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!


  • 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!


  • 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.


  • 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,


Familia: A Starfish Volunteer Reflection Part 2 of 2

Part 2: (Be sure to check out last week’s post if you missed Part 1)

To survive in Ecuador you have to pay attention and learn quickly. The custom while greeting people is to kiss them on the left cheek. Women kiss each other and men kiss women, but men do not kiss other men. You can imagine how this can be tricky when you are first learning the cultural norms and your Ecuadorian family member’s are practical jokesters. Another interesting cultural phenomenon is machismo, best translated as an intense masculine pride of sorts. This can best be seen while taking public transportation. If you are a man, the bus will not stop for you when you are boarding or debarking. However, the bus comes to a complete halt for women. Some interesting facts: the current gas price is about a dollar, 22 chocolate covered bananas cost $1.40, and bus fare is 25 cents.  The words that come to mind when thinking back on this experience are “eye-opening” and “life changing.” It is not every day that you can experience the culture and the people that you find in Ecuador and it really makes you appreciate your life.

I have been asked several times “what is your favorite thing about Ecuador?” To me the answer is simple: its people… especially my Ecuadorian friends and family. I stayed with a host family in Guasmo during my trip. My host mother’s name was Filadelfia (pronounced Philadelphia) which we all thought was funny given that I go to school in Philadelphia. Filadelfia, in my humble opinion, is one of Ecuador’s best cooks. This single mother of three runs the house, cooks every meal, not only for our family but occasionally for the neighbors, all out of a compassion for her friends and family. 
Some of the kids who made a particular impact on me were Geovanny, Christian, Joel, and Mike. These four boys as well as all of the children’s at Starfish have such compassion and genuineness and will never be forgotten. These boys would go out of their way to say hello and make sure that my day was going well. By the end of my trip, these boys went from being my students to my friends to my little brothers. 
If you ever have an opportunity to visit Ecuador I would highly recommend it. In Ecuador it’s not hard to find an experience that will make an impression and meeting these families was truly an unforgettable experience.
All the best,
Greg “Gregorio” Branigan 


Written by Summer 2014 Starfish volunteer in Ecuador, Greg Branigan.

Alegría – Happiness: A Starfish Volunteer Reflection Part 1 of 2

¡Saludos desde Ecuador!

I am very proud to be associated with such a great organization as the Starfish Foundation. Ecuador is a very unique country filled with extraordinary people. I was given the opportunity to meet some of the most generous and gracious people whom I now have the pleasure of calling my friends. All of the families we met warmly opened their homes to us and shared their culture and their lives without hesitation.


During the week, the volunteers attend refuerzo, which are the tutoring sessions that occur at the foundation for the scholarship students as well as many of the neighborhood kids. The general set up is an hour and half of studying and doing homework and then a half hour of dynamicos (a game that gets everyone up and moving). There are two locations for refuerzo: one in Guasmo and the other in Flor de Bastion. My job as a volunteer was to help with student’s homework and to explain concepts that they did not understand; my primary role was to assist the students in English, Math, Biology, and Chemistry, all in Spanish. This allowed me to get a glimpse of the education system in Ecuador, which is a wakeup call for most of us. A major struggle that we have to deal with is the fact that the students don’t always have the most competent teachers in their schools. Many times the homework they have is only copying problems or multiple pages out of their textbooks into their personal notebooks without truly understanding the concepts. With this, the kids are only going through the motions because the massive amount of work prohibits real learning and understanding. Despite this, they still keep going and are dedicated and excited to learn. 

 I found it interesting to observe the differences between the two groups and how they have formed their own community within Starfish. The two towns have their own distinct personalities, both towns being of extreme poverty. Guasmo being slightly more developed and Flor de Bastion only having running tap water for the last three months. One can only imagine how a child would act coming from either of these two scenarios, yet the commonality amongst all of the children and people who I worked with was a genuineness, eloquence, and love that was obvious within the first few moments of meeting them. While talking to one of the other visitors, he made the comment that if you needed to learn how to love you could not find a better teacher then the families in Ecuador.


Given the loving and genuine nature of the people it is hard to imagine that the areas in which they live are in utter shambles. The typical house has windows covered by large metal gates and tin roofs. While lucky families have cement floors and walls, the remainder of the houses are made of dirt floors and cane. What is extraordinary is the happiness that radiates from these people while living in this level of poverty. It is said money cannot buy happiness and you wouldn’t need more proof then to spend the day with the Starfish families. 

Written by Summer 2014 Starfish Volunteer in Ecuador, Greg Branigan.  Stay tuned for part 2 of Greg’s reflection next week!

Education Ignites Change

A Reflection on Education
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.

Jane with Genesis, Eloisa, Angie and Lissette in Flor de Bastión
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 here is broken in countless ways (I’ve yet to hear a positive anecdote about the department of education). Poorly trained teachers, ill-equipped classrooms, and relatively ineffective curriculum based mainly on rote memorization 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. 

Jane at Veronica’s house with Briggitte, André and Andreina
When André beams about how much he loves English class and practicing his English with us volunteers.
Or when Cristian 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 Pamela will let nothing get in her way of becoming a flight attendant.
Or when Maria, one of Starfish’s first students to graduate high school, begins university classes this fall in medicine, with dreams of becoming a pediatrician.

Jane with Maria on a field trip to the beach!
These awesome 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.
Written by Jane Lorenzi, Summer 2014 volunteer in Ecuador.  Check out more of her reflections here.

Ayudante Update from: Guasmo!

This week we get the chance to hear from our “Ayudantes” in Guasmo about the beginning of the school year there!

