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.


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

Studying Medicine in Ecuador

Today we’d like to share María’s thoughts on her studies in medicine. This was originally posted to Engineering World Health’s blog.

María graduated from high school & Starfish in March 2014 and since then has worked as a teacher (educador) at Starfish’s tutoring program. She is 17 (18 this Saturday!) and just finished her first semester at college! María writes:
En Ecuador siempre se han enfocado en la educación pero muy poco en la salud, por ello hay niños con desnutrición y deficiencia para aprender. Esto me inspiró aún más a seguir medicina y sobre todo especializarme en Pediatría. Al seguir esta carrera jamas pensé afrontar la obsesión por la perfección de mis compañeros, la desigualdad de genero y sobretodo la imposición de los hombres. Mi consejo es que seguir medicina puede no ser fácil , si bien es cierto es una carrera de resistencia y sacrificios. Pero todo esto a la larga sera recompensado con la mayor riqueza , que es el sentimiento de haber salvado una vida.
In Ecuador, we have always focused on education but very little on health. For this reason, there are many children with malnutrition and deficiencies. This inspired me even more to study Medicine and specialize in Pediatrics. When I choose this career, I never thought I’d be met with such problems as classmates obsessed with perfection, gender inequality, and most of all, the imposition of men. My advice is that while studying medicine might not be easy, it is a career of endurance and sacrifices. However, this will eventually be rewarded with the greatest wealth, which is the feeling of having saved a life.

Volunteer Update – Meet Andrew!

Meet our first volunteer of this school year – Andrew.  Andrew is with us doing an internship for Florida Atlantic University’s Honors College.  During his time he will be teaching English and helping out with our tutoring program.  Today Andrew shares with us a reflection on his first week in Ecuador.

Andrew & Steve during our tutoring program.

“I have been working with Starfish now for about a week and I can say with confidence that this will be a week that I will never in my life forget.  Many times when you come across the odd gringo here in South America they look like they are running away from something.  For me, I just want to highlight that my experiences in Ecuador have been something very much running toward.  While I didn’t know what I was looking for when I decided to come here I have found an extraordinary group of students and families here at Starfish and am amazing host family who were willing to open their doors to me and had the patience to work with my basic knowledge of Spanish to try to explain things.

Andrew teaching his first English lesson in Guasmo.
For the past week I have been helping the students with their English homework and attempting to teach English when we have spare time.  What I value most about my time in Starfish is the free time I have occasionally just to sit and talk to the kids about anything and everything we could possibly talk about. Although much is lost in translation, that exchange of ideas I believe is going to have a lasting impact of my perspective on the world, hopefully I also have some useful perspective to share.”

“Aprendamos juntos” or “Let’s learn together” is one of Andrew’s favorite phrases.  Here he exchanges language & cultural lesson with Cristhian and Eddy.

Meet our Employees!

This school year we are blessed with the support of 6 part-time “ayudantes”.   Our employees provide support to our tutoring program and monthly meetings as well as act as mentors for all of our Starfish Scholars.

Valeria, Marcos and Yuliana have joined the team in Guasmo.

While Jasmin, Tyrone and Maricruz form the team in Flor de Bastión.

Tyrone and Jasmin in their first group picture with the Flor de Bastión scholars.

Find out a little more about each one of our employees on our updated website!

Meet Cristhian!

Cristhian has been a Starfish scholar in the Flor de Bastión neighborhood since the first class of scholars began last February 2012.  He is a motivated student and comes from a very responsible family.  His family has been so supportive that his two older siblings who are now both in college have joined the Starfish team as two of our newest part-time employees.  Cristhian turned 16 on March 6th and is in 2do bachillerato or the equivalent of 11th grade in the U.S.  When asked to describe what Starfish is, he said “Starfish is important and collaborative because it helps people in need, We shouldn’t see it just as help, but rather a responsibility.”  Cristhian is also a great leader in his school, his community and at Starfish.  He says, “Leadership doesn’t always mean being at the front of the group.  Leadership is making everyone else feel like leaders.  The leader isn’t always the one that guides, but rather the one that acts with intelligence and wisdom.”

Cristhian’s sisters Jasmin and Noelia (newborn), his mom Maribel, Cristhian & Beth at an Integration Day with Guasmo last June 2012.

Read below about Christian’s school vacation in his own words.

“What did I do during my vacation?”
During vacation I took advantage of my free days.  My vacation was a little funny, first I signed up for a soccer school but I only went for a few weeks.  Then I went to work (the days that I wanted to).
Then I just hung out until a group of friends and I signed up for a Summer Camp as Counselors.  There I taught a group of students in 6th grade.  We taught them Language Arts and Math, but unfortunately it was only for one month.  The last day was sad because it was the last day I was going to see my students and my friends.  After Camp, all the counselors got to go to the beach for a day.  There we ate, played and swam in the ocean.  That was a great day.  Then, I went to Manabí to visit my grandparents and I had a great time with my cousins.
Cristhian and Arelisa during an icebreaker at the April 2013 meeting!

“Que hice en mis vacaciones?”
Bueno, yo en vacaciones empecé a disfrutar de mis días libres.  Mis vacaciones fueron un poco chistosas primero me inscribí en una escuela de fútbol en la que fui sol un par de semanas. Después me fui a trabajar los días que daba ganitas.  
Me la pasaba molestando hasta que un grupo de amigos/as nos inscribimos a una Colonia Vacacional pero como animadores.  Ahí conocí a niños de 6to año y les enseñamos lenguaje y matemáticas pero lastimosamente solo fue un mes.  El último día fue triste porque fue el día en que no iba a ver más a mis alumno ni amigos.  Pero bueno al terminar la Colonia nos llevaron a la playa a todos los animadores.  Allá comimos, jugamos y nos metimos a la playa.  Ese día fue chevere.  Después fui a Manabí a visitar a mis abuelitos y la pasé bien con mis primos.

