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.

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Guest blogger Maria Belen is a student at our Flor de Bastión location. She is in 9no (8th grade equivalent) and has participated in Starfish for 2 years.

 

Hello, my name is María Belén and I think that I have changed a lot during my time at school in many different ways, like my way of thinking, how I get along with my friends. I’ve also changed because there are already so many things that I now know that I didn’t know before I started high school. But my change has not been alone as a lot of things around me have changed because I have started to go to the foundation since last year.

The foundation is very near to my house. Here I have met many new friends that before I had seen in school but never conversed with, perhaps because of shame. 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 every day I learn more, which makes me very happy.

This year I was chosen as a conditional fellow, that is if I want to win the scholarship I will have to work hard and have excellent grades. I will also need to keep my notebooks up to date and well decorated.

These are the things in which I have changed.

Wherever you are…best regards!

//

Hola, soy María Belén y pienso que he cambiado mucho durante mi etapa en el colegio en muchas cosas como la forma de pensar y de cómo me llevo con mis amigos y también porque ya se muchas cosas que antes yo no sabía. Pero mi cambio no ha sido solo, también ha cambiado mucho las cosas a mí alrededor ya que desde el año pasado voy a la fundación.

La fundación queda muy cerca de mi casa, allí he conocido muchos nuevos amigos que antes los veía en el colegio pero no conversaba con ellos quizá por la vergüenza. En la fundación nos podemos relacionar, crear amistades muy buenas y aparte que también allí nosotros aprendemos mucho con los talleres que dan, eso también me ayudo a cambiar y cada día yo aprendo más, eso me alegra mucho.

Este año que entre me eligieron como becada condicional, es decir que si quiero ganarme la beca tendré que esforzarme mucho y tener calificaciones excelentes también tener mis cuadernos al día y bien decorados.

Estas cosas son en las que yo he cambiado.

Donde estés… Saludos!

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

Redefining Happiness Part 2: A Thank You

Hello again! Remember my good friend Katie Malone from last week who shared her volunteer experience in Ecuador? This week, she has some thank-yous to share and some final reflections on the infectiousness of happiness. Thanks for reading!

-Henry

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It is so difficult to put in to words what kind of an impact these wonderful people have made in my life, but I will do my best:

I thank my host family for allowing me in to their home, taking care of me when I was sick (homemade chicken noodle soup cures upset stomachs and hearts), giving me oil to rub on itchy bug bites, showing me how to flush their toilet, washing my clothes, feeding me until I couldn’t eat another bite, and simply being my Ecuadorian family.

Thank you for allowing me to witness your kindness, happiness, laughter, and joy of being together as a family. It made the pessimistic things that mattered in my life back in Ohio seem so, so small. Thank you for giving me a new perspective on the world and showing me what is most important in life.

Also, thank you to the patient, fun, kind, and compassionate workers at Starfish! You were so understanding while trying to comprehend my pre-kindergarten level Spanish and when giving me anything I needed for the English classes I taught. You included me in your daily routine and made sure students who had English homework felt comfortable enough to ask me (or get one of you to ask me) for help.

Lastly, thank you to all of the students who completed my English classes and worked diligently to complete homework assignments, practice the ABC’s, and participate in my review games as if they were fútbol games in the Copa América. You have inspired me to become a better teacher through your dedication and motivation as students and as members of your community and families. Most of you have already gone through more difficult situations and have endured more hardships than I could even imagine. In a way, you are all role models because you continue to learn and thrive, in spite of the negativity in your lives. I thank you so much for pushing me to be a better educator for my future students.

Happiness pulses through each one of you. It is more infectious than any mosquito, spider, cockroach, or other bug we Americans are afraid of.

I thank you for making me a more adventurous, confident, and loving person.

Most importantly, I thank you for being happy.

Thank you for a successful #GivingTuesday 2014!

We owe a huge THANK YOU to all of you for your support this past #GivingTuesday!

For those who are wondering, Giving Tuesday is the non-profit world’s answer to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (this year December 2nd) – charities, families, business, community centers, and students across the world came together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give!

According to the United Nations Foundation (one of the co-founders of the Giving Tuesday movement) more than 26,000 partners participated this year with civic initiatives, fundraising campaigns and volunteer work.

