The School Year So Far

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The school year is now well underway, and our scholars, teachers, and volunteers are keeping busy. Here’s a sample of what they’ve been up to over the last 2 months:

  • Thanks to 2 new volunteers, Mia and Laura, Starfish now has two new clubs! Mia runs a science club where they do experiments, and Laura directs some theater and improvisation groups. Students are very excited about the experiments they are doing at the science club and with the acting club.
  • On June 25th, the teachers, along with the students, celebrated a tribute to the person who is most important in their lives. This was a very special day because the students could enjoy a lovely day with their parents where they played different games – games like inquisitive questions, blind baby food challenge, guess who’s your father, and indoor soccer. “It was a day filled with hugs, emotions and interactions between the students and their parents”, says one participant.
  • The Community Service group held a contest to see who could collect the most bottles to recycle. Not only did this have a huge positive impact on the environment, but also acted as a fundraiser for the group.
  • The therapy group held a “Day of Cinema” as a fundraiser. The proceeds will be used to buy shirts for the group.
  • Throughout the month of June the students were assigned a theme: “How to carry out an academic investigation.” The students worked in pairs to do research about the provinces and capitals, tourist sites, and myths and legends of Ecuador. The last week in June the students presented their research through expositions that each pair created.
  • In Arts and Crafts Club, they made a wallet and change purse out of foamy papers. “The students are continually learning different techniques that they can used and elaborate on with every project”, explains one volunteer.
  • The Leadership School covered the qualities of a good leader and various types of leadership. Through different activities, students identified their leadership style; everyone who participated had a lot of fun
  • Soccer Club continues to be a favorite. It has grown so that there are now 3 separate groups, each of which train twice a week.

Monthly Recap: clubs, service, mother’s day, and lessons in leadership

From camps to goal setting and from community service to soccer club, the Starfish scholars in Ecuador have been keeping busy. What exactly have they been doing?

  • A week long camp hosted by Peace Corp volunteer Bonnie where kids learned about HIV through hands-on games and soccer
  • Those scheduled to do community service this year met to share ideas about how they’d like to get involved and give back
  • The soccer club, a crowd favorite, started meeting again again
  • They held the first ever meeting of the new craft club
  • For Mother’s Day, students went to the homes of some of the mother’s to sing for them. It was a beautiful moment. The moms were completely surprised and very touched. “They could feel the affection that we all have for them”, reflected one participant.
  • The Leadership School is back! Students are back to partaking in a variety of learning opportunities that gives them the fundamentals they need to practice in their own lives and to prepare them for future professional careers.

It is an exciting time at Starfish, and we have even more activities planned for the future. Soon, we will formalize a computer club and dance club, and in August we’ll host our annual talent show.

If you are interested in donating items in-kind specifically for extracurricular success, you can support our teams and clubs, by purchasing an item off our Amazon Wish List.

Leadership School

leadership school 2Last year at the Starfish Foundation we implemented a new project related to the Leadership program, called The Leader’s School, where students learned concepts of how to be a good leader through a set of practice activities.

In the first class participants were able to draw on leadership concepts and see how different types of leadership can be applied in the different facets of life. The conclusion? There is no ideal type of leader. Everyone has different leadership skills and abilities, and the type of leadership required, varies depending on the situation. By the end of the session, almost everyone was eager to share their opinions.

“The Leadership School was excellent, because each one of us participated and we could also share in the group our opinions about how to be a good leader.” – Lucy

In the second class, participants were shown that in order to be a leader they need to know their own interests, weaknesses, and strengths. There was also a discussion about how moral values play a part in determining leadership style and success. To demonstrate this, we held an “Auction of Values”, where students were forced to rank the values ​​in order of importance.

“In my opinion the Leadership School has helped me a lot, because everything I have learned can be used in my daily life, for example, how to be a good leader at school, how to distinguish different types of Leaders and how to lead a group.” – Joselyn del Valle

Cecelia, one of our Starfish educators added, “The Leadership School has been a very enriching experience for the students because they have learned the qualities of a leader and have put them into practice, in addition to learning how certain types of leaders develop. This has allowed them to be more participatory and entrepreneurial in the projects they have carried out.” leadership school 1

As the leadership school continues to meet, we continue to improve the structure of the project – always looking for the best way for students to learn, to have fun, and, above all, to help improve their performance, both now as a student and in the future as professionals.

To help us continue to offer influential programs like the leadership school, support the Starfish Foundation today.

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.

anna6

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.)

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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Starfish Students elected as part of the Guayaquil Student Council!


This week we are featuring a blog post from Luiggi Pluas, a Starfish student from Flor de Bastion, who, along with Itaty Morocho, were 2 of the 12 students elected to represent District 8 in a city-wide student council. The selection of Luiggi and Itaty demonstrates their academic success and leadership abilities, and we are incredibly proud of them. Being chosen as a representative is a great honor and accomplishment. Congratulations, Luiggi and Itaty!

