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

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!

Spotlight on Betsabeth’s Nursing Career!

Hi, I’m Betsabeth.  I was a scholarship recipient and now I’m one of the workers.  Thanks to God and my mom’s hard work along with my own, I was able to reach my goal of graduating and with the support from Starfish, I was able to realize my dream.

Now that I’m done with high school, I signed up for college and I am studying medicine so that I can be a licensed nurse.  I am learning a lot.  I learn all the different kinds of diseases and illnesses and they’ve taught me to take pulses, breathing, blood pressure and the pupillary reflex.  Now we are doing a internship with elderly people.  We are helping them to control their blood pressure on a daily basis, and at the same time I am doing an internship at a morgue where I am learning to do autopsies and analyze the body and all of its organisms, and the brain and how much skin we really have as human beings.

After all of the internships and practicals, at our final class we are given a test where we have to explain what we learned.  I really like my major because it’s helping me get over my fears and at the same time preparing me to be a great professional.

Here I’ll put a photo to show you what I am learning. Thank you!

Hola, Soy Betsabeth.  Fui becada en Estrellitas del Mar, ahora soy trabajadora.  Gracias a Dios y al esfuerzo de mi mamá y mío, logre llegar a mi meta que era graduarme y gracias al apoyo que me dio Starfish Foundation, pude cumplir mi sueño.

Ahora que salí del colegio, me inscribí en la universidad y estoy estudiando la carrera de medicina para llegar hacer licenciada de enfermería.  Estoy aprendiendo mucho.  Me enseña a conocer todas clases de enfermedades de las personas y me enseñaron a tomar el pulso, la respiración, la presión arterial y el reflejo pupilar y ahora mismo estamos haciendo practica con las personas adultos mayores.  Le estamos controlando su presión diariamente y a su vez estoy haciendo practica en un morgue donde estoy aprendiendo hacer la autopsia y analizar en el cadáver todos sus organismos y el cerebro y cuantas piel tenemos en realidad el ser humano.

Después de todas las practicas que tenemos en cada clases al finalizar de la clase nos toma un examen por lo cual nosotros tenemos explicar lo que aprendimos y me gusta mucho mi carrera porque me esta ayudando a superar mis miedos y a su vez a prepararme en mi carrera para ser una buena licenciada.

Aquí les pongo una fotito para enseñarles lo que estoy aprendiendo. ¡Gracias!

A day in the life of a Starfish Volunteer

A day in the life: Thursday 23rd October 2014

5.15am
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.

6.15am
“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.

6.50am
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.

7.10am
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.

7.30am
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.

7.50am
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.

8.10am
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.

9.30am
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?

10am
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.

12.30pm
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.

2.30pm
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.

3pm
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.

4.30pm
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.

5.30pm
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.

6pm
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.

7pm
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.

7.30pm
We’re back in Guasmo. I rearrange my English lesson for use the next day, then try and fail miserably not to fall asleep.

9.30pm
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.

10.30pm
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)

Vacation Fun @ Starfish

The first two weeks of October are always an exciting time for our Scholars – school vacation! Last year the government standardized the school year schedule so that all schools have vacation at the same time.  This was especially exciting for us at Starfish because it meant that we could plan some special activities for all of our Scholars and tutoring students.

This year we had a fun mix of activities including: Crafts with recycled materials, Talks on Self-Esteem and Values, Debating, Music, Games, Community Service, Sports and more!  All of our Educadores were able to share their special talents and knowledge with all Scholars and tutoring participants.  We all got to learn a lot – exercising both our minds and our bodies during school break!

To end the week our students from Guasmo traveled to Flor to inaugurate the new space and end vacation with a fun-filled day of ice-breakers, games, soccer and more.  We even decorated the place a bit – each person leaving their mark with their handprints on the wall.

The theme of the day was “5K”.  Why you might ask?  To support our friends over at VISEDAL in Nicaragua.  Their Baltimore based non-profit sponsored a virtual 5K for their scholars.  This meant that you could run 5 kilometers – or do 5 of any activity – from anywhere in the world!  Our students participated by playing 5 games of soccer, building 5 towers, jumping with 5 friends, cooking (& eating!) 50 pounds of rice and much more!  Check out the VISEDAL page to hear more about this awesome event! Starfish even won a special prize as the largest group to participate in the 5K.  ¡Felicidades chicos!

An Inspiring Day of Professional Development

Last month all of our educadores had a chance to get together for a professional development day, thanks to some great collaboration from other Starfish volunteers and supporters.  We gathered in the new space in Flor to learn about critical thinking, and ways we can encourage that in our students.

Unfortunately the public education system in Ecuador is mostly based on memorizing answers and later repeating them on a test or quiz.  Many teachers dictate from books and research often means printing out an article form Wikipedia.  Here at Starfish we hope to change that.  We want our students to be creative, to not be afraid to think for themselves, and more importantly to not be afraid to make mistakes.

Thanks to an excellent PowerPoint from Mary, a friend of Starfish, Jenn was able to present to the information to the teachers, and even practice some of the activities with them. Our favorite activity by far was when we had to invent a rap in groups about various school subjects.

We all have had experiences with a child who asks “why” and when we give them an explanation, it is followed with another “why?”  In our workshop we learned to ask the students “Why?” so that they don’t just answer questions, they know why and how to think about and answers these questions and more. We also learned to compare & contrast, inspire creativity and motivate & encourage our students to have confidence in themselves and their ideas.

Another fun Starfish update – we will now call all of our employees who work at the tutoring sessions “educadores”.  Previously “ayudantes”, we have decided that educadores gives them more authority and is also more accurate to their roles as educators both inside and outside of the classroom.


“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” ~ Pablo Picasso