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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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!

Throw Back Thursday: Lessons from Ecuador

This week, we’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane to see what various scholars, educators, and volunteers have learned through their experiences with Starfish:

“There is a universal language spoken through hugs, smiles, and laughter.” – Martin, volunteer

527e6-dscn2461“It’s important to give kids more ways to shine than just the classroom or the soccer field” – Danny, volunteer

“My wonderful opportunity to serve as an intern at the Starfish Foundation provides me with a greater insight of issues and circumstances worldwide, and has truly made me more grateful for the everyday things I have access to instantaneously. I have been handed so much in my life and I am thankful for the opportunity Starfish has given me to give back.” – Katrina, volunteer

“I have become more responsible, my skills have grown which makes me proud because I feel that I am a very capable person.” – Joselyn, scholar

“Without the people of the Starfish Foundation, I wouldn’t have learned more Spanish and how to work with their students. Additionally, without the students of Flor, I wouldn’t have learned how to work with English language learners and develop more skills as an educator.” – Katie, volunteerIntegration Day...in the eyes of a volunteer.

“I’ve learned to express myself and am comfortable speaking in front of the other people on various subjects.” – Julio, scholar

“Community can’t be taught, it must be built with time, trust, and consistency.” – Martin, volunteer

“Through reading, I learn more about myself and the world around me, and it has helped me to become who I am today.” – Sara W., scholar

My Heart is Full: Notes from a Volunteer Abroad

Last week, Anna Evich shared a summary of her time volunteering in Ecuador, the work she did, and how her time there changed her as a person. This week, we’re checking back in with Anna to have her share some of her most memorable moments, favorite words, and and things she learned.

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Most over-used phrase?
No entiendo (I don’t understand)

Favorite word?
Enserio?! (Seriously?!)

Favorite song?
Andas en mi cabeza (I’m still trying to learn the rap part in español)

Most embarrassing moment?
Saying that I was turned on “Estoy caliente,” instead of that I was physically warm, “Tengo calor.” BE CAREFUL!

Pop culture references?
When my host sister and her cousin sang “Let it Go” in Spanish (“Libre Soy”), as I sang it in English at the same time. Also, hearing everyone refer to Spongebob Squarepants as “Bob-espongha.”

anna7Funniest memory?
When one the the educators was acting out Jackie Chan for English class charades, and was running around the Foundation doing karate kicks and chopping tables, and broke a leg off of one of the tables (#commitmenttocharacter)

Fondest memory?
Being nicknamed “Anita” by my host family, having them call me “Anita Barrezueta” (their last name), and telling me that I was a part of their family.

What is one thing you might be remembered for?
Sleeping. A lot. Running joke: “Dónde está Anita?” (Where is Anna?) “Durmiendo.” (Sleeping) … I think the heat and lesson planning got to me!

Something you’ll never forget?
I lost my iPhone and had the whole Starfish staff searched around the Foundation for 20 minutes or more, trying to track and locate it on “Find my iPhone,” only to realize that it was in my room at my host family’s house.

Favorite lesson?anna4
A tie between “Cómo hablar en público” (How to Public Speak) and “Sinónimos y Antónimos” (Synonyms and Antonyms). Cecilia’s performance of what not to do when public-speaking was truly Oscar-worthy, and Maria and Jessica’s creative balloon-popping activity was the coolest lesson I have ever seen!

Greatest challenge?
Communicating! I only studied Spanish as my language core in college, and didn’t have much to go off of. Giving professional developments in Spanish
and collaborating with staff to plan and prepare lessons for the kids were definitely some of my greatest challenges! However, I learned so much in the process, and am so grateful to have been pushed in that way.

A moment you’ll never forget?
Something really special happened here that defines this beautiful culture in the most genuine way. One of the Starfish students, Bryan, noticed that my
friend (and fellow volunteer) Kaitlyn and I were leaving the Foundation after dark. He started yelling in Spanish across la cancha (the outdoor open space of the property) to one of the older male educators to come over to walk us home. The educator was busy talking to someone and didn’t come over after Bryan called out to him twice.
So, Bryan took it upon himself (at the young age of 13), to walk the two of us home. He told us it was dangerous for us to walk home by ourselves at night. On the way up the massive hill that led to our house, we asked Bryan how often he walked up that hill, as we were huffing and puffing and complaining about the difficulty of it, and he said “This is my first time.”
I immediately got chills. What a beautiful moment. What a beautiful soul. Without hesitation, a young child took on the role of the protective male figure, watching over us and ensuring our safety, without thinking twice about it.

