From Volunteering to Pen Pals to to Friendship

I met David Tomala my first summer at Starfish, summer of 2016. I was serving as a month-long volunteer and taught English, led professional development for the educators of Starfish, and learned a bit about the school system in Ecuador. David was one of my English students! He always came to class prepared, and eager to speak English. He’d say, “Hi, how are you,” even when we weren’t in English class!

IMG_3147After my month in Ecuador I wanted to sponsor a scholar, and David was one of the students who was without a sponsor. I chose David because of his work ethic, how pleasant and friendly his demeanor is, and his desire to learn. I got to witness David playing soccer and hanging out with his friends at the Foundation multiple times a week, as students would often hang around after class, listening to music, dancing, and playing sports together. The other volunteers and I, too, would hang out at Starfish until after the sun had set each night, running around, playing games, doing more homework help if kids needed it, and chatting, I truly appreciate the togetherness that Starfish brings to families, the Flor de Bastion community, and the togetherness it brought among Starfish scholars and volunteers alike.

David and I communicate via our pen pal letters, and we are also Facebook friends! This past summer of 2017 I went back to Starfish for one week. The timing of my trip aligned closely with the timing that sponsors were sending gifts to their scholars, so I took David’s glow in the dark soccer ball, took the air out of it, and brought it along with me to Guayaquil! I pumped it back up and hand-delivered his “regalo,” for which David was grateful, and the ball was being used within 5 minutes of presenting it to him!!

img_3081.jpgAbout an hour later, I was chatting with Mikki, the summer volunteer coordinator, and we were wondering if he knew that it was a gift for him to keep or not. My Spanish isn’t perfect, and at this point another girl was using the ball while David chatted with his friends. So Mikki went over to confirm that he knew that the ball was his. David’s response was that he knew that it was his gift and that his friend wanted to borrow it, so he was letting her use it. I remember being so humbled and impressed by his response; everything, even a brand new gift received that day, is for community. His attitude was so selfless. David wanted to share, so he did! I learned from David that day and carry that moment with me each day still.

I’m blessed to be David’s sponsor and to have known him for the past year and a half!

If you would like to sponsor a scholar and gain a Pen Pal you can! We have 4 different tiers of sponsorship, find out more at http://www.thestarfishchange.org/sponsor-a-scholar

This post was written by a guest blogger, Kaitlyn.

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The Importance of Education

Guest Blogger: Margaret Mary Telling

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

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

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

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

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

Senior Project Check-In: Ruddy Figueroa

Hi everyone! This past week I decided to check in on some of our senior students. As they enter the halfway point of their final year, a lot of them are making great progress on their Graduation Projects! So, I met up with one of our students, Ruddy Figueroa to discuss the theme and status of her project, both before and after she accomplished it!

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-10-53-39-amWhen I met with Ruddy a couple of months ago, the first thing I asked of her was to give a little introduction and description of her project. Ruddy told me that her project, “consists of hosting a little Christmas party for the boys and girls of my neighborhood: Guasmo Sur Coop. Julio Potes Jiménez, in the city of Guayaquil, based on the needs and scarce economic resources of the families who live in the area.” I was immediately intrigued, as this project sounded like a success already!

But, I wasn’t only impressed with the the project itself, I was impressed with Ruddy’s reasoning behind it. She said, “these families are made up of little kids that often can’t receive any gifts from their parents because of their financial situation. I want to organize this party to help and contribute to the happiness that doing community service generates.” Ruddy continued by telling me how she was going to achieve this goal. “I’ve decided to do a few different activities in order to be able to complete my project on time, including sending letters asking for donations and collaboration. I won’t need a building for the event because I plan to do it outside on a street with low a low volume of traffic. For my project I have the help of several community members who are available to help and collaborate.”

