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

Benefit Dinner: Celebrating 5 Years of Starfish!

The Starfish Benefit Dinner was a phenomenal success! Everyone here at Starfish thanks everyone who was involved – whether you attended the dinner, bid on an auction item, sponsored a scholar, donated an auction item, or helped us out behind the scenes, we most definitely couldn’t have done this without all our amazing supporters. We hope everyone had as much fun celebrating the fifth birthday of The Starfish Foundation as we did.

benefit dinner 2

The Benefit Dinner took place at St. Joseph’s Church in Cockeysville, Maryland on Saturday April 29th. All our “star” guests enjoyed live music, a delicious Ecuadorian dinner, and a chance to celebrate five years of Starfish with other friends, volunteers, supporters, and staff. When not dancing or bidding on the silent auction items, guests also got to hear from a few of our current Starfish Scholars about their dreams for the future and from experienced volunteers who shared their Starfish experience.

benefit dinnerBesides being loads of fun, Saturday evening was a huge success!
• Over $10,500 was raised on Saturday evening
• $67,500 total was raised from the dinner and silent auction.
• We had 146 attendees, plus the presence of one “star fish,” (that’s me!)
• Almost 150 auction items were sold!

If you missed the festivities, you can watch one of our scholar videos here

Thank you again!
See you next year!!
Henry

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.

anna6

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

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.

Volunteer Reflections: Merry

Greetings, Starfish supporters! This summer we are especially excited to share the reflections of our current cohort of Starfish interns, who are supporting us in our social media and fundraising projects. Today’s post comes from Merry, a member of our Summer 2015 Social Media Team.

¡Hola! My name is Merry, and I am one of the interns on the Social Media Team this summer. Working with Starfish for the past couple of months has been nothing short of incredible, but upon being given the opportunity to pen a short blog post about nearly any topic of my choosing, I balked. I thought about it for an embarrassingly long amount of time. What kind of insight could I–a rising junior in high school, almost-seventeen-year-old, mediocre driver, avid traveler–share with you all? Maybe, I thought, I could share with you how, and more importantly, why I’m here: my own personal Starfish story. We all have one; here is mine.

I first learned about the Starfish Foundation a little less than two months ago, as an ambassador at the HOBY PA East Leadership Seminar 2015. Beth spoke to us as a member of one of the panels, and it was immediately clear that she was no stranger to the type of crowd gathered before her that day. Having listened to panels and discussed leadership from the morning into the afternoon, we ambassadors had good enough reason to be a little tired, perhaps distracted, even uninterested; it may sound cliché, but when Beth spoke, we were captivated. She spoke with infectious passion of co-founding a nonprofit after returning from a year of volunteering, and of the emphasis Starfish places on education for future success. I experienced a moment of–this is true? This stuff can happen? I can help out, make an impact, shape a future? Really?

When Beth reached out in search of summer interns, I contacted her as soon as I could. But why? I have a busy enough schedule. I’m dancing almost seven hours a day, six days a week. When I’m not dancing, I have physical therapy sessions nearly every other day. Junior year is approaching fast, and my desk is laden with stacks of SAT practice tests, summer assignments, and textbooks. Why did I fill out that application the moment I found out it existed?

 I think it’s because, as Anne Frank so eloquently put it, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Even taken out of context, this quote stands true. Despite the business of our schedules, the tumult in our lives, the hundreds of day-to-day plans and problems and chores and errands we have, we still want, and need, to be and do good. Not simply because we should, but more so because we can. By volunteering our time and skills, we at once give and receive some of the longest lasting gifts; in Starfish’s case, we give students chances to further their academics and discover their interests while allowing their families to focus on providing for themselves. In return, volunteers receive so much–experience in every aspect of the word for sure, but more importantly, the single most rewarding feeling in the world: the gratitude of students and their families.

 This feeling of knowing I can make a difference in someone’s life with the skills and passion I already possess is what caused me to apply for this internship. It feels not overwhelmingly good, but also overwhelmingly right. Incidentally, I think you’ll find as you finish reading this post that all of our stories are extremely similar. I think you’ll find that, at the end of the day, we all want to throw a few more starfish back into the ocean.

Volunteer Reflections: Ariana

Greetings, Starfish supporters! This summer we are especially excited to share the reflections of our current cohort of Starfish interns, who are supporting us in our social media and fundraising projects. Today’s post comes from Ariana, who is a member of our Summer 2015 Social Media Team. She co-created the first ever Starfish podcast!