What did you learn from your volunteer experience?anna5

  • Say what’s on your mind
  • Love deeply and vulnerably
  • Ask and you shall receive
  • Stand up for what is right
  • Be the voice when others can’t
  • Tell the people you love that you love them
  • Say thank you
  • Enjoy the little moments
  • Look around you
  • Give thanks to God
  • See the beauty in others
  • Appreciate the simplicity of life itself
  • Be your most genuine self
  • Be patient with yourself
  • Try, try again
  • Suffer with grace
  • Apologize when you’ve done wrong
  • Allow others to help you
  • Be present. Just be.

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.

anna2

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.)

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.

Redefining Happiness

Hi there friends! Henry here and boy, do I got something for you. I’ve just been talking with one of our volunteers, Katie Malone, and she has written something to share about her incredible volunteering experience in Ecuador. Keep on reading and I’ll send you more updates soon!

-Henry

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One word that can describe my time as a volunteer in Flor De Bastion is “happiness.” Happiness surrounded the foundation, the homes I visited, and the people I shared moments with every day. As a new volunteer (who knows very little Spanish) coming in to the people of Flor De Bastion’s world, I didn’t know what to expect or how the people I would meet would react to my presence. I was afraid of invading their space in an already established classroom and in my host family’s home. From the moment I entered my Ecuadorian mom’s embrace and heard her warm-hearted “Bienvenido! Mi casa es tu casa,” I knew I was going to be overwhelmed with love and joy.

I began unpacking my things and organizing them on the floor and in the three drawers my host family had set up for me in “my” room. I awkwardly ate lunch with my family (Now that I think about it, awkward can describe a lot of my actions during this month…), staying quiet and timid as if I was a kindergartener on the first day of school. Afterwards, I was introduced to everyone at the Starfish Foundation and all of the students were introduced to me. Following a long day of repetition (Mi nombre es Katie, soy de Ohio, y tengo veinticuatro años) and listening to several names I would struggle to remember, I joined my family for dinner and then needed alone time in my room. Every night, I would write in my journal to document detailed moments, so none were lost. That night, I wrote about everything new- new room, new home, new people, new students, new food, new classroom, new views, new life. I was excited and anxious for what I expected this month would bring.

In retrospect, it is interesting to think back to those moments during my first day, or even my first week, when I had no idea what I was about to learn from this new place and the people in it. My expectations were demolished with higher, more realistic occurrences that came my way during June of 2016. Many places I visited, including Santa Cruz Island in the Galapágos (absolute paradise), local beaches (where merchants are more annoying than seagulls trying to steal your chips), small shops or tiendas (to find elephant pants), Quito (more bus rides than I needed in a lifetime), and Puerto Lopez (where the whales were breeding and the showers were warm) were more beautiful, interesting, or even strange than I could have ever dreamed.

Before traveling to each place, I researched pictures, activities, and restaurants (yes, I know, I am one of those people) to plan ahead and know what sort of things to expect. Even with doing so, I was shocked at the experiences I ran in to. The kind strangers, bumpy tricimoto rides, incredible views, and flavorful ice creams were not included in the fine print of my investigations. Throughout all of these, the most unexpected commonality was the amount of happiness that flooded through these places of Ecuador.

While you may be reading this and thinking about how marvelous and wonderful my trip sounds (as it was), this adventure was still hard for me; leaving my home to live with people I have never met, in a country I have never been to, with people who speak a different language, and having only a slight idea as to how I am going to teach Ecuadorian students anything, wasn’t easy. While these may be obvious concerns, some less apparent that I didn’t even realize I was contemplating, came to me later- will I be accepted as an American, volunteering my time to help others that may not want help? Will I truly make any impact on the students of Starfish, or do I think I am more helpful than I actually am? Are they going to enjoy having me in their environment or am I just a burden, who doesn’t know what is going on half of the time because of the language barrier? I don’t know of a time when I have felt so insecure or vulnerable.

As a person who worries and overanalyzes things, I tried to tell myself I was simply overreacting to this new change in my life and that everything I was self-conscious about was all in my head. But, as those of you who are like me, who dream up imaginary exaggerations only to make yourself feel worse about a situation, know, telling yourself to stop thinking this way is not very helpful. People you surround yourself with and experiences that you challenge yourself to jump, swim, dive, run, or crawl into help heal this brokenness you can’t control inside. Being away from everything you’ve known for all the years you have been alive, even if it is just for one month, is strenuous on the mind and body. The moments when I cried in bed from homesickness (or from stomach sickness) were obviously the worst, but something positive and encouraging always followed. They were simply moments of weakness (and probably a bit of dehydration) that were easily improved by the people of Flor. With the happiness that surrounded me, I was always brought back to reality and knew how thankful I should be for my experiences here and my life back home in Ohio. My tears turned in to laughter and my thoughts turned in to nothing but positive vibes. I am not perfect, so of course there were still moments of negativity, but with the help of my new close American friend, positivity enthusiast, and Spanish to English translator, Mikki, and the people of Flor, I made the best of each situation.