Flash forward to a week ago, and it was time for me to follow-up with Ruddy after she accomplished her Christmas party. I asked Ruddy to reflect on the project and let us know how she achieved her goal and how it made her feel. First, Ruddy said,

          “Not long ago, we started to work on a project, supervised by our foundation, the Starfish Foundation. In this project, many people close to me got involved. These people, in addition to my parents, helped me so that my idea could become a reality. Really, we started this project without knowing a lot about how to do this, but so many people were willing to help. Once we saw how abundant the help was, we decided to make the event even bigger.
When I sent letters to businesses, I received overwhelming and encouraging responses. This motivated me to keep moving forward with the idea to make the event bigger and reach out to more children than I had planned for in my project. The toys came in by the hundreds. I never thought that I would receive so much help. It really outdid my expectations.
The happiness kept growing when my classmates at Starfish offered to help me with the face painting activities for the children. Furthermore, around 250 children were able to receive gifts, and this included the younger brothers and sisters of my classmates from Starfish. I must admit, it was tiring and hard work, but the feeling of being able to was very comforting.
I also had the support of a school from my area, the “Escuela Fiscal Mixta Blanca Goetta de Ordoñez”. They lent me chairs, even though since we had a lot of children we still needed more chairs! In spite of this small challenge, the kids had a great night and had lots of fun with the activities we prepared for them. The skills of many were of great help to me in setting up the decorations for the party. My neighbors also helped me by lending me some lights, and my dad helped me to install them, so that the area was well lit for the event.”

It was so great to hear how many people and organizations were willing to chip in to help Ruddy with her party. She was so appreciative of their support and said, “That same night, at the end of the event, those who helped me with the party came over to my house where I had also prepared a meal for them to thank them for their enthusiastic efforts in making this event a success.” Well done Ruddy! Lastly, I asked her for one final thought on both the party and the project. Ruddy said, “There are so many ways to help someone who needs it, and so many ways that we can collaborate to help.”

I am so proud of Ruddy and all of our Starfish students!

Until next time,
Henry

My Heart is Full: Notes from a Volunteer Abroad

Last week, Anna Evich shared a summary of her time volunteering in Ecuador, the work she did, and how her time there changed her as a person. This week, we’re checking back in with Anna to have her share some of her most memorable moments, favorite words, and and things she learned.

anna3

Most over-used phrase?
No entiendo (I don’t understand)

Favorite word?
Enserio?! (Seriously?!)

Favorite song?
Andas en mi cabeza (I’m still trying to learn the rap part in español)

Most embarrassing moment?
Saying that I was turned on “Estoy caliente,” instead of that I was physically warm, “Tengo calor.” BE CAREFUL!

Pop culture references?
When my host sister and her cousin sang “Let it Go” in Spanish (“Libre Soy”), as I sang it in English at the same time. Also, hearing everyone refer to Spongebob Squarepants as “Bob-espongha.”

anna7Funniest memory?
When one the the educators was acting out Jackie Chan for English class charades, and was running around the Foundation doing karate kicks and chopping tables, and broke a leg off of one of the tables (#commitmenttocharacter)

Fondest memory?
Being nicknamed “Anita” by my host family, having them call me “Anita Barrezueta” (their last name), and telling me that I was a part of their family.

What is one thing you might be remembered for?
Sleeping. A lot. Running joke: “Dónde está Anita?” (Where is Anna?) “Durmiendo.” (Sleeping) … I think the heat and lesson planning got to me!

Something you’ll never forget?
I lost my iPhone and had the whole Starfish staff searched around the Foundation for 20 minutes or more, trying to track and locate it on “Find my iPhone,” only to realize that it was in my room at my host family’s house.

Favorite lesson?anna4
A tie between “Cómo hablar en público” (How to Public Speak) and “Sinónimos y Antónimos” (Synonyms and Antonyms). Cecilia’s performance of what not to do when public-speaking was truly Oscar-worthy, and Maria and Jessica’s creative balloon-popping activity was the coolest lesson I have ever seen!

Greatest challenge?
Communicating! I only studied Spanish as my language core in college, and didn’t have much to go off of. Giving professional developments in Spanish
and collaborating with staff to plan and prepare lessons for the kids were definitely some of my greatest challenges! However, I learned so much in the process, and am so grateful to have been pushed in that way.

