Reflections on Service – Kiara, Naghelly, and Mierly

Guest Bloggers, Kiara, Naghelly, and Mirely focused on the mistreatment of women for their year-end service project. Here they share their reflection on the experience…

As we completed this project, we personally acquired more knowledge about the mistreatment of women. When we met with adults from the community, and allowed them to express their opinion and talk openly about the subject, they were able to grow in their knowledge as well. Each person we connected with expressed their indignation and disapproval of hitting a woman because women must be respected, valued, cared for, and, above all, loved.service project.png

Currently, we find many women in the world who have been through this type of situation and they have to go to professionals to cope with these problems. The situation is very worrying and that is why many people give talks to prevent it, however, this is a problem that will always exist.

Naturally, these behaviors do not always come to light but remain in the depths of the family. The explosions of aggressiveness also reach children, producing equally serious psychopathological disturbances that dangerously interfere with the balanced development of their personality.

Our project was a little complicated because we had to give talks in shifts and we got nervous about talking to the adults. However, each time, we lost a little bit of our fear, and the adults supported us and gave us ideas we could use to continually improve our presentations.

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We were able to be successful because we researched the subject thoroughly so we could skillfully manage the workshops.

If we were to repeat the project we would recommend that there would be more group work, and that the presentations would include fun activities so that they can get the attention of the adults taking the class.

We’d like to give thanks to the Starfish Foundation for helping us. We enjoyed talking with the community and it was nice to spend that time educating others.

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The Importance of Education

Guest Blogger: Margaret Mary Telling

Education is a crucial piece of our development as humans. By providing important life skills and knowledge, an education can open a plethora of doorways for a young person! The most pertinent skills are retained at a younger age- ranging from social skills to mathematics. Social skills retained in school can allow individuals to shape and build relationships. While more concrete skills such as mathematics and rhetoric can be applied to the professional world.

Where would people be without an education? Tasks as mundane as purchasing groceries require one. From adding up your total cost to reading nutritional labels- an education is required to make the ‘smart’ choice!

An education can make a lasting impact on a child’s life. When it comes down to it, one can learn to count at home, from a family member. However, the leadership skills and relationships cultivated in a school setting are unmatched! Leadership skills practiced and learned in school often provide students with an advantage over others professionally. According to the Global Partnership for Education, one extra year of schooling can boost an individual’s earnings by 10 percent! Facts aside, the relationships formed in school can last a lifetime!

The benefits of a proper education are truly un-ending. Every man, woman and child deserves the benefit of being provided one. Organizations like the Starfish Foundation strive to provide a safe learning environment for those who seek an education. Many youths who are ‘at-risk’ are provided with a life changing post secondary education. This very education can allow them to create businesses, work hard or even be a leader in their community!

Check out our Annual Report, to see how the Starfish Foundation is bringing a chance of education to youth in Ecuador.

Now is Your Time to Be the Change

If the Starfish Foundation were a child, we would already be in elementary school. These past few years have been a wonderful whirlwind of development, growth, and change, and we are (of course) always looking towards the future.

But it is also worthwhile to reflect on the past in this moment, and recall the story that inspired the name of our foundation. Out of a beach covered with thousands of starfish, when it seems hopeless to save them all from death, a young child chooses to throw them back into the sea. Instead of give up hope after the expanse of the problem, the child continues to save starfish one by one. Her reasoning? It will make a difference for each individual starfish she touches.

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When you participate in the Sponsor-A-Scholar program with Starfish, you are directly helping a child successfully complete a year of school, but you are indirectly becoming part of a chain reaction that propels entire communities for the better. The Starfish Foundation’s motto of “one student, one star, one by one” reflects this. By a simple sponsorship, you are certainly changing the life of that one child. But even moreseo, many individual efforts like yours come together to make real change. This is why sponsors are essential to Starfish’s operations.

As a sponsor, you also have a chance to be a pen pal with the student that you sponsor. This provides not only a fun way to keep in touch with someone from another culture, but also a chance to learn and grow across countries’ borders. You can hear firsthand about Ecuadorian food and games, a student’s dream to succeed in school, and the work Starfish is doing to empower the students, all in a single correspondence! Being a pen pal is not a required part of being a sponsor, but it is an amazing opportunity that many sponsors take advantage of.

If this resonates with you, we encourage you to reach out to our team and maybe even become a sponsor yourself. There are currently still a few amazing Starfish Scholars who do not have a sponsor for the 2017-2018 school year, including:

  • Lady C – Favorite subject = Science; loves to read and play soccer
  • Alexander L – Favorite subject = Language Arts; loves to play soccer
  • Josue L – Favorite subject = Science; loves to play soccer
  • Joselin L – Favorite subject = Math and Science; loves to listen to music and read
  • Genesis R – Favorite subject = Social Studies; loves to swim and play soccer
  • Melissa R – Favorite subject = Phys. Ed; loves to play soccer

To find out more about how you can sponsor a scholar for the current school year, please visit our website.

#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.

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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.

 

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.