Meet Maria – a new Starfish Scholar!

Meet Maria Belén – one of our newest additions to The Starfish Foundation in our Flor de Bastión neighborhood.

Though she is new to Starfish, Maria is already in her last year of high school.  She impressed us with her punctuality and also her excellent grades even through the most difficult years of high school.  Maria is 16 years old – today, May 9!  When she graduates high school this year, she wants to continue studying in the University so that she can become a doctor.  When asked to share her personal hero, she said she has two – her mom and her dad  – because from them she has learned and will continue to learn how to be a beautiful and strong woman.  The best advice they gave her – even if she falls down many times, she has to get back up again even more times.  Last year her father passed away unexpectedly just as school was starting, but she continues to be strong in the face of hard times, being true to the lessons of resiliency and responsibility that he taught her.  In her free time, Maria likes to work on various projects with her mom, prepare food, read, and play with her friends.

Maria, helping organize some of our new school supplies for this school year!

Maria did some exciting things over her school break and shares them with us here in her own words.

“During my Vacation”
I was in a swimming class where I had a great time with my friends – one that I already knew and other new friends that I made.  I learned a lot, I lost my fear of diving.  Not being scared anymore is great especially since I worked so hard.  I even surprised myself because I was able to do things that I never thought I’d be able to do.  It fills me with happiness and enthusiasm because now when someone asks me if I know how to swim, I respond yes.  It’s a great and entertaining sport.
I was also finally baptized, and that has changed me.  Now I feel at peace with myself and with God.  I feel happy with a new and renewed life.  I like this.
I’ve also done a lot of other things like visit my uncles and aunts, and spend time with friends and family.

Maria introducing to another Starfish Scholar, Argenis, during an icebreaker at our April meeting!

“En mis vacaciones”
Estuve en un curso de natación en el cuál la pasé muy bien junto con amigas, una que ya conocía y otras que hice.  Aprendí mucho, perdí el miedo de un clavado desde el borde de la piscina.  Perder el miedo fue genial ya que aprendí y di todo de mí hasta me sorprendí porque logré cosas que jamás creí hacer.  Eso me llena de alegría y entusiasmo porque ahora que me pregunten que si sé nadar, respondo que sí.  Es un deporte genial y entretenido.  
También fue mi bautizo, que lo pude realizar al fin y eso me ha cambiado.  Ahora estoy en paz conmigo y sobre todo con Papá Dios.  Me siento feliz con una vida nueva, renovada.  Eso me gusta.  
También he hecho muchas cosas más como ir de visita a la casa de mis tios, visitar a mi tía, y compartir con amigos y familia.

Meet Danny – a new Starfish Scholar!

Meet Danny & learn about what he did over his break from school!

Danny is a new Starfish Scholar for the 2013-2014 school year.  He is in 10mo año (equivalent to 9th grade in the U.S.) and is 14 years old.  In his free time he likes to play competitive sports, especially canoeing, swimming and track.  He also plays guitar.  When asked who his personal hero is he said, “My dad because he is always with me when I need him”.  Today Danny shares with us in his own words what he did one weekend over school break.

Danny with some new friends at the first Starfish meeting of the year.
“How did you spend your vacation?”
I went on a trip to Salinas with my friends to compete in the Kayatholon of Salinas.  First we arrived in Salinas.  We stayed at the Naval Base  We left our clothes in our room. Then we went out for a walk for a bit.  When it was nighttime we went to eat dinner with my coach.  After that we returned to the Naval Base.  I stayed up talking until the early morning with my friends.  The next day we went to the beach to compete with my friends in all the competitions.  We had a great time.  After the competition we took pictures, we went swimming and from there we returned to the Naval Base.  We packed up all our clothes and we went back to our houses. We had a great time!

“Como pasaste tus vacaciones?”

Me fui de viaje a Salinas con unos amigos a competir en el Kayathlon de Salinas.  Primero llegamos a Salinas.  Nos hospedamos en la Base Naval.  De ahí dejamos nuestra ropa.  Salimos a caminar un rato. Cuando era de noche nos fuimos a comer con mi entrenador.  Después regresamos a la Base.  Después nos quedamos hasta la madrugada conversando con mis amigos.  Al siguiente día nos fuimos a la playa a competir con mis amigos en toda la competencia.  La pasamos super bien.  Después de la competencia nos tomamos fotos, nos bañamos y de ahí nos fuimos a la Base Naval.  De ahí todos guardamos nuestra ropa y nos regresamos a nuestras casas y la pasamos super bien.

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!

Back-to-School Adventures, Part 2

Just one week until the 2013-2014 school year starts here in Guayaquil.  What does that mean for our scholars?  “Matricula” started last week and continues into this week.  With only a week or two until classes start, this is first time you can officially sign up for school (even for the public schools our scholars attend).

If you’re staying in the same school you’re guaranteed a spot – but for those who have moved and must switch schools, or are just entering high school this is a very stressful time of year.  Once you have successfully matriculated in a school (if there are even any spots left!) just then you find out your schedule (morning or afternoon) and you can begin to buy your uniform and everything else you need for the school year.  Talk about last minute!

Pamela in her gym uniform with her professor!

Needless to say the uniform stores will be pretty busy in the coming days, as will our scholars as they prepare for classes after an extended break due to the rain.  Thanks to “Leon 2” and “Confecciones y Bordados Pincay” for making the uniform process easier for our students by providing times especially for Starfish and allowing us to purchase in bulk.  ¡Gracias!