 

The Youth and Adolescents Advisory Council of Guayaquil 
In the first council, the Guayaquil officials had to elect 12 youth representatives from a previously selected group of 24. During this meeting, Itaty and I were fortunate to be elected as 2 of the 12 representatives from District 8 (our district). There are a total of 10 districts, and each district sent 12 youth representatives to the large, city-wide Student Council, which totaled to 120 children that attended the council. 
At the first meeting [that Itaty and I attended], only members of District 8 participated, but at the second meeting, we joined all of the districts representing the entirety of Guayaquil. To accommodate  such a large group of youth representatives, the meeting occurred in the Multifunctional Town Center (Zumar). When we arrived, they gave us purple shirts, the purple signifying that we were representatives of District 8. The other districts had various colors to differentiate themselves.  We began with icebreakers, then we created some small representations (sketches) of the social problems present in Guayaquil, such as drugs, alcohol, human trafficking, and pollution. 
Itaty and I truly enjoyed the activities. After the group discussions and activities, we then went to eat, and once we finished, it was time to choose the 12 representatives of the entire Guayaquil and 12 alternates from the 120 students present at this council. Truthfully, choosing 24 students from 120 proved to be very difficult; therefore, the 120 candidates had to participate in many exercises, such as speaking, socializing, etc., and during these activities, we were evaluated and had to pass certain criteria. As they were determining the 12 representatives and 12 alternates, I was incredibly nervous, since I didn’t know what was going to happen, or if I was going to be chosen. When they gave us the final count of the votes and informed me that I didn’t qualify, I felt a little sad that I wasn’t chosen to represent Guayaquil as part of that small council. However, there will be another opportunity soon, and I have to keep faith that I could be a representative in the future. 
The purpose of this Council of Students is to gather ideas from the adolescentes and present them to the mayor, so that the city government may come to understand what the youth of Guayaquil wants, which is: for our city to become a better, safer place
~Luiggi Pluas

Luiggi Pluas 



Itaty Morocho 

(en español)
Consejo Consultivo de la niñez y adolescencia de Guayaquil
Primero nos mandaron a citar en al primer reunión, en la cual se debía escoger a 12 niños entre aproximadamente 24 niños del distrito 8, ya que los demás distritos (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) ya habían tenido anteriormente otras reuniones en la que también escogido a 12 niños mas, es decir, entre todos los distritos tenía que haber aproximadamente 120 niños escogidos, desde hay ya quedamos como representantes del distrito 8.
Posteriormente a esa reunión, nos citaron a otra, pero esta vez era para concursar ya no solo los que estábamos del distrito 8, si no contra todos los distritos para que representemos a Guayaquil entero, y asi fue, la reunión se realizo en el Centro Municipal Polifuncional Zumar, cuando llegamos nos entregaron una camisa de color morado, el cual nos representaba como distrito 8, los demás distritos tenían otros colores para diferenciarlos, entonces eramos como 100 niños que estábamos concursando, primero hicimos dinámicas, pequeños sketchs sobre problemáticas sociales como las drogas, el alcohol, trata de personas, contaminación ambienta, etc…
Nos divertimos mucho, luego fuimos a comer, una vez que terminamos, ya había llegado la hora de comenzar a escoger 12 representantes de Guayaquil y 12 mas de suplentes, de entre todos los aproximadamente 100 estudiantes, al verdad es que estuvo difícil, y aunque teníamos que dar diferentes criterios, hablar, socializar, etc, pero cuando ya fueron los votaciones yo estaba nervioso ya que no sabía de que iba a pasar, pero cuando ya dieron los votos finales, me dijeron que estaba descalificado, me sentí un poco triste ya que no pude alcanzar a representar a Guayaquil, pero para una próxima oportunidad será, hay que tener fé de que se va a poder.
Este proyecto, tiene el fin de recolectar ideas de los niños, adolescentes para asi los directivos, alcalde, tengan una idea concisa de que es lo piensan los jóvenes y así ser de Guayaquil un lugar mejor. 

Luiggi Pluas

Our educadoras write about leadership!

The past few weeks have been exciting for both the students and educadores of Starfish!
Our educadoras participated in a technology workshop, in which they refined communication skills, such as professional emailing and blogging. They divided into groups and composed blog posts about different topics. Here is what educadoras Cynthia and Lissette have to say about leadership!

Leadership and I
(( Examining the importance of leadership in our daily lives )) 

Implementing our leadership skills enables us to both achieve our aspirations and resolve our problems.

Asking the question, “what do the people want?” helps to guide us in being effective, efficient, and caring servant-leaders. Leadership plays an essential role in our lives. We know that if we use our talents, we will be able to endure any obstacles and effectively lead a group by incorporating everyone’s different skills and gifts.

As a leader, one must have an intense internal drive to be able to motivate, inspire, and encourage others. Doing so will enable us to be effective in the workplace, to inspire others to work hard, and to ultimately reach our goals both in the workplace and our daily lives. Furthermore, we strive to continue to develop our communication skills in order to be a good leader (educator) at the Starfish Foundation, which has helped us acquire and refine our own leadership abilities.

