2017 So Far

Wow everyone, I can’t believe it’s already April! Now that we’re three months through 2017, I think it’s time to take a look back at what we’ve accomplished so far!

January:

  • In January, our volunteer Ellie continued with the English classes with both the students and educators. Also, the students were able to hold a party for Three King’s Day, on January 6th. The party involved playing and having a grab bag for each student. Next, there was a meeting held on January 15th, in which scholarship recipients completed activities related to the leadership school. The students had a great time and enjoyed it a lot!

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  • We have also continued our tutoring classes! This month the classes were focused on nouns, sentences, comma usage and other grammar points.
  • Finally, we held a Community Service Workshop. Overall, January was a great month for the Starfish Foundation!

February:

  • In February, our volunteer Ellie completed the English classes with the students and educators. Great job, Ellie!
  • Students presented their final projects at Starfish, where they were able to demonstrate the skills they learned at our new and improved classes these past 5 months. Their project was called “Around the World,” and each group was to pick a country they had never researched previously. Then, they were to research, make a PowerPoint and present to the class, while including a creative piece such as traditional dress, traditional food, etc.Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 10.58.11 AM
  • The high school students also carried out three projects with the community in February, which they’ve planned throughout the year. Stay on the lookout for our upcoming blog posts to get an update on their projects!
  • This month, our tutoring classes were held in conjunctions, upper and lowercase letters and public communication.
  • Finally, the Leadership School held their second workshop this month, where the topic was how to be a good leader. Activities were created for students to find out their flaws, virtues, interests and values and then how these attributes make them a good leader.

March:

  • This month was the end of the school year for students!
  • In March, we received over 100 scholarship applications and are excited to welcome 54 full scholarship recipients and 16 conditional scholarship recipients!
  • We also held our year end ceremonies in March. In Guasmo, the ceremony was on March 12th and in Flor de Bastion, the ceremony was held on March 17th! For the students with the best grades, we went on a field trip to Bucay at the end of the month.
  • Coming up, we have a new summer reading initiative! Starfish students are expected to read daily, complete a reading log and attend weekly sessions for 1 month to discuss what they’re reading, with our educators.

These past three months were absolutely great and we can’t wait to see what the next three have in store!

Until next time,
Henry

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.

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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.

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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.)

The Season of Love and Joy (Part 2)

Last week I shared some holiday traditions and celebrations, and this week, I checked in with another staff member at Starfish to share her story. Yuliana took some time to explain the important of having family time around Christmas and New Year’s.

“For us, it is really important being together because the new year comes with goals. One of the many things we do on Christmas for the kids – my nephews and nieces – is to give them as many presents as we can. We try to keep their Christmas spirit high, because recently it feels like people are losing some of it.

Throughout all of December, we decorate with Christmas lights. Five years ago we stopped putting up a tree – it was a tradition we lost while we were growing up – but now we want our nephews and nieces to keep the Christmas spirit, so, we recently decided to bring back our traditions and start exchanging gifts again.”

She took some time to explain how the younger children enjoy New Year’s Eve:

“They enjoy the night with sparklers, fireworks and other games until midnight when we eat dinner and each family member gets to pray and share their wishes for new year’s.

For holiday dinners, many families make pork or turkey, but in my house we usually make something different like shrimp and different types of salads. We stay awake until 6 in the morning dancing and talking and hanging out with the neighbors.”

So while the children are playing games and lighting sparklers, what is everyone else up to?

“We consider New Year’s Eve more of a holiday for grown-ups. Adults get to buy nice clothes to feel and be their best for the new year. This is a tradition we have as a family. We also play secret Santa with friends and family. We usually say an attribute about the person we’re giving the gift to, and everyone else gets to guess who that is.”

What a neat family tradition! But it’s not just Yuliana’s family with a cool tradition, Ecuador as a country has a really cool tradition for New Year’s Eve as well:

“Every year we buy a monigote or a big doll made of recycled newspapers and other materials, to say our goodbyes to the old year. We get to burn the monigotes after our Secret Santa exchange, and each year there is a contest for all our neighbors, family and friends to see who has the largest doll. This is something unique about our country. After the contest, we get to wish everyone a happy new year.”

I can’t thank Yuliana enough for all this fun information and for sharing her yearly traditions with me. I hope she and her family and neighbors have a great Christmas and New Year’s and all of you reading this have a holiday season full of peace, joy, and loved ones.

xxx
Henry

Día de los Difuntos

In Ecuador, every November 2nd is a national holiday. This is the day that cemeteries are decorated with crosses, crowns and flowers. This is done to immortalize loved ones that have passed away to eternal life. This is the day that the ones that pray meet with the ones that have already met death.

On the days leading up to Día de los Difuntos, Ecuadorian families clean their loved ones’ coffins so when the day comes they can fill their day with prayers for them or share customs that the loved one used to do when he or she was alive.

Lastly, in remembrance of this day, people make colada morada and traditional guagas de pan. On this holiday in November, families get together to visit the loved ones that have passed.

Fun Fact: Colada morada is a traditional Ecuadorian beverage prepared with black corn flour and fruits such as naranjilla, babaco, pineapple, blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries

Fun Fact 2: Guagas de pan also known as T’anta wawa is a type of sweet roll shaped and decorated in the form of a small child or infant. They are generally made of wheat and sometimes contain a sweet filling.

I checked in with some of our educators and staff in Ecuador to see how they and their families spend Día de los Difuntos.

Jessica Párraga says, “Each November 2nd, my family usually gets together in the morning at the Gardens of Hope Cemetery  to visit our family members that have passed away. In the afternoon, the entire family goes to one of my uncles’ houses to have lunch, and play secret Santa which is another one of our traditions that lets us get together again for Christmas…For us, the Day of the Dead is a holiday where my entire family gets to be together.

William Segura says, “It is an incredible holiday!”

He continues, “In my opinion, the November holiday is one of the most fun, along with Carnival. My entire family gets together to share experiences and make delicious food, which is the most representative thing about this holiday. The food is delicious because it incorporates fruits from the mountain, flours, and more. During Día de los Difuntos, many families take advantage to visit their loved ones. My family is no exception. I have relatives spread throughout the country and every holiday I get to go to a different place.

What I love the most about this holiday is eating guaguas de pan, which are little dolls made of bread  – and they taste great! – with colada morada made of pineapple, mango and citrus fruits.”

It was lovely getting to learn more about this extra special holiday in Ecuador and experiencing some of our staffs’ family traditions. I thank Jessica and William for sharing their stories with me.

Happy November!
xxx Henry

Back to School!

Educadora Jasmin & Volunteer Mirka helping Flor students set goals for the first semester!
Classes officially started back up last Monday, May 4 here in Guayaquil.  We are so proud of all of our students, new & old, who are making the commitment to one more year of education!  At Starfish tutoring is off to a great start.  We have 55 scholars and over 60 non-scholarship students already enrolled and participating in our daily sessions.  A growing wait list may mean even more exciting additions to our programs in the coming months!
Guasmo Scholars Mike, Sara & Briggitte during an icebreaker on the first day of class!
So far in the first few days of tutoring we have focused on getting to know each other a little better, as well as establishing guidelines for a great classroom environment and setting some SMART goals for the semester.  The educadores have done a great job planning ahead for a successful year and we are excited to see all of the exciting things our Scholars accomplish.  Next week our summer volunteers begin to arrive, so stay tuned for updates from them.  Our Scholars always enjoy learning from our visiting volunteers as well as sharing a bit about life in Ecuador.  
Arelisa in her new uniform at a brand new school!