A moment you’ll never forget?
Something really special happened here that defines this beautiful culture in the most genuine way. One of the Starfish students, Bryan, noticed that my
friend (and fellow volunteer) Kaitlyn and I were leaving the Foundation after dark. He started yelling in Spanish across la cancha (the outdoor open space of the property) to one of the older male educators to come over to walk us home. The educator was busy talking to someone and didn’t come over after Bryan called out to him twice.
So, Bryan took it upon himself (at the young age of 13), to walk the two of us home. He told us it was dangerous for us to walk home by ourselves at night. On the way up the massive hill that led to our house, we asked Bryan how often he walked up that hill, as we were huffing and puffing and complaining about the difficulty of it, and he said “This is my first time.”
I immediately got chills. What a beautiful moment. What a beautiful soul. Without hesitation, a young child took on the role of the protective male figure, watching over us and ensuring our safety, without thinking twice about it.

What did you learn from your volunteer experience?anna5

  • Say what’s on your mind
  • Love deeply and vulnerably
  • Ask and you shall receive
  • Stand up for what is right
  • Be the voice when others can’t
  • Tell the people you love that you love them
  • Say thank you
  • Enjoy the little moments
  • Look around you
  • Give thanks to God
  • See the beauty in others
  • Appreciate the simplicity of life itself
  • Be your most genuine self
  • Be patient with yourself
  • Try, try again
  • Suffer with grace
  • Apologize when you’ve done wrong
  • Allow others to help you
  • Be present. Just be.

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

Volunteer Reflections: Holly

Greetings, Starfish supporters! This summer we are especially excited to share the reflections of our current cohort of Starfish interns, who are supporting us in our social media and fundraising projects. Today’s post comes from Holly, a member of our Summer 2015 Social Media Team. 

“I hate school. I hate Mondays. I hate waking up early.”

“School stands for Seven Cruel Hours Of Our Lives.”

“School is like a prison.”

Admit it. So many kids in American education system have had these thoughts. There is an evident lack of motivation to excel in school, especially among students in economically depressed communities. In 2010, social researchers observed 11,000 seven-year-olds and found that those with parents in professional level jobs were at least eight months ahead of peers from the most disadvantaged homes, where parents were often underpaid and unemployed. Studies from the New York Times, the RSA, Harvard, and much more have analyzed similar situations. There is substantial evidence that the children attending school from impoverished environments are prone to less motivation and resources to succeed. This triggered something in me because school is huge part of my life and doing well in it has been a constant goal for me.

Why is school so important though? Why do we need to be motivated? Ever since I was little, my parents ingrained in my mind that learning, understanding, and even grades were essential to success. As I grew up, I questioned what “success” was and what school had to do with it. So after some consideration, these were some thoughts I had:

The classroom provides the students the exposure to be curious and develop the opinions that will push them to shape the world in their perspective. Our teachers and peers alike expose us to diversity and which inevitably leads to appreciation. Whether it is through science, literature, or a vocation, education fosters the creativity for us to pursue our own personal projects. And success is unique to every individual, but the branches of it all come stem from our education.

Fortunately,  in America we provide our scholars with numerous programs, laws, scholarships, and equipment for our students. The U.S.  education system can be truly exceptional and provides mobility to anyone who has the passion to change a chunk of the world. With No Child Left Behind, programs for students with disabilities, scholarships for minority students, and so much more, there are many opportunities to succeed.

This is why the Starfish Foundation exists to grow education in places with fewer opportunities. School in Ecuador is free; however, the students themselves pay for all the supplies and uniforms, making it impossible for some families to send their children to school. There is not a lack of motivation, but a lack of resources. Programs like the Starfish Foundation facilitate education for children who are in desperate need and want of it. We can turn donations into priceless opportunities for one scholar at a time.

So why education? It is the tiny spark that leads that turns the gears to our future.

Volunteer Reflections: Laura

Greetings, Starfish supporters! This summer we are especially excited to share the reflections of our current cohort of Starfish interns, who are supporting us in our social media and fundraising projects. Today’s post comes from Laura, who has volunteered with our Social Media Team since December 2014.

