Spring Cleaning, Summer Reading

April was a busy month in Ecuador!


While students were on summer break, they embraced a new summer reading initiative! Throughout March and April, Starfish students read daily, completed a reading log, and attended weekly sessions to talk about what they’re reading with our educators! How fun is that?

During summer break, recent Starfish grad, Julio, joined our staff as a work-study volunteer! He’s a quick learner and has been a great addition to the team – we’re so lucky to have him!

April also included some fun for our staff! At the beginning of April they went on their annual staff field trip to nearby pool and outdoor complex to spend a Sunday of relaxation with their work friends. Later in the month, we began a new monthly tradition of staff incentives – or what many of us might have heard called “mandatory fun” at college. This month staff first enjoyed a breakfast prepared by ICD Jenn, and then participated in a lip sync contest, inspired by Jimmy Fallon’s lip sync contests on his late night show. Everyone had a blast and looks forward to future staff bonding opportunities.

The new school year started on April 24th. Two days prior, on April 22nd, we held a meeting and invited all the scholars to come and receive their backpacks, uniforms, shoes, and school supplies. Scholars then participated in the School for Leadership. This month’s theme was humanitarian action, as we took a look back on the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Ecuador in April 2016, and the world’s humanitarian response to that tragedy.

The next day (April 23rd), we held our first Bingo of the year!Games of BINGO are a popular way to raise money in Ecuador. This year we raised about $275 at the event.

The first week of school was spent getting to know each other. New and returning scholars worked together to set expectations and goals for the new year and to review material from the previous semester. The last few weeks have been a lot of fun – we’re keeping everyone busy with clubs, projects, and many small workshops. Tune in next week for more details!


It’s Back to School season! 2014-2015

The new school year hasn’t quite started yet here in Guayaquil, but we’re already getting ready for the new school year here in Guayaquil.  As the students enjoy their last few weeks of vacation, they are also busy getting their new shoes & uniforms.  The “ayudantes” and I have already purchased new backpacks and notebooks for the year.  Both spaces are starting to look more like real classrooms and we even had our first parent & student meeting a couple of weeks ago.  

This year’s scholars in Flor de Bastión!
Meet some of our Starfish families – both new and old!  And stay tuned for more exciting updates as we approach the start of classes on Monday, May 5!
Starfish Scholar Juliana, her sister and niece!
Starfish Scholars Anthony, Evelyn and Argenis, with their mom and sister,
and new addition – Domenica, Evelyn’s daughter! 
Starfish Scholar Mirka with her mom and sister!
Third-year Starfish Scholar Joel with his mom and younger brother!

"What I like About Starfish"

When Briggette finished her homework early, she used her free time to share with us what she likes most about Starfish.

Briggette working on her homework with Starfish employee Yuliana.
What I Like about Starfish

I like to be at Starfish because they help me with the basic subjects like Science, Math, Language Arts, Social Studies and it’s a great help for my parents.  Thanks to this situation, I have my uniform, backpack, notebooks, everything thanks to The Starfish Foundation.  I also like Starfish because thanks to this I have friends, and having friends is cool because what I don’t understand, they can teach me.  I thank all of you for what you’ve done for my siblings and mostly for me because I don’t know how to thank Jennifer and most of all Isa.  I hope to continue in the Foundation.  I thank Yuli, Andrew, Danny and my friends.  Thank you, seriously, from the bottom of my heart.

~Briggette Bravo, Age 11

Briggette, center, showing off her dance moves at June’s Integration day.
Los Gustos sobre Estrellitas

A mí me gusta estar en Estrellitas porque me ayudan en las materias básicas como CC.NN., Matemática, Lengua, EE.SS., y es una carga para mis padres.  Gracias a esta situación tengo uniformes, mochila, cuadernos, todo gracias a la Fundación Estrellitas del Mar.  Esto también me gusta porque gracias a eso tengo amigos, y tener amigos es chevere porque lo que no entiendo me lo enseñan.  Les agradezco todo lo que han hecho por mis hermanos y sobre to a mí porque no se como agradecerles a Jennifer y sobre todo a Isa.  Espero seguir estando en la Fundación.  Le agradezco a Yuli, Andrés, Danny y a mis compañeros.  Gracias en serio de corazón.

~ Briggette Bravo

Check out our new space!

Backpacks, shoes & uniforms ready to be distributed!

