in June?  Recent Fairfield U grad and Starfish intern, Maria, made an incredible video high-lighting this event.

Singing, dancing, learning and uniting as a Starfish family — it’s all there!

Watch the video today!

Some Starfish students relaxing after a long day of fun at Integration Day!

The Starfish family – united!

Minga – work day!



Today’s Spanish word of the day is “Minga” or something like a “work day” in English.  In Flor de Bastión, our scholars and their families have been busy with many mingas, helping to renovate the space lent to us by Starfish Scholar Kiara’s family.


Kiara & Cristhian’s dads – working hard along with 2-year Starfish scholar, Cristhian!
First, we had to buy many large sugar cane poles, which were then split into workable pieces to make the walls.  Kiara & Cristhian’s dad, along with Cristhian worked tirelessly for several days to put up the walls.  The other students helped when the could at night and on the weekends.  The final step is buying some more tin for the roof.  It really has been a group effort – and something all the students are very invested in since they are really looking forward to an updated space to do homework, socialize, and have fun! 
To help cover the costs, the students are doing a raffle – so far we’ve raised $96!  In total we will need to raise about $250 – and the students are excited about being able to do this on their own.  They have some more fun & exciting ideas in the works so stay tuned for more updates and photos of the finished product in the coming weeks and months!


Part of the Flor de Bastión Starfish family in their partially renovated space with Jenn & Beth!


The crew, working late into the night to make the space ready for June’s Integration Day. 

A sneak peak of June at Starfish

At Starfish we try to keep the kids engaged in their learning by doing many different activities.  Today, Abraham and Santiago both finished their work early and decided to show us their drawing talents.  Check it out!

                                                     

Beth came to visit us this past week, and we have yet another new volunteer – Danny!

Danny and Beth showing their Villanova pride at the Starfish Integration Day.


Stay tuned for more updates on Beth’s visit, Danny’s volunteer experience and last Sunday’s “Integration Day” where the students from both neighborhoods got together to share in a special day as one big Starfish family.  Here’s a sneak peak!

Starfish students, new & old at the first “Integration Day” of 2013 in Flor de Bastión.

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.


Student Drawings

Taking inspiration from Solange’s portrait a few weeks ago, Starfish scholars decided to draw portraits of each other for our blog.  Thanks to Steve, Solange, Maria and Geovanny for sharing their representations of their friends with us!

Solange’s portrait of Steve!

Maria’s portrait of Geovanny “I am Geovanny from Starfish, I love you all a lot!”

Geovanny’s portrait of Maria “Hi I’m Maria”

Steve’s portrait of Anthony “I’m Anthony and I’m really cool”