I consider myself to be very lucky to have had the opportunity to have lived, traveled, and worked with the people I did in Ecuador. Without my host family, I wouldn’t have felt the love, support, and comfort I did. Without the people of the Starfish Foundation, I wouldn’t have learned more Spanish and how to work with their students. Additionally, without the students of Flor, I wouldn’t have learned how to work with English language learners and develop more skills as an educator.

A dose of inspiration, for your Thursday

If you haven’t yet met Jane Lorenzi, affectionally known in Ecuador as Thalia, you need to do so ASAP. This incredible Marquette sophomore won the Social Innovation Design contest last year, has traveled to Ecuador to serve with Damien House and Ecuador four years in a row, and is one of the most powerful storytellers I know.

Her blog often captures incredible stories of the children she loves from Umoja, a camp in Baltimore hosted by her alma mater, her experiences with Starfish, where she has lived in homestays and volunteered for several weeks the past two summers, and her journey at Marquette.

Today, we share with you Jane’s talk from MarquetteX this past fall. It’s a beautiful story of humanity, and one likely to inspire your whole week!

“In small yet significant ways, dialogue helps us to acknowledge the dignity of another human soul, to better understand the needs of our world, and to work for human healing.”

Scroll ahead to 1:01:15 if you want to see Jane’s presentation!

Ecuanomics ~ a Volunteer Perspective

Ecuanomics 

Bananas, prawns, cocoa, oil, and coffee – that’s what the Ecuadorian economy is made of, according to the statistics. Take any bus from Guayaquil to the sierra and you can’t miss the acres of leafy green banana plantations, the hectares of skeletal cocoa plants left barren after the May harvest.

But there’s one additional factor to add to the list, something that you’ll never read about in The Economist or Forbes or Bloomberg BusinessWeek; one very simple principle that keeps the world turning here in Flor de Bastión and weaves its way through the very fabric of the national economy.

It starts with the education system. Imagine you govern a developing country with limited financial resources and a significant poverty level. One of your many responsibilities is providing free primary and secondary education, but here’s the problem: there are five million schoolchildren in your country and only enough schools for half of them. What do you do?

You divide up the school day, of course. Half the kids in the country go to school in the morning from 7am until noon; the other half use those very same schools in the afternoons from 1pm until 6pm. Every building, every desk, every single facility is shared in order to open up access to education and further social equity.

Don’t have the resources you think you need to survive? Doesn’t matter, you can still manage. Just share the resources you do have: that’s Ecuanomics.

The same idea applies to the local economy here in Flor de Bastión, a fairly young invasion community in which every resident is living dangerously close to, if not well below, the poverty line. Not everyone has all the money they need to buy the ingredients for groceries or toiletries or household items every day, so the existing money in the community is borrowed and lent in a complex system of partial payments and zero-percent interest.

Pay me half today, I’ll manage for tomorrow, and next week when I need to buy school supplies I’ll come to pick up the other $5 you owe me: that’s Ecuanomics.

But these unspoken agreements extend far beyond mere financial agreements between vendors and clients; they also include time and service. A local church group, made up of people who are themselves heavily economically disadvantaged, make regular visits to local people even more in need. The same mothers who have to feed a family of six on $12 a day will take a bunch of bananas, a pound of rice, or a few eggs from their own homes and take them to the houses of the sick or otherwise needy, will sit with them and provide company and conversation, will clean their house or feed their dog or take their kids to school.

However little you have, you’re still in a position to help someone worse off than you: that’s Ecuanomics.

As a Starfish volunteer, I’ve been lucky enough to experience more than my fair share of this generosity. As well as opening their homes and kitchens, Starfish families have offered me a special insight into this fascinating country. They’ve shown me what it means to be Ecuadorian, they’ve taken me in like a long-lost daughter, they’ve given me the gift of melodic Pacific-Coast Spanish. From an impromptu house invite for fresh ceviche one week, to a complete history of Latin American dance styles (complete with demonstrations) the next, I can honestly say I feel nothing less than privileged to be accepted into this community.

Of course, the golden rule of sharing economies like these is to contribute an amount equal to or greater than what you have received. But as eager as I am to share my passion for teaching, my love for the English language, and my mathematical knowledge, I can’t help the feeling that I’ll never really be able to reciprocate for what has been offered to me.

Giving on this scale is more than just a financial gesture; it has left an indelible mark on me, forever changing the way that I connect with others, challenging me to open myself in a way that I hadn’t thought possible before.

And that, in a nutshell, is the definition of Ecuanomics.

~Sanchia R, Volunteer.  Sanchia returned to Starfish this summer as our Volunteer Coordinator after volunteer for 3 months last fall.  She is a certified English teacher and a seasoned world traveler.  Check out her other blog posts at: trueeast.wordpress.com