Life Lessons from Juliana: A Starfish Scholar

Juliana, one of our scholars, agreed to sit down and tell us a little about her self and some of the most important life lessons she’s learned.

Juliana LeonCan you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m 16 years old, I’m in Starfish, and I live in flor de bastion.

What do you like to do in your free time?
When I’m not in school I spend most of my time at the foundation, many people say they have two homes, but instead I have three including the foundation which is my third home.

What are some of your hobbies?
My number one hobby is listening to music; I love music! I like to read and chat with friends. I also sleep a lot.n
With my friends I like to laugh a lot, it’s what we do the most when we are together. Sometimes we have scheduled get-togethers, to meet up because we are not in the same school.

What are the most important life lessons?
I’ve learned a few:

  1. No matter how difficult it is to try to accomplish something, you have to try. It is not about whether or not you succeed, but you have to try.
  2. Nothing is impossible and everything can be achieved in this life if you work hard and aren’t afraid to try
  3. Keep going despite every circumstance
  4. In the course of our life we ​​will meet wonderful people; some will leave and new ones will come
  5. In every error, there is a lesson.

A Day in the Life of a Scholar

Guest Writer: Maddy Okkerse

jordy loor.jpeg

“Within five years, I see myself studying one of these careers because I want to be a professional in order to be able to help my parents, but above all to give myself the lesson that what one resolves to do may be accomplished when you work hard to achieve it. “ -Jordy Loor

One-Hundred-Forty Students. One-Hundred-Forty Dreams.

The Starfish Foundation inspires scholars like Jordy to go above and beyond their social norm and to reach for the stars. Giving these students a place to study is only one part of the day as a Starfish student.

On their first day, April 24th, students arrived at the foundation wearing the shoes and uniforms provided by the foundation and attended classes. But these are not just your average students;these students are here because they want to be here. Many children in Ecuador of the same age have become involved with tobacco, drugs, or alcohol, but the Starfish scholars have healthy habits and long term goals. These students also attended workshops during the day providing crucial lessons – such as learning about HIV from a Peace Corps volunteers, Bonnie.


Along with workshops, getting to know the other scholars, and reviewing materials from last year, students also were able to attend some of the several clubs offered by the foundation, such as soccer, crafts, computer, dance, and music clubs.

“Here I have met many new friends. In the foundation we can mingle, create very good friendships and besides that also there we learn a lot with the workshops they give. All of this helps me to change and everyday I learn more.” – Maria Belen

Emulated by the staff, these students are also instilled with a love for service early on. From helping paint the classroom walls, to the SAC community service project, many students help to serve their community in someway. For this reason, many of the scholars are not only achieving academic success, but they also develop incredible character.

So a day in the life of a scholar is more than above average; from learning, to service, to dreaming, the success of a scholar never stops.

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Things I’ve Learned (Part 2)

When you talk to the students at the Starfish Foundation about what they’ve learned this year, you’ll hear everything from math to geography, the importance of plants to the finer points of accounting. They are dedicated to their work, and excited to continually learn new things through both school and the Starfish Foundation.

But in addition to the reading, writing, and arithmetic that everyone is expected to learn, the Starfish Scholars are all learning another important lesson: the importance of relationships.

“The most interesting thing that I have learned this year is the value of friendship with my classmates at the Foundation. I have also learned about many very good subjects that help me in school, such as history and language”
– Emerson, a 12 year old scholar.

Time and time again, this lesson is echoed by the students who are reflecting on their experiences with Starfish – in addition to safe place to learn and grow academically, the Starfish Foundation is fostering team building, healthy relationships, and a sense of community – something essential to emotional and mental well-being.30389139440_e827dfeb47_z

“The most important thing that I have learned this year is to be respectful with my classmates and my seniors, because it is with these people that I coexist. With respect, you can live in a good environment anywhere you go. Another very important thing that I learned is about companionship. Along with respect, fellowship is one of the values that are important to everyone and we should all try to improve.”
– Josselyn


Milena adds, “This year, I have met many new people that have become my friends. I have had a lot of fun with these new friends doing activities that take  place at the Foundation,” showcasing how the Starfish Foundation not only brings bright young minds together, but encourages them to thrive in social spaces.

It has been proven, over and over again, that friendships are vital to learning, self-confidence, life skills, priority setting, emotional health, and empowering people of all ages to make societal changes. That our scholars are able to develop relationships, and recognize their importance, through their participation in the Starfish Foundation, is vital to their current and future happiness and success.

We close today with a Maori proverb:

“What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people”. ( He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata).

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.

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 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.


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.


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?