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

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

Starfish Scholar Spotlight: Oscar Vargas

Hello all! Henry here with more stories from Ecuador. This week, I swam right on over to Ecuador to have a conversation with Oscar Vargas about school, his daily routine, and education.

My daily routine for school begins at 5:30 am, the time when I get up everyday, although sometimes I’m still a little sleepy. Then I put on my uniform, and once dressed, I brush my teeth so that I can have breakfast; a delicious breakfast my mom prepares for me with a lot of love everyday. Once I’m finished with breakfast, I check my backpack to make sure I have all the supplies I’ll need according to today’s class schedule. When I’m ready, my mom gives me a kiss on the forehead and tells me to have a great day…

Getting to school does not take long because, fortunately my school is close to home and I don’t have to take a bus. Everyday I walk and it takes me about 10 minutes or less.

I always arrive on time to school, so I can greet my friends and other people without any problems.

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Mi rutina diaria para ir al colegio, comienza a las 5:30 de la mañana pues a esa hora todos los días me levanto, aunque en ocasiones con un poco sueño todavía, luego me pongo mi uniforme, una vez vestido me dirijo a cepillarme los dientes para poder desayunar y recibir ese rico desayuno que todos los días con mucho amor me lo prepara mi mamá, una vez que termine de desayunar, reviso mi maleta para saber si llevo todos mis útiles de acuerdo al horario correspondiente, cuando ya estoy listo mi mama me da un beso en la frente y me dice que tenga un excelente día.

Para llegar al colegio no me toma mucho tiempo pues afortunadamente mi colegio queda cerca de casa y no tengo que coger ningún bus, todos los días me voy caminando y esto me toma unos 10 minutos o menos. Siempre se llegar con tiempo a mi colegio, así puedo saludar a mis compañeros y otras personas sin ningún tipo de inconveniente.

Thanks Oscar! I love getting a sneak peak into Ecuadorian life through the eyes of our scholars. I hope all you students in the US are having a good first few weeks back at school. Education is important the whole world over.

More Than a Magic Night – a Talent Night!

Henry here, and have I got news for you! Our little starfish recently hosted their second annual talent show at the main Starfish site in Flor, Guayaquil. Over 100 students participated in the show as well as 11 staff members and 8 international volunteers. You can watch the show yourself here, and be amazed by their performances.

stage

“The objective of this event is to showcase the talents of each and every one of our members, this way they can secure the interpersonal relationships, own the stage, and increase self-confidence”, explain Jessica Párraga and Maria Salazar, Starfish teachers, when I ask them why the Talent Show is important to The Starfish Foundation.

“Many values learned in the talent show night were responsibility, closeness, and fellowship among the kids in the foundation. These helped them be more open, have self-confidence, and to make decision that will help them become active leaders in their families and communities. They also learned the true meaning of teamwork,” adds one of their teachers, Pamela Rodriguez.

The show was open to students, teachers, volunteers, and international visitors – each showcasing their skill and sharing a piece of themselves and their culture. Family and friends of students and volunteers, as well as host families to our international volunteers, came out to enjoy the day.

The students practiced for over a month, improving the details of their performances: choreography, acting, painting, singing, and so much more.

I checked in with Luiggi Pluas, one of the student performers to find out about his participation in the show:

“For talent show night I had 3 songs. The first one I sang with my friend Ronny, “Me Voy Enamorando,” (I’m falling in love). The second one I did solo.

When it was show time I was very nervous, but when the music started I tried to do my best; it seems I did a great job because I waited a long time for the cheering to end. I had so much fun! In my last performance I danced to traditional music of Guayaquil with a few other dancing partners. We put so much effort into it, and we did a great job.

The end of the event was nice because everyone started telling their experiences getting there. We all took pictures with the North American volunteers. We made unique memories that will be hard to forget.”outside

WOW. What an unforgettable experience. I also talked to Joselyn del Valle, who acted as the emcee for the night, about her thoughts on the Talent Show:

“In the talent show night I was cheering and introducing every single one of my classmates according to the talent they were going to perform. It was an incredible night!

I also danced to the song “Guayaquileño” with my dance team. For this dance we practiced 4 or 5 times so everything would be perfect and we could all learn our choreography.

My favorite part was the performance by the teachers. They went on stage, dressed in white, the lights were off and the cellphone lights were on. They sang the song “Yo Nací Aqui,” (I was born here). It was a beautiful and moving performance.”

With all this enthusiasm and talent, I know these scholars will continue to do amazing things inside and outside the classroom.

group

xxx Henry

Blog post from our Educadores: Pamela y Jasmin

Today, we feature a short blog post about the importance of being an active member of a community, from two of our educadores in Flor, Pamela Rodriguez and Jasmin Tumbaco.