A month ago, I was riding in the front seat of my dad’s truck heading to the equestrian center and looking out the windowing thinking about how it was going to be an outstanding day. It was the day that I had been looking forward to since I graduated pre-k, because it was my high school graduation day. The 45 minute car ride seemed to take hours. The hour wait to walk in side by side my fellow classmates seemed to take days. But, when I was finally on the stage, the minutes, hours, days, even years of anticipation would not have prepared me for the rush of emotion nor realization that was about to hit.

For 13 years I went to school challenging myself to learn something new everyday (because if you aren’t going to learn anything, why go?). Each morning I’d get up with my sister and we’d talk to each other, laugh, eat breakfast and then grab our lunch and head down to the bus. 13 years of the same morning routine boiled down to one day of importance.

As I looked out over my 400 or so classmates, I thought back to all the lessons we learned and friends I made and thought, man, this is going to be a good life. Then it hit me. Yes, its going to be good life because I know most of those people, because my two best friends were sitting out in the crowd, because the group of people before me are going to do something to change the world. But, after graduation, I am only going to talk to about 7 or 8 of them. No, the reason it is going to be a good life for me is because I have something that I truly treasure and that will help me in the future, that’s my education. You see, in the crowd of the students where the teachers. They lined the sides of the rows looking at our smiling faces with both prideful smiles and tear filled eyes and I couldn’t help but thank them silently for the hard work they put in it. Education is a privilege, and sadly, it’s not one that everyone has.

I started volunteering at The Starfish Foundation by being a pen pal. Through that, I got to know a wonderful girl in educator who had huge aspirations for her future and was so excited to be going to school. “I chose to go to school because it helps me learn simple things that will help my future and help my family” was one of the very first things she told me and it was a humbling experience. Here in the USA we go to school because we have to. In Ecuador, they go to school cause they want to. The value of education, in some of our minds, is equal to dirt. But, the value of education in their minds is equal to gold, and it is rewarding to know.

Volunteer Reflections: Holly

Greetings, Starfish supporters! This summer we are especially excited to share the reflections of our current cohort of Starfish interns, who are supporting us in our social media and fundraising projects. Today’s post comes from Holly, a member of our Summer 2015 Social Media Team. 

“I hate school. I hate Mondays. I hate waking up early.”

“School stands for Seven Cruel Hours Of Our Lives.”

“School is like a prison.”

Admit it. So many kids in American education system have had these thoughts. There is an evident lack of motivation to excel in school, especially among students in economically depressed communities. In 2010, social researchers observed 11,000 seven-year-olds and found that those with parents in professional level jobs were at least eight months ahead of peers from the most disadvantaged homes, where parents were often underpaid and unemployed. Studies from the New York Times, the RSA, Harvard, and much more have analyzed similar situations. There is substantial evidence that the children attending school from impoverished environments are prone to less motivation and resources to succeed. This triggered something in me because school is huge part of my life and doing well in it has been a constant goal for me.

Why is school so important though? Why do we need to be motivated? Ever since I was little, my parents ingrained in my mind that learning, understanding, and even grades were essential to success. As I grew up, I questioned what “success” was and what school had to do with it. So after some consideration, these were some thoughts I had:

The classroom provides the students the exposure to be curious and develop the opinions that will push them to shape the world in their perspective. Our teachers and peers alike expose us to diversity and which inevitably leads to appreciation. Whether it is through science, literature, or a vocation, education fosters the creativity for us to pursue our own personal projects. And success is unique to every individual, but the branches of it all come stem from our education.

Fortunately,  in America we provide our scholars with numerous programs, laws, scholarships, and equipment for our students. The U.S.  education system can be truly exceptional and provides mobility to anyone who has the passion to change a chunk of the world. With No Child Left Behind, programs for students with disabilities, scholarships for minority students, and so much more, there are many opportunities to succeed.

This is why the Starfish Foundation exists to grow education in places with fewer opportunities. School in Ecuador is free; however, the students themselves pay for all the supplies and uniforms, making it impossible for some families to send their children to school. There is not a lack of motivation, but a lack of resources. Programs like the Starfish Foundation facilitate education for children who are in desperate need and want of it. We can turn donations into priceless opportunities for one scholar at a time.

So why education? It is the tiny spark that leads that turns the gears to our future.