Backpacks, uniforms, and notebooks are bought and our students are getting ready to go back to school.  Starfish programming started back up Monday April 29 and school classes start today for most schools!  We can’t wait to see what this new year has in store for our students in their schools.
Guasmo Scholars with Jenn and new employee Marcos!

Flor de Bastión Scholars with new employees Jasmin and Tyrone!

For Starfish a new year means a full year of tutoring, monthly meetings and community service.  This year one of our biggest community service initiatives will involve a few fundraising projects.  In Guasmo we will be in a new space – a move initiated by our students who were ready to have a safe space to call their own.  To pay the rent for our new classroom, the students suggested we raise the money through opening up a small store to sell snacks and planning a bingo in the neighborhood to raise money.  Stay tuned throughout the year as we work toward our goal and in the meantime check out our new space!

New classroom in Guasmo!

Kids Supporting Kids!

This week we announce an exciting new initiative called “Kids Supporting Kids” created by Tamoja and Starfish friend & supporter, Monica!  Monica was born in Ecuador and on her recent trip to Ecuador she decided to put her talent and passion to work for Starfish.  In less than a week she made contacts and coordinated with COMIL, a school in Riobamba (in the mountains here in Ecuador), to donate school supplies to our students as the school year is ending in the mountains and just beginning here on the coast.

Students at COMIL, “TAMOJA creating, “Kids Supporting Kids”, sponsored by COMIL – Colegio Militar Combatientes de Tapi N.6 with The Starfish Foundation”

I sent Monica a short list of supplies we could use during tutoring and was absolutely amazed and overwhelmed by the response she got from the students.  She was able to send 6 giant boxes from Riobamba to Guayaquil filled with school supplies for our students to use both at school and during our tutoring program.

The boxes on their way to Guayaquil! 

These 6 boxes included not only notebooks, pens, pencils, rulers and other useful school supplies – but one entire box of books – both academic and novels – to begin a small library in each neighborhood.  We are so excited for the opportunities this will give our students to go above & beyond in their studies.

Some of the books & other generous donations we received from COMIL!

In her blog, Kids Supporting Kids, Monica writes, 

“But education is not only memorizing things by heart, it is not only a teacher giving a lecture to their students, it is not even googling and copying…it is an integral process, that requires the whole society to be involved in.  Parents, neighbors, educators, kids should participate actively in the sharing process of education.”

At Starfish we couldn’t agree with this more.  Our students may pass their classes, but we want them to understand what they are being tested on and put it into practice in their lives.  We want to empower leaders.  Monica and COMIL have made a giant step in the right direction by giving hope to our students’ dreams of a better future, while at the same time learning an important lesson about solidarity and service.

Students at COMIL lined up for morning role call!

We are so grateful to Monica for her energy and efforts in coordination, as well as Vice President of the Parents, Chela and Director of the school, Hugo for their dedication and drive to teach the values of solidarity and service to the students of COMIL – Colegio Militar Combatientes de Tapi N. 6. We hope this is a partnership that continues to be successful for many years to come!

Mil gracias!

My backpack weighs more than I do!

Check out this video from an Ecuadorian television station about the crazy list of supplies many Ecuadorian schools require!  The “No-ticias” program from Gama TV is known for purposefully “mis-informing” and making parodies of the news.

This particular video is extremely relevant to Starfish as it makes fun of the lists of supplies that students in Ecuador are required to buy at the start of each school year.  I for one can attest that I was never required to buy half the amount of supplies for school that Ecuadorian students are required to buy…factor in the difference in average salaries and we are talking about an impossible amount of money for many families to afford.

I am learning this year that the best students who are elected leaders of their classes are often required to purchase things such as music speakers and other expensive things explained in this song.  Another interesting fact – students take regular public buses to school, meaning they also pay a bus fare as opposed to the yellow school buses most of us took through high school!

Starfish scholarships for 2012-2013 represent $216 worth of supplies, while an average monthly salary is about $280!  This parody is done to the tune of a popular song “Una vaina loca” (loosely translated – a crazy nuisance).  Translated lyrics below!