Collaborating with others in a group makes completing tasks easier, since everyone is using their unique talents to work towards a common goal. Group work pushes us to make decisions, to delegate tasks, and integrate each group member’s input.

“The success of a leader resides in understanding what the people desire and demand.”

Lissette Loor, Guasmo educadora 

Cynthia Gurumendi, Guasmo educadora 

// be sure to check in next week, as we will be featuring blogs from two of our Starfish students who were nominated to be members of the Guayaquil Student Council //

en español: 
El liderazgo y yo
En un futuro podremos solventar más el liderazgo! 

~ Sabes lo que la gente quiere? ~

El liderazgo es muy importante porque nos conlleva a que nuestras habilidades las podremos sobrellevar y mantener a un grupo con la finalidad de tener capacidad de motivar, convocar promover e incentivar y evaluar para para que dicho trabajo sea eficaz y así lograr alcanzar las metas y objetivos propuestos en nuestra vida cotidiana. Por lo tanto, también desarrollamos mucha comunicación para poder ser un buen líder en la fundación.

Por lo que, el trabajo en equipo simplifica las cosas y aporta nuevos conocimientos que nos permite lograr la toma decisiones e integrar una propuesta para que los integrantes del equipo toman conciencia de sus tareas que deben cumplirlas en un tiempo determinado por su líder.

“La habilidad de un líder reside en entender fielmente lo que la gente quiere o demanda.”

      

My Starfish Story – An Intern Perspective

Karley is a rising high school senior and has been interning with Starfish for almost a year now.  At our dinner in Baltimore this past April, Karley shared her “Starfish Story” with us – and what an inspiring story it is! Hear her story in Karley’s own words and get a glimpse into Starfish’s U.S. operations below…
 
“Hi, I am Karley White and I will start off by telling you a little bit about myself. I am a high school junior involved in lots of activities in an out of the school environment including student government, frisbee, coaching soccer and of course The Starfish Foundation.  
 
My Starfish story began with being fortunate enough to meet Beth through Hugh O’Brian Maryland Youth Leadership seminar last May, and then again in Chicago at the Hugh O’Brian World Leadership Congress. Both of these seminars were a very bright light in my world, changing a lot of my perspectives as a young adult. When I came home last July all I wanted to do was go out and  change the world; I felt like I needed to give back – do something, make change. Then as I was procrastinating summer assignments on Facebook, I came upon Beth’s post in the HOBY Facebook page that the foundation was looking for interns. Immediately I emailed her asking how I could get involved. Her reply asked for a resume and cover letter, both of which I did not have and was googling how to make one look nice. Soon we talked over the phone for an interview. I was so nervous. I told all my family they couldn’t come upstairs or make noise and I was just hoping to perfect it. Well, I guess I introduced myself nicely because not even 10 minutes later Beth so joyfully welcomed me to the team and reviewed my job as a marketing intern. I was absolutely thrilled, I was so happy to be apart of something great and knowing I would be devoting my time to help change the lives of students just like me earning an education. 
 
The past 8 or so months working with the foundation has been nothing short of inspiring and beautiful. Not only have I learned the true meaning of teamwork and synergy but I have also had so much opportunity to use my own creativity without a rubric guideline to follow. I work on a lot of short term projects, for example making a powerpoint, infographics, creating the Cafepress merchandise website, posting on the social media pages, etc. But it is not just me that works on it, it’s the flow of the collaboration that finalizes it all. We send it back and forth with edits or recommendations and always have deadlines to get it done. Also, the encouragement from everyone is certainly uplifting; there is never an email that goes by that is not concluded with thank yous and gratitude. To me there is no intimidating boss to intern type relationship, it is friend to friend working together for the common goal of making an impact. 
 
In conclusion, I feel as if I have gained more than I have given to the Starfish community and I have everyone on the team to thank for that. This experience continuously has been the uppermost value to me, it has been remarkable since the beginning. I consider myself lucky to say I am a part of this foundation and to have met and worked with the amazing people along the way. Thank you!”

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!

Professional Development Workshop with Destination Imagination

Thanks to Destination Imagination: Guasmo Sur Project (DIGS), and their leader Sarah for a great set of workshops for our employees this past week.  We learned how to think creatively – and to teach our kids to think creatively as well!  Destination Imagination teaches Teamwork, Problem Solving and Creativity.

Sarah and her volunteer Rosa starting off the workshop!

One of the main goals of  DI is that the kids learn to think creatively, and for themselves, without someone giving them a hint or the answer as is customary in the rote memorization learning system of the public schools in Ecuador.

In DI there are Central Challenges that are worked on throughout the year, while during the workshops we learned how to do Instant Challenges that are either based on presentation or construction.  These challenges generally take around 5 minutes and are a great way to wake up our minds to start a meeting – Here are some pictures from the challenges!

In May, we will be participating in another set of workshops with the volunteers from DIGS and teachers from another scholarship program at Mi Cometa.  We’re excited to continue working together with our community organizations to improve the quality of education in our neighborhoods!

Starfish students participating in one of the activities we learned at DI!

Thanks DIGS & Sarah!!