If today, we take small actions to improve our community, then in the future, we will be able to see the results of our hard work.
Community
Today, many problems exist within society- within communities themselves. One of these issues is the lack of communication that exists about things that affect our environment- both the ecological environment, and the community that we live in. Our goals, as members of the community, are not limited simply to enhancing the academic or economic systems in which we live; we also strive to impact the youth and children of our society. One way that we can concretely help to better our environment is to recycle, and we have been learning how to use, and reuse, material in a creative way, and helping to make our own community more sustainable!
Do you want to help us change the world?

Pamela Rodriguez

Jasmin Tumbaco

 

en español: 
Si empezamos hoy ayudando con pequeñas cosas a nuestra comunidad en el futuro veremos los resultados.

Communidad! 
Hoy en día existen muchos problemas dentro de la sociedad.

Uno de ellos es la falta de comunicación sobre cosas que afectan al medio ambiente nuestro objetivo no es solo ayudar académicamente o económicamente sino también a jóvenes y a niños una manera de ayudar y hacer conocer a las personas de su entorno que se pueda hacer por mejorarlo y es por eso que aquí aprendemos a utilizar material reciclable de una manera creativa y dinámica.


¿Quieres ayudarnos a cambiar el mundo?

What does today’s youth think about education?

starfishOur blog this week features a post from two educadores, William Segura and Allison Rodriguez, who affirm the importance of education and speak of the great impact that Starfish has had on their, and others’, lives. This Thanksgiving, we recognize all whom we are thankful for in our Starfish community: our educadores, our students and their families, our volunteers, and all those who prioritize education and lifelong learning in community. Muchísmias gracias a todo, and happy Thanksgiving!

Education: Fundamental in Life

 

What does today’s youth think about education? Do they think that it’s important and serves a purpose?

In my own experience, in the past, I used to think that education didn’t matter so much because I knew of people who had obtained educational degrees, but that it didn’t help them much in that they weren’t able to find a dignified job or they felt uncomfortable exercising the profession that they had been confined to due to the limitations of the education system.

However, my opinions have changed since being at the Foundation. The Starfish Foundation, along with the furthering of my own education, has taught me how to see things differently and to deeply consider others’ points of view. Furthermore, Starfish has instilled in me the core values of excellence and determination, which are fundamental to education. I learned that with just a little help, you can achieve anything that you propose.

Education is waiting for you.  Are you ready to change your point of view about education?

We are Starfish!
William Segura and Allison Rodriguez

 

en español:
Educación: Base fundamental de la vida 
¿Qué piensan los jóvenes de hoy en día sobre la educación? ¿Piensan que es importante o sirve de algo?

En mi caso personal, antes pensaba que la educación no importaba por que conocía a personas que habían llegado a tener un titulo pero sin embargo no les servia de mucho ya que no podían encontrar un trabajo digno o se sentían incomodos ejerciendo la profesión que les había destinado con limitación el sistema educativo.

LA FUNDACION ESTRELLITAS DEL MAR me enseñó una forma de ver las cosas diferentes con respecto al punto de vista de las demás personas con base en la educación y la vida.
Fundamentándose en la excelencia y la determinación, que son la clave de la educación; aprendí que tan solo con una pizca de constancia puedes llegar a cumplir lo que te propongas.

La Educación espera por ti. ¿Estas dispuesto a cambiar tu punto de vista con respecto a la Educación?

¡Somos Starfish!
Por:
William Segura y Allison Rodriguez

Starfish Students elected as part of the Guayaquil Student Council!


This week we are featuring a blog post from Luiggi Pluas, a Starfish student from Flor de Bastion, who, along with Itaty Morocho, were 2 of the 12 students elected to represent District 8 in a city-wide student council. The selection of Luiggi and Itaty demonstrates their academic success and leadership abilities, and we are incredibly proud of them. Being chosen as a representative is a great honor and accomplishment. Congratulations, Luiggi and Itaty!

 

The Youth and Adolescents Advisory Council of Guayaquil 
In the first council, the Guayaquil officials had to elect 12 youth representatives from a previously selected group of 24. During this meeting, Itaty and I were fortunate to be elected as 2 of the 12 representatives from District 8 (our district). There are a total of 10 districts, and each district sent 12 youth representatives to the large, city-wide Student Council, which totaled to 120 children that attended the council. 
At the first meeting [that Itaty and I attended], only members of District 8 participated, but at the second meeting, we joined all of the districts representing the entirety of Guayaquil. To accommodate  such a large group of youth representatives, the meeting occurred in the Multifunctional Town Center (Zumar). When we arrived, they gave us purple shirts, the purple signifying that we were representatives of District 8. The other districts had various colors to differentiate themselves.  We began with icebreakers, then we created some small representations (sketches) of the social problems present in Guayaquil, such as drugs, alcohol, human trafficking, and pollution. 
Itaty and I truly enjoyed the activities. After the group discussions and activities, we then went to eat, and once we finished, it was time to choose the 12 representatives of the entire Guayaquil and 12 alternates from the 120 students present at this council. Truthfully, choosing 24 students from 120 proved to be very difficult; therefore, the 120 candidates had to participate in many exercises, such as speaking, socializing, etc., and during these activities, we were evaluated and had to pass certain criteria. As they were determining the 12 representatives and 12 alternates, I was incredibly nervous, since I didn’t know what was going to happen, or if I was going to be chosen. When they gave us the final count of the votes and informed me that I didn’t qualify, I felt a little sad that I wasn’t chosen to represent Guayaquil as part of that small council. However, there will be another opportunity soon, and I have to keep faith that I could be a representative in the future. 
The purpose of this Council of Students is to gather ideas from the adolescentes and present them to the mayor, so that the city government may come to understand what the youth of Guayaquil wants, which is: for our city to become a better, safer place
~Luiggi Pluas