Que hago? Esta está caro                               
Seguro quiere estudiar mijo?                         
Una lista loca la que piden ahora                    
Yo no creo que un niño gaste todo esto en un año escolar
Piden calculadora y hasta computadora
Y mi guagua este año recien va para el prescolar.
What do I do?  This is expensive.
Are you sure you want to study son?
What a crazy list they require now.
I don’t believe a kid will use all of this in one school year.
They require a calculator, and even a computer
And my kid is just going to preschool!
Para los ninos empiezen las clases
Y si no tienes plata que haces
En la escuala te sugieren donde tienes que comprar
Me pidieron 4 uniformes
para que no gaste ropa dice los rectores
terno y bano para un paseo que van a hacer.

School is starting for the kids
And if you don’t have money, what do you do?
The school suggests when you should buy
They required 4 uniforms
“So you don’t waste your clothes” said the directors
suit and bathing suit just for one field trip they’re gonna take.

Una vaina la que piden ahora
tanto papel de color le alcanza hasta la Universidad
como 40 carpetas
frijol, fideos, lentejas
debe ser para arte porque lonche ya me hicieron pagar.

What a crazy nuisance they require
So much colored paper it’ll last until college
Like 40 folders,
Beans, noodles and lentils
It must be for art class because they already made me pay for snack!

Oigame porque me piden la computadora
si mi hijo no sabe leer senora
eso le dije yo a la profesora
si no te gusta buscate otro colegio ahora.

Listen, why do you ask me for a computer
If my son can’t even read miss?
I said this to the teacher
“Well if you don’t like it, find yourself another school now”

La mochila esta full
pesa mas que me hijo el Raul
y ahora que hago hay que cancelar 3 meses de bus escolar.

The backpack is full, 
It weighs more than my son Raul
And now how am I going to pay for 3 months of the school bus?

Pura vaina loca la que piden ahora
y que al coca barriga el seguro debo comprar
ya quede chiro
prestame don Ramiro
que al medio ano seguro han de querer el aula pintar.

Such a crazy nuisance what they require now,
I’m already broke,
Lend me money Mr. Ramiro
Because halfway through the year I’m sure they’re going to want to paint the classroom

Una vaca loca me pidieron ahora
para el dia de professor de donde el billete voy a sacar
que a una gringa loca contrataron ahora
es la teacher de ingles y un bono extra toca pagar.

Now they asked me for a crazy cow for teacher’s day
where am I going to get this money?
Now they hired a crazy gringa
She’s the English teacher and we have to pay an extra stipend!

A humble house.

Imagine my surprise as I find out that one of the Starfish Scholar parents wants to meet me! In fact, I believe Jenn said she insisted on meeting me. 

Marina’s* two oldest children are Starfish Scholars. Marina cried as she shared that this is the first year her children don’t have to wear used uniforms. The youngest of the two Scholars, Steve, was so excited – “Mom, I love that the professor just tells me what the homework is and I can pull out my workbook and do it!” 

For the next oldest children in Marina’s family, two young girls in elementary school, they don’t have a scholarship. When her elementary-school-aged children ask for their workbooks or textbooks, Marina has to tell them, “Look- this is how much money I have for the day. You’ll have to choose between the book and your tummy. Which do you choose?”

What a decision to make! I have never even had to consider a decision like this. Food or books for school? My memories of the summer always end with a huge school-supply shopping spree at Target, where I was able to buy all the supplies I needed (and then some). At the end off the trip, we usually went to grab lunch somewhere or had a big dinner at home. The thought of choosing between my tummy or a school book is so difficult. People should not have to make that choice!

In the hour and a half we were in her home, Marina used the word “humble” seven different times. She described so many things as “humble”: her house, the snack she bought us, the soup we were served, even the chair we sat on! But I have to say — no matter what she tried to claim as ‘humble’ – the most humble feeling in the room came from me. I was so humbled by Marina’s generous hospitality, genuine curiosity about Jenn and I, and thoughtful appreciation. Marina taught me more in those 90 minutes than most people could in a year.

“I’ll never stop thanking you. Well, first God, then you all. Because you all came to me through Him. I asked God to provide – and he did, by sending you!” The visit with Marina put so much meaning to what we do with Starfish.
*name changed for privacy

Me with Maria, who left for school first, around 12:15pm. She was ready to go on time — a rarity for many Ecuadorians!

Steve left about 20 minutes later. Marina told us that Steve and Maria’s friends and professors didn’t believe that they got scholarships this year! The Starfish Scholars had to carry their letters of acceptance to prove that this blessing did exist.

Me, Marina, Jenn and one of the younger children. Thanks, Marina, for a lovely visit!

–Beth Awalt, Co-Founder, The Starfish Foundation, Inc.