“During May and June, we set up a schedule with the parents to help us with snack.  So far, everyone has collaborated and the kids are satisfied with the snack they are given.

In the Starfish Foundation in Guasmo we have 2 groups:

Group 1: The students come Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.  In the morning we have 7th, 8th and 9th graders, and in the afternoon we have 10th, 11th and 12th grades.  In each group they do their homework, and during free time we do ice-breakers.  The new students and the old students get along very well, there’s a lot of friendship and everyone helps each other.

Group 2: The students come Tuesday and Friday in the morning and they are in 6th and 7th grade.  They do their homework and during free time we do ice-breakers.  The new students and the old students get along very well, there’s a lot of friendship and everyone helps each other.  They really like the ice-breakers and other activities, and they have a lot of ideas.

We also had a parents meeting to explain the new rules, values and snack system.

In the foundation, we also go on field trips, and one of those was the Integration Day when we spent a morning playing sports with the Scholars.

Yuliana, Cynthia, Lissette, Betsabeth & Marcos”

Ayudante update from: Flor de Bastión!

Today our Employees or Program Leaders  (the “Ayudantes”) share with us a beautiful reflection about the beginning of the school year at our Flor de Bastión site…stay tuned next week for the Guasmo updates!

“Hi!  Here we have a very friendly environment where some of our most important values include: respect, fellowship, humility and mutual cooperation between us and the students.

We have three groups during the week, and each one is different from the others. One of these groups is the group with the youngest students, which is also our most active group.  Then we have our morning group which is a little quieter and always gives a 100% effort in their work, and lastly the second afternoon group which is a little more challenging to work with – some are quiet and others talk a lot, but all have dreams and goals to achieve!

We as employees and leaders always try to be patient and also to get to know each student better.  We share our friendship and our knowledge with them.  Even so, there are some things we are still working to improve, and every day we strive to be better.  That’s a little of what is going on at the foundation.

Jessica, Tyrone, María, Cecilia, Kevin & Jasmin”

You might notice a new name on that list – Find out more about the newest addition to our Starfish team, Cecilia, over at our Employees page!

Sponsor a Scholar today!

Have you had a chance to check out the changes on our website?  There are updated pages on the need for Starfish, Community Partners, our Employees, bios from our Core Team, and a chance to meet all of our 41 Starfish Scholars for this school year.

Please also don’t forget, we are still looking for sponsors for this current school year.  Please let us know if you are able to financially sponsor these young students and/or if you would like to participate in our Sponsor a Scholar pen pal program.  Even if you are not able to financially support a student for the whole year, you may still be eligible for the pen pal program.  The following students are still without pen pals for the current year:




Contact Jenn & Beth for more information!

More Tutoring = Better Grades and More Fun!

For the month of December we decided to experiment with adding an extra day of “Refuerzo” or Tutoring in each neighborhood in response to parent suggestions during our latest round of evaluations.  So far, it’s been a huge success!!


An extra day of tutoring means more time to dedicate the school subjects that our Scholars find difficult.  Our “Ayudantes” or employees have been busy helping students review some tough material so that the next time they have exams they’re all set to get even better grades!

Employee Tyrone presenting to the morning group in Flor

This has also allowed us more time for the group presentations on topics important to teens that we told you about in last week’s blog.

Lili & Milena
Dayanna presenting on Effects of Drug Use

Since it’s December we’ve also used the time to bring some Christmas joy to our classroom space too – everything pictured below is hand-made by our Starfish Scholars!!

Happy Holidays a little early from all of us at Starfish!

Tutoring update – Group Presentations!

At Starfish we not only give scholarships, but we promote a well-rounded education for our students.   One way we do this is through a new activity we started a few weeks ago during our tutoring sessions.  In addition to the regular homework assigned by their schools, each table was assigned a topic to research and later present to the rest of their classmates.

Cristhian, Dayanna, Samantha and Anthony

The first set of topics dealt with some very important topics to today’s youth – dangers and prevention of drug use, as well as puberty, sexuality, etc.  Over the course of 2 weeks 1 group presented each day, with an open discussion afterwards to answer any other questions.


This presentations serve another purpose as well – it’s a great chance to practice research and public speaking skills in a friendly environment.


Each month we will assign new topics so that our students continue to learn from each other and excel in the classroom!

Ariana, Cristhian, Dayanna, Anthony

Sponsor a Scholar updates!

As you may be aware, this year we started a “Sponsor a Scholar” program, based off of the success we had with last year’s pen pal program.  This year our students have been paired with a new friend in the U.S., a “Starfish Sponsor” to exchange communications about life, school, culture and more.  

Our Starfish Sponsors include many of you – volunteers, donors, and other loyal supporters!  Starfish Scholars and Starfish Sponsors will write to each other 3 times a year with various updates.  
Our Scholars write about what they do in school, what their families are like, what they like to do in their free time – and their topic for the first letter – “What is your dream?” Our Sponsors respond with stories of their own lives, what it’s like to live in the U.S., etc.  Some of them even used this as an opportunity to practice Spanish!

Yamileth & Yesenia working on letters with volunteer (& Starfish Sponsor!) Danny.
We have just completed our first round of letters for this school year.  It is important to note that this program does not require any additional financial support has all of our sponsors have previously demonstrated their commitment to Starfish through time, money or other support.
Next year we hope to have more scholars, and more room for your participation!  If you are interested in getting involved in this or any other program, never hesitate to email us!
Solange, in her school uniform, making sure that her new friend in the U.S. receives a colorful card!