Luiggi Pluas 



Itaty Morocho 

(en español)
Consejo Consultivo de la niñez y adolescencia de Guayaquil
Primero nos mandaron a citar en al primer reunión, en la cual se debía escoger a 12 niños entre aproximadamente 24 niños del distrito 8, ya que los demás distritos (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) ya habían tenido anteriormente otras reuniones en la que también escogido a 12 niños mas, es decir, entre todos los distritos tenía que haber aproximadamente 120 niños escogidos, desde hay ya quedamos como representantes del distrito 8.
Posteriormente a esa reunión, nos citaron a otra, pero esta vez era para concursar ya no solo los que estábamos del distrito 8, si no contra todos los distritos para que representemos a Guayaquil entero, y asi fue, la reunión se realizo en el Centro Municipal Polifuncional Zumar, cuando llegamos nos entregaron una camisa de color morado, el cual nos representaba como distrito 8, los demás distritos tenían otros colores para diferenciarlos, entonces eramos como 100 niños que estábamos concursando, primero hicimos dinámicas, pequeños sketchs sobre problemáticas sociales como las drogas, el alcohol, trata de personas, contaminación ambienta, etc…
Nos divertimos mucho, luego fuimos a comer, una vez que terminamos, ya había llegado la hora de comenzar a escoger 12 representantes de Guayaquil y 12 mas de suplentes, de entre todos los aproximadamente 100 estudiantes, al verdad es que estuvo difícil, y aunque teníamos que dar diferentes criterios, hablar, socializar, etc, pero cuando ya fueron los votaciones yo estaba nervioso ya que no sabía de que iba a pasar, pero cuando ya dieron los votos finales, me dijeron que estaba descalificado, me sentí un poco triste ya que no pude alcanzar a representar a Guayaquil, pero para una próxima oportunidad será, hay que tener fé de que se va a poder.
Este proyecto, tiene el fin de recolectar ideas de los niños, adolescentes para asi los directivos, alcalde, tengan una idea concisa de que es lo piensan los jóvenes y así ser de Guayaquil un lugar mejor. 

Luiggi Pluas

November Updates from Ecuador!

In Flor our biggest accomplishment over the past few months has definitely been family involvement.  Involved families has had a direct result on the increased attendance, punctuality and grades of our students.  While there is always much more work to be done, I am really proud of our employees who have made great efforts to improve relations with our students’ families.  As grades come in from first semester I am proud to say grades are improving across the board in Flor!  Parents have become involved in more ways – providing daily snack, and lunch twice a week for our international volunteers who travel 2 hours on bus twice a week from our Guasmo neighborhood where they live.  Parent meeting attendance is well over 90% as well – a great example for our Scholars!

During the November meeting our Flor educadores prepared a meeting for the parents about getting to know their children in a new way.  First we did a fun dinámica where the parents were blindfolded and had to find their child(ren) by touching their faces to see if they could recognize them. Then the child & parent teams had to present facts about each other – what they like to do, what they’ve learned from each other to the whole group.  Lastly, parents were asked to fill out a survey about how much they know about their child’s school, grades, likes/dislikes, etc. in preparation for our next set of visits to the schools.

 

After the parents left, the kids got to finish up with a fun activitity with our volunteers, 2 of whom just finished their voluntariado.

 

In Guasmo, thanks to a continued partnership with Mi Cometa and the scholarship program that runs there – CASF, we have been blessed with the help of 3 educational psychology students in their last year of their studies.  As the prepare to graduate, they are completing their internships with Starfish & Mi Cometa families.  Twice per week they attend to special cases with our students and their parents, in hopes of establishing more communication, a better home life, and as a result the ability to succeed in their studies.  Once a week a licensed psychologist also comes to treat some of the more delicate cases, as delegated by the intern psychologists during the week.  This trial period will continue throughout December and we hope to continue this program next year as well as expand its service to our Flor de Bsatión neighborhood!

All in all, November was an exciting month at Starfish – and December is sure to have even more excitement with the holidays just around the corner!

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