Starfish has participated for the past 3 years, since the start of this initiative.  This year we participated by hosting happy hours and dinner events across the U.S.!  16 Starfish volunteers & supporters in MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA, MD and NE combined to host a total of 10 events.  Friend of Starfish organized happy hours, dinner events and more while promoting Starfish to their friends, co-workers, neighborhoods and community in hopes of spreading awareness and raising funds for Starfish – and they sure were successful!

We are excited to announce that so far a total of $4,072.15 has been raised from these events and other supporters on Giving Tuesday.  In the coming weeks we will have a final tally to share with you.

If you still want to join in on the fun, you have one last chance – tomorrow – Friday, December 12 from 7-10pm at the Gin Mill on 81st & Amsterdam in Manhattan!

Thank you!!!

 

Thankful for Education: Part 4

This year for Thanksgiving we want to share with you one of the many things we are thankful for – our education.  This short series includes reflections from many various Starfish supporters on why they are thankful for your education.  We encourage you to read these reflections and also reflect on your own education.  Read our first reflection below and comment, What part of your education are you most thankful for?


I grew up in a household deeply committed to education. You might say it was a core family value. Growing up, it was never a question of whether or not I would go to college, but, rather, where I would go to college. The only question really was if I would choose to earn any degrees beyond a baccalaureate.

But, my parents never had to choose between buying our next family dinner or an expensive textbook. In fact, they had the luxury of choosing to send me and my sister to a tuition-based school rather than the local public school. Not that my parents didn’t make sacrifices for our education, they certainly did, but those sacrifices never involved choosing between feeding and clothing our bodies and feeding and nurturing our minds.

I remember thinking once when I was young—perhaps 9 or so—how lucky I was to be born where I was, when I was and to whom I was. I also remember grasping the sheer vastness of the world and the incredible odds I landed in such a good spot. I still believe that, though need to force myself to stop and contemplate it more.

My education has become an integral part of who I am and I how I interact with the world. It’s not just that I am thankful for my education; I am who I am because of it.  Too often economic privilege and educational access go hand in hand. This is true in the United States and, as we well know, it is especially true in Ecuador. I was drawn to volunteer with Starfish Foundation because of how much I value my own education and have come to know further privilege and success because it.

When I really push myself to think about why I am most thankful for my education it’s because it (hopefully) has allowed me to be a part of the solution. And not just because it taught me to think about things on a broader scale and recognize the complex and nuanced factors that attribute to almost every major problem/conflict/crisis in the world. Rather, it has given me the opportunity to support myself and my family through activities that engage my mind and allowed me to make more than a living wage while only working 8(ish) hours a day, five days a week. It gives me sick days. It gives me paid vacation. It gives me a way to plan financially for the future.

These things sound boring, but it all adds up to big impact. Why? Because it gives me the time, energy and financial resources to support worthy causes. It also, most likely, ensures that future generations of my family will have those same opportunities, and therefore, the same chance to give back to the world in meaningful ways.

The cycle of poverty is a very real, documented and studied phenomenon. As is inherited privilege, just picture the kids in the front row in the cartoon that Jenn describes in her blog post. I landed on the luck side of that equation. But, too many people born into this world do not.

What is the best known way to break the cycle of poverty? Education. So, I am thankful for my education so that I might—in some small and sometimes seemingly insignificant way—help others achieve an education as well, especially those up against the greatest of odds.

Written by Alex Maegdlin, Starfish Communications Manager

Thankful for Education: Part 3

This year for Thanksgiving we want to share with you one of the many things we are thankful for – our education.  This short series includes reflections from many various Starfish supporters on why they are thankful for your education.  We encourage you to read these reflections and also reflect on your own education.  Read our first reflection below and comment, What part of your education are you most thankful for?

True confession: I was part of the planning committee that decided it would be a good idea to have some friends of Starfish write blogs about why they are grateful for their education; it seemed like an easy way to tie together what we do and the current holiday and just seemed like low hanging fruit.  I have been staring at a blank computer screen intermittently for the better part of the morning, it turns out that explaining why I am thankful for my education is like trying to explain why I am grateful that there is oxygen in the environment. Ironically, I have spent this semester limping across the finish line of getting my masters, so this thankfulness exercise is much needed.

