Throw Back Thursday: Lessons from Ecuador

This week, we’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane to see what various scholars, educators, and volunteers have learned through their experiences with Starfish:

“There is a universal language spoken through hugs, smiles, and laughter.” – Martin, volunteer

527e6-dscn2461“It’s important to give kids more ways to shine than just the classroom or the soccer field” – Danny, volunteer

“My wonderful opportunity to serve as an intern at the Starfish Foundation provides me with a greater insight of issues and circumstances worldwide, and has truly made me more grateful for the everyday things I have access to instantaneously. I have been handed so much in my life and I am thankful for the opportunity Starfish has given me to give back.” – Katrina, volunteer

“I have become more responsible, my skills have grown which makes me proud because I feel that I am a very capable person.” – Joselyn, scholar

“Without the people of the Starfish Foundation, I wouldn’t have learned more Spanish and how to work with their students. Additionally, without the students of Flor, I wouldn’t have learned how to work with English language learners and develop more skills as an educator.” – Katie, volunteerIntegration Day...in the eyes of a volunteer.

“I’ve learned to express myself and am comfortable speaking in front of the other people on various subjects.” – Julio, scholar

“Community can’t be taught, it must be built with time, trust, and consistency.” – Martin, volunteer

“Through reading, I learn more about myself and the world around me, and it has helped me to become who I am today.” – Sara W., scholar

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.

anna2

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.)

Lessons Learned in Ecuador

This week’s post comes from Danny, who participated in this year’s trip to Ecuador.

Having visited the Starfish Foundation in Guasmo and Flor de Bastion two years ago, going back to Ecuador with the rest of the crew from the U.S. was a good opportunity for me reconnect the great work going on and the development of the Starfish community. I was also lucky to have a stellar schedule of meals in homes, playing soccer, a talent show, professional development for the employees, and much more. After going on this trip, I’m excited to stay connected with Starfish, see more students graduate and watch the Starfish students and employees pursue their goals.

In line with another volunteer who posted a list of lessons learned, here is a list of 10 lessons learned during my visit. Lessons learned from trip to Ecuador:

1. Ecuadorian kids are way better at salsa dancing than American kids.

2. While taking spontaneous midday naps at various homes may not be culturally acceptable in the U.S., that kind of hospitality exists in the Starfish community.

3. The concept of ‘without lettuce’ is not always quickly understood by restaurants.

4. I take for granted environmental factors such as air quality and water quality that I experience every day in the U.S.

5. It’s important to give kids more ways to shine than just the classroom or the soccer field (The talent show was AWESOME! Also, shout out to one of my favorite TED talks.)

6. If you were worried that your love of selfies might not be acceptable during your visit to Guayaquil, don’t worry, you’ll fit right in.

7. Hospitality and financial security are not correlated, as demonstrated by the numerous desserts given to me solely out of good will.

8. Be kind to foreigners. I’m super grateful to people who were kind and patient with my poor Spanish while in Ecuador.

9. It is unfortunately still too common that financial barriers prevent some kids from pursuing their dreams or sometimes even thinking about pursuing their dreams.

10. The community that has developed in the Starfish Foundation is way greater than just some students receiving scholarships.

50 Lessons I learned in Ecuador ~ Volunteer Perspective

Abby volunteered with Starfish for 5 weeks from May-June 2015.  During her time, she kept a list of lessons she learned in Ecuador.  Enjoy!

Abby with host family – Andrés, Milena, Mariana, Michelle & David!

Lessons I’ve learned in Ecuador:
1) High school Spanish teaches you nothing.
2) Having a chicken run into the house is normal.
3) You yell “A Ver” rather than knocking on someone’s door
4) You must have change for the bus.
5) If you visit someone’s house, they will almost always give you food and you must always eat it with a smile. 
6) The stray dogs tend to leave people alone.
7) The soap TV shows have terrible acting but they are entertaining.
8) Just when you think you’ve figured out the bus system, you realize you haven’t.
9) If you have blue eyes and hair that is not black you stick out like a sore thumb.
10) Beware of mud: you will lose a shoe.
11) Having a toothless indigenous woman tickle you is hilarious to her but not to you until afterwards.
12) If you don’t keep the kids busy they will play pelota (soccer), and even if they are busy they will still want to play pelota
13) The tricimotos are a blast, but also a potential death trap depending on the driver.
14) Pizza here is not the same as in the U.S. unless you go to Pizza Hut and order the “American.”
15) Wearing white clothes is not an option for volunteers, and yet all the children manage to keep their white school uniforms clean.
16) Cold showers are actually wonderful with the heat here.
17) Having a mosquito net at night is your saving grace from the mosquitos.
18) The mosquitos are relentless even with mosquito repellent.
19) Roosters crow all night, not just when they are supposed to at sunrise.
20) The families here who have nothing are the first to help anyone in need.
21) All directions are given with landmarks not street names.
22) Seco de Pollo is served at least once a week.
23) Panama hats are actually made and originated in Ecuador.
24) Twilight is still just as bad in Spanish as it is in English.
25) All the kids can draw amazingly well.
26) The garbage trucks play music that sounds like ice cream trucks except they don’t serve delicious frozen goods – they reek and have everyone’s trash in them. 
27) The game Monopoly is expensive here.
28) Hammocks are incredibly comfortable.
29) If you fall through the floor it’s okay and they can fix it. 
30) When the garbage truck comes every single person runs to get their garbage and take it to the truck before it leaves them stranded with their trash.
31) Sometimes the water will not work randomly but the people still manage.
32) The stray dogs and cats do not eat the stray chickens even though it could be an easy meal.
33) Having one mosquito in your mosquito net when your trying to sleep is the worst situation ever.
34) Even if a really bad car wreck happens the traffic doesn’t stop and people will honk if you do stop.
35) People will tell you their life story for 45 minutes on the bus then ask for money.
36) Banks will take a minimum of an hour in line before you make it to the teller.
37) Rice is served with everything, even spaghetti.
38) When anything hits the aluminum roof it is ear piercingly loud, especially if it’s a chicken or a cat. 
39) Even if you think you have planned things perfectly, Ecuador will still manage to throw a wrench into those plans.
40) Even if it’s the first day of whale season on the coast you can still see two whales breach.
41) When the captain of your boat says you need to turn back, don’t allow the two deckhands to continue to poke at the engine with a knife for an hour before finally turning around.
42) When you finally have a hot shower at a hostel, it’s like the heavens have decided to descend upon you and engulf you.
43) Even if you speak the same language, you still may not understand each other.
44) Music will be played at all hours, even at five am.
45) The TV shows here are sometimes one that got cancelled years ago in the U.S. Such as “Drake and Josh.”
46) If you don’t love either Barcelona or Emelec, then you don’t have a life. 
47) Almost every kid here is good enough at soccer to play on a high school varsity team even if they are only 12.
48) Ecuador time means 5-10 minutes later than the actual time planned.
49) The families here are more welcoming than the families in the U.S.
50) Ecuador always wins at everything. Whether that be making simple plans to purchase a cake or plans in taking an all day tour whale watching, Ecuador will always win.

What was your favorite lesson? What would you like to learn more about?