In the 8th grade, I visited Ecuador, having taken two years of Spanish classes, and I was so timid that I  never spoke a word of Spanish. Many of my friends ordered food in Spanish from the restaurants we visited or at least thanked our tour guide with a poorly accented but enthusiastic “muchas gracias.”  I flat-out refused. For me, language was a thing you studied in class to get a good grade, not a rich, varied aspect of a vibrant culture. I can’t say I’ve grown a lot wiser since my trip, but I can say with certainty what I’ve learned-what you study in school doesn’t end with a grade.

As a general rule, I don’t believe in turning points or epiphanies when it comes to life lessons. There wasn’t an education deity that suddenly whispered in my ear and opened my eyes to the truth. However, my journey was most definitely aided by my recent internship at the Starfish Foundation.

Within the first few weeks of working with the foundation as a Social Media Intern, I began to notice instances of Starfish Scholars and their keen appreciation for learning. For my posts, I read quotes and thoughts from students, some the same age as myself, and took note of their clear and ambitious dreams. Maybe in Guayaquil, where a good education is not guaranteed for every child, students are more aware of how significant an education really is. Starfish Scholars do well in school, to be sure, but their motivation is more than a desire for good grades. They want to learn new things for the sake of learning; they want to do new things with the education they receive.

The people who apply their education to real life are the ones who make a change in the world. We’re lucky to be living in an era of social change, where the injustices of the modern world are being brought to light and resolved. Just as important, however, are the changes that occur on a personal and community level. These are the changes of the Starfish Foundation and its participants. It has truly been an honor to learn and write about these exceptional students on a weekly basis.

I hope to visit the Starfish Foundation in a year, after I finish high school. Ecuador is too bright and resilient a country to pass over, and I can’t wait to witness it to the fullest extent. And you can bet that when I visit, I’ll be ready to speak in Spanish.  ¡Ya estoy preparada! –Laura

A Reflection on Senior Year…by Starfish senior Joel

Today, senior Starfish student Joel shares with us a reflection on his last year in high school, and his motivation for the future.  Joel has been with us since the first days of Starfish and we are so proud of all that he has accomplished so far!!

“Hi, I’m Joel.  I’m in my last year of high school.  To be in the last year of high school….it’s gratifying to know that you are about to graduate and meet one of your goals which is to finish high school.  Of course, the last year is not easy because your life is slowly taking an important turn towards responsibility.  One begins to become more independent, but it’s always necessary to listen to others’ advice for something that you don’t understand.  It may be related to your studies, which are important.  Someday, thanks to your academic efforts, you can achieve diplomas or scholarships like what I had, and with these accomplishments, people will respect you as a person.  If everything goes well, in the future they will also respect you as a professional.”

Also important to note, Joel has done an excellent job preparing for his graduation, participating in the equivalent of SAT-prep classes and earning an admirable score on the exam.  As such he is currently exploring 2 options, the public university to which he will automatically gain admittance with his outstanding test score, and a private university scholarship through another local organization which awards scholarships specifically based on merit.  Let’s wish him the best of luck as he continues in the scholarship process!!  ¡Buena suerte Joel!

Spanish language – Joel’s original post:

Hola, soy Joel.  Estoy en 3ro de bachillerato.  Estar en el último de colegio…es muy grato saber que estás a punto de graduarte y cumplir con una de tus metas que es finalizar el colegio.  Claro que el último año no es fácil porque tu vida poco a poco va tomando un giro importante que es el de la responsabilidad.  Uno se comienza a independizar, pero siempre hay que escuchar a los demás, sus consejos, en algo que no entiendes.  Puede ser referente a tus estudios, que son importante.  Algún día gracias a tu esfuerzo académico puedes obtener logros como diplomas o becas como los obtuve yo, y al obtener todos estos logros, las demás personas te van a respetar como persona.  Si todo va bien ya puede que más adelante de te respeten como un profesional.