I did not understand how passionate my parents were about education until I was a junior in high school.  My brother was in his second year of college studying fine arts at a state university.  He had landed a job doing the framing on multi-million dollar houses and making “good money”, he informed my parents that he was going to quit school because he could make more money working (isn’t it always true that you can make more money working full-time than you can being a college student?). They informed him that he would take one class per semester until he graduated or died, whichever came first; He decided to take two classes a semester.  I never remember a conversation about my future with my parents, it was just always implied that I would go to college. In 10 days I will become the first person in my family to obtain a master’s degree. I want to also be clear that education does not necessarily mean just formal education.  It pleases me so much that as of late, many colleges and universities have understood the importance of sending their students abroad and also pushing their comfort zones. Some of the crown jewels of my education were delivered in Xhosa at a senior citizen’s center in the townships outside of Grahamstown, South Africa.

Abraham Maslow, a famous psychologist created a hierarchy of needs positing that you cannot fulfill any needs on the pyramid until the ones below it are satisfied—it’s pretty straightforward if you don’t have food, clothing, and shelter you cannot/do not worry about love and belonging.  I always count myself lucky that despite growing up poor, I did not have to worry about the basics and had the time and space to flourish in the classroom.  Only recently have I left education—after graduation with my B.A., I worked in education, then went back to school full-time.

I now have a corporate job working in a blue collar environment and I am grateful for my education because it helps me empower others.  It is fairly well known that I used to work in admissions and so I have spent a lot of time counseling employees on whether or not getting a degree is the right decision for them.  Beyond that I do a lot of volunteer work with a youth leadership organization; I just had the pleasure of spending 5 days in Asheville, NC with some of the most motivated and intelligent young adults you will ever meet.  They were there because they have the will to change the world and after attending the academy the resources as well.  I volunteer for my alma mater and each year teach part of the curriculum for the alumni mentor retreat. I do lots of consulting throughout the year. I am an amateur photographer and help others capture their lives and emotions for years to come.  All of these things are possible because of the education I’ve received and the body of knowledge I strive to enlarge every day.  I’m thankful for my education because it empowered me to rise above and allows me empower those around me to never stop learning and growing.

Written by Anna Jordan, Starfish Development Manager

Thankful for Education: Part 2

This year for Thanksgiving we want to share with you one of the many things we are thankful for – our education.  This short series includes reflections from many various Starfish supporters on why they are thankful for your education.  We encourage you to read these reflections and also reflect on your own education.  Read our first reflection below and comment, What part of your education are you most thankful for?

Why am I thankful for my education? 

Let me back up a minute – how about instead of why, am I thankful for my education? Well now that you asked, of course I am! But what if you didn’t ask me – would I realize how thankful I really am?  I grew up in a town where the percent of students who graduated college and continued on to college was ridiculously high.  No one asked if you were going to college.  They only asked, “where are you going to college?” with the implication that of course that’s what you would do upon graduation.  From honors & AP classes, to sports & other extra-curriculars, SWHS sure laid out a pretty nice path for me to finish high school and continue on to college.

At Fairfield, the Jesuits took education to a whole new level.  Cura Personalis – care for the whole person? Seeking Magis – the more?  You mean learning isn’t just at school during class?  I know I (read: my parents and my scholarship) paid a whole ton of money for the 5 classes I took each semester, but at least 75% of my education took place outside of the classroom.  Retreats, community service, immersion trips, ministry, student association, clubs, jobs, study abroad – you name it – if Fairfield offered it, I signed up!  Also I can’t forget the fact that I had the opportunity to design my own second major called Social Justice in Latin America – I decided what I loved and I got to design my own path to learn more about it – how great is that? I even traveled to the Philippines & Nicaragua (3 times!) and domestically to NYC to serve the homeless population, Atlanta to a teach-in to protest injustices & Washington, DC for a humanitarian action conference.

That’s not to say the classes weren’t great – where else would I get the opportunity to sit with professionals in their field and just chat with them?  Those of you who know me now never believe me – but I was quite a shy person growing up.  However, over the year the professors at Fairfield taught me to believe in myself, to challenge what I learned – and even to challenge them.  Open doors during office hours, small classes of 10-15 where one could really engage in a subject – that’s what education was like for me.  Years later I still stay in touch with many of them and they never hesitate to help when at all possible.