You Are In My Heart; Always: Notes from a Volunteer

Today’s blog is written by Anna Evich,who volunteered with us in Ecuador over the summer in our July group and then returned to help us develop new curriculum and train staff from September to December.

annaBefore leaving for Ecuador to be a summer volunteer at The Starfish Foundation this past July, I was struggling. I was suffering greatly because of the demands of my job as a teacher, and the excess pressure I put on myself to do everything I could for my students. It was too much and I was starting to break down. One late night in February, I was scrolling through Instagram, trying to avoid the work I had to do for school, when I came upon a post that was advertising the opportunity to work as a summer volunteer in Guayaquil, Ecuador. As soon as I saw it, I knew. I put my phone down, went to the website on my computer, and started working on the application.
I had never been so sure of anything in my life.

I had traveled to Ecuador while I was in college, and I never forgot the feeling it gave me; how truly happy I felt when I was there. I continued to pray for the people that I met there each week at church, and the desire to return always lingered in the back of my mind. The country and the people and the love that they shared with me and with one another was the most beautiful thing I had ever experienced. I felt like my most authentic self there, and I wanted and needed to be back in that place.

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When I arrived in July, everything fell into place. I could think more clearly, and was able to be present in each moment of everything that I did. I absorbed every sensation, every detail, and simply took it all in. I was tutoring students with their English homework, teaching English classes with another volunteer, and creating and presenting professional developments to the staff. Everything was perfect. Only I soon realized that a month in and out was not enough for me. That time made me realize how much more I could contribute to the growth and development of such an incredible organization. The gaps and dents that existed in the school system in Guayaquil were so apparent to me, and I knew I had the skills that were needed to adjust the curriculum. How could I just let that go?

So, I made the decision. I was going back for more. I vividly remember the night before I left. I was washing my hands in the bathroom, and I noticed some black dust of some sort on my chest. I leaned in closer to the mirror, about to wipe it off, and my mouth opened in disbelief. The black mark so clearly formed the word “love” on my chest. It was indisputable. I knew it was a sign. I don’t often look for signs, but when they appear so bluntly, I can’t help but think there is a reason. And there it was. I soon found that my heart was so full in Ecuador, and I know now that it always will be. It’s as if God knew that I was in great need of the love that would be given to me there.

anna8Upon my arrival, my host family immediately took me in as one of their own. I woke up the next morning in a home that felt warm, comfortable, and familiar, despite having just arrived. There’s just something about this culture that simply cannot be put into words. The kids and educators at the Foundation welcomed me back with open arms, and were genuinely happy to see me. I immediately felt the love. The more time I spent watching the educators with the kids, the more I could feel this crazy rush of ideas pouring out of me.

This time around, I was taking on a new role as Curriculum Development Coordinator, and amazingly, the director and educators were open to every idea (no matter how outlandish) that I proposed to them. I felt empowered, because for the first time ever in my career as an educator, I was granted the creative liberty to make the changes that I saw necessary for my students, without limitations.

I was able to contribute my talents, and actually see the results as they unfolded. I felt appreciated and valued every step of the way. My work was meaningful. I woke up every day excited to get to the Foundation, so that I could continue working on the projects I had started. Work didn’t feel like work. I was giddy to spend time with the educators and students. Somehow even with the barriers of language and culture, we had all kinds of inside jokes and jabs that we liked to throw out at each other for laughs. We could run around making sure all kinds of tasks were getting accomplished, while also keeping the environment light-hearted and enjoyable. I knew that I was truly happy, and I cherished every minute of it.

Finally, the dreaded departure date arrived. I didn’t want to leave. I knew that when I returned to the United States, almost everyone I talked to would say the same things: How incredible the work was that I did in Ecuador. How selfless of me to go and teach those students and teachers so many things, and to leave such an impact. But what most of those people don’t realize is how much I gained in return from my experience. They were not able to witness the beauty of the people that I got to know so intimately.

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I think it is safe to say that there was a mutual exchange of knowledge and impact, just in very different ways. My way taught the people I encountered in Flor de Bastión how to better prepare themselves to reach the opportunities that exist in this world, and their way taught me how to achieve life beyond mortality, and seek God in ways I never knew how. So the question is, who really benefited more here? I am forever changed and forever grateful.

A las personas de La Fundación de Estrellitas del Mar: Ustedes estarán en mi corazón por siempre. (To the People of the Starfish Foundation: You are always in my heart.)

“I Choose to Learn” and Other Initiatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,
Henry

2016: A Year in Review

Wow, another year gone past, and at Starfish it has been a busy and exciting one! We wanted to take a quick moment to go through our year in review:

This year we currently have about 125 students participating several times per week each! “The quantity of students enrolled in Starfish is a testament to our staff and programs that more people always want to enroll and are excited about education!” says co-founder Jenn.

From March Madness to the Baltimore Benefit Dinner our year was off to a great start! Our Sponsor a Scholar program really took off, and Starfish welcomed new friends and volunteers.

Summer was a busy time for us. June started with an awesome soccer tournament which helped raise funds for the organization. In June we also launched a 5th tutoring group out of our head quarters in Flor de Bastión.

In August we had our “Friends of Starfish” trip where volunteers went to Ecuador to  capture photos and stories, participate in tutoring sessions, and re-launch our Snapchat account. They also joined our scholars for a field trip to the Botanical Gardens. In August we also had our talent show – showcasing our talents and leadership skills – “that night was magical because we were together as a family and we all gave our whole hearts, because Starfish is our little home.” said one participant.

Throughout the summer we had fantastic volunteers in Ecuador who helped with workshops, taught English, helped coordinate soccer an taught sport classes, creating a mural, and even put together Professional Development Workshops for staff.

During the summer, our 11th and 12th grade students also started getting into teams to start working on their Senior Service Projects. The four scholars in Guasmo have teamed up to work with a local hospital and/or shelter to volunteer their time and energy and also the bring needed items like food and clothing. They also plan to organize activities to bring them joy. The other three projects are being carried out in Flor de Bastión. The first, focusing on communication and integration hopes to bring people of the community together to improve relations. The second group, who are still ironing out the specifics, hope to work with seniors to brighten their day. The third group is planning literacy classes for adults in the neighborhood who never learned to read or write.

In the Fall Scholars in Ecuador hosted their annual “Olympiadas” where they participated in various athletic activities. They also restarted their recycling initiative including an awareness campaign for the local community. In the US, we had a fundraiser at a Baltimore Orioles game – great fun!

The US and Ecuador came together for our first annual #StarfishSearch Scavenger Hunt – as teams of up to 6 individuals competed for 12 hours to capture fun photos and videos, complete random acts of kindness, and spread the word about Starfish.

And, perhaps, most important, we celebrated our 5th BIRTHDAY this year on November 9th, which was a great time for us to reflect on how thankful we are for “The help of all of our long-term volunteers from the U.S. and worldwide who have brought unique projects and skills to Starfish – their knowledge and skills they teach our students and staff really make a lasting difference!” This year we also saw our Social Media Interns program grow which was really amazing, and we super appreciate how they’ve helped our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages grow.

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.So what are we looking forward to in the new year?

Here are our 7 New Year’s Resolutions for 2017:

  1. Finalize our registration as an Ecuadorian non-profit
  2.  Purchase land and begins plans to build new classrooms
  3. Continue to increase the quality of education we offer at Starfish so students can receive a quality education and skills necessary to be successful professionals despite the broken school system they are forced to attend
  4. Continue to improve other services offered at Starfish to help remove other barriers to education and create well-rounded young people ready to make a difference in their communities and the world
  5. Expand our partnerships in Ecuador in order to better serve our students and their families
  6. Get our college prep program up & running so our students have the tools they need to gain entrance and to be successful in college.
  7. Seeing the amount of people who learn about Starfish continue to increase!

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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.

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My dream, Scholars’ dreams, and refugees’ dreams

So, if you’re connected with world news at all in the past week, it’s been a tumultuous week to say the least. Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, and Japan all made world headlines within a few days’ time. But, sadly, another recent news headline started a long time ago (and has progressed): Syria’s refugee crisis.

I’m not writing this blog to take a political stance — but I’m actually reframing this situation for you with a different perspective. For our Scholars, they are blessed to not currently be living in a war-torn country. Their country has not been attacked by terrorists. They are not traveling thousands of miles to a potential new home – hoping that someone will care for them along the dangerous journey.

The sad reality is, though, our Scholars do face very real challenges. They face extreme poverty, lack of food, lack of clean water, violence in their community, gang and drug pressure, and more. The difference I am grateful for is the opportunity for our Scholars to receive an education.

Here is our “Goals” or “Dreams” wall. Each Scholar put his/her dream on the wall, next to a photo of him/her in school uniform. We believe this motivates them to keep focused on their dreams!

We also like to celebrate students’ academic achievements and efforts. Here, Maria Belen congratulates Luiggi, one of our Scholars that we recognized last month!

Pamela, one of our work-study volunteers (who will be starting as an educator for us soon!) dreams of becoming a flight attendant. At her Starfish graduation celebration earlier this year, the Starfish educators and Scholars made her a card that reads, “Congratulations, future Flight Attendant!”

So far, Starfish has had 8 graduates (2 in 2014 and 6 in 2015, four of whom are pictured here). 6 more students are expected to graduate this coming year, in March!

I write all of this to share with you how grateful I am that our Scholars and tutor-only (mentee) students live in a country where there is peace. The challenges for many of these families are large, but the opportunity that these students receive is incredible, and I’m proud we can welcome them to receive their education. 
Throughout my time in Baltimore, I’ve also met many refugees – people whom the U.S. has welcomed into a land of peace, opportunity and education. I am grateful for these refugees, for all they have taught and brought us, and for the kind compassion they have been shown in times of hardship. 
Most importantly, I pray for the people who are not experiencing peace right now, that they find peace and compassion soon in their journey. 
So, tell me – what are your dreams? Share them here, or email me at beth@thestarfishchange.org. I’d love to hear your dreams!