Let’s back up again and pretend I wasn’t born in Connecticut.  Let’s say I was born in Guayaquil:

I grew up on less than $2/day.  So when it was time to go to school, most days I didn’t eat breakfast first – I usually can’t eat a lot in the morning anyway, but this time it wasn’t my choice.  I’m hungry, but there isn’t any food – or there is only a little so mom has to give it to my younger siblings and we go without.  I arrive at school after my 25 minute walk, but my homework is incomplete because I didn’t have money to go to the internet cafe and complete the assigned research so I used some old books I borrowed from the neighbor.  I receive a 6 on the assignment.  At least I don’t fail.  In my next class I have a test.  Despite my best efforts to pay attention and take good notes, we couldn’t afford the book this year so it is hard to study. I hope I do okay anyway.  In my last class I have a really hard time understanding my teacher so I timidly raised my hand and ask a question.  He says we are out of time and that I should figure it out on my own because he already explained it once.

When I get home around 2pm I still haven’t eaten anything all day but since mom & dad are at work I have to cook.  I go to the store with a few dollars and bring back the ingredients for soup, rice and menestra.  The prep and cooking takes a little over an hour.  By 3:30pm I can eat a little lunch and save the rest for dinner when everyone else is home.  I start my homework but it’s so hard to concentrate.  I go outside for a bit and play soccer with my friends.  At my friend’s house a social worker from a foundation is visiting.  She’s talking to my friend and her mom about options for college.  No one’s ever talked to me about college, I can’t even think about college – I won’t even make it through my first year of high school! Plus college is expensive, there’s no way I can do that – I’d better get a job and help my family.  It’s dark now so I go back inside to finish the rest of my homework before going to bed and starting over tomorrow.

Now that’s pretty different from my reality.  I recently saw a cartoon online trying to explain privilege and opportunity.  Imagine a classroom where maybe I’m in the front row because I grew up in Connecticut.  In the middle rows are some disadvantaged schools in the U.S. and maybe some private schools in the developing world.  In the back row are our Starfish students.  Now there’s a garbage bin in the front of the room and we all have a crumpled up piece of paper that we’re trying to shoot into the bin.  Most of us from Connecticut are able to make the shot because we’re so close.  But my friends from Starfish – they are trying at least as hard but they haven’t been given that opportunity.  They were born in the back row and have to work many times harder to overcome those obstacles.  A few of them make the shot, but most of them miss.  Is that just? Not even a little bit.

So yes, I’m really thankful for my education and I’m thankful for this opportunity to share that with you all.  Without education, I could never have even imagined being where I am today.  I also believe that education is not only a privilege but also a responsibility.  It is a responsibility to act and to never turn a blind eye to injustice. So thanks to my education, and a big thanks to all of you for your support in continuing to make my dream come true so that Starfish can continue to allow others to value their education in Ecuador!

Written by Jenn Zocco, Starfish Co-Founder

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thankful for Education: Part 1

This year for Thanksgiving we want to share with you one of the many things we are thankful for – our education.  This short series includes reflections from many various Starfish supporters on why they are thankful for your education.  We encourage you to read these reflections and also reflect on your own education.  Read our first reflection below and comment, What part of your education are you most thankful for?

My education has opened up many doors for me and enriched my life in ways that I would never have planned on.  While my education is something that I often take for granted, looking back on it gives me perspective on lucky I am.  From a classroom content perspective, my education from elementary school to college at Villanova University has enabled me to more fully engage in the world and hold a job.  Without that, I would have much more difficulty calculating tips at restaurants, understanding how the government works, or even writing this post.

Outside of lectures and exams, my education has also given me the opportunity to meet lots of great people and develop friendships.  The majority of my friends are somehow tied to the schools I’ve gone to. I am very thankful to have met these friends.  These friends have given me the opportunity to have different perspectives on life and learn about relationships.  If it wasn’t for friends I met at Villanova, I would never have even known about the Starfish Foundation.

I’m also thankful for the opportunities that exist for me to continue learning even when I am not officially in school. I definitely hope to be a lifelong learner.  Being involved with the Starfish Foundation has helped me learn more about another culture.  I hope the Starfish students will also continue to take advantage of their learning opportunities both in the classroom, during tutoring times, and during daily interactions with each other.

Written by Danny Newell, former Starfish volunteer both in the U.S. & Ecuador

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us here at Starfish!

Without Starfish, finishing high school is only a dream for many of our students.  High costs and other necessities often create the sad reality that education just cannot be a priority.  But our students know that the way to break that cycle is to finish their studies.  This Thanksgiving, help us help them make their dreams come true.  Making a donation to our campaign is easy, just click here!
While we all celebrate with our families today, we suggest spreading that gratitude by donating the amount you would spend on a Thanksgiving pie.  Any amount makes a difference!