2017 So Far

Wow everyone, I can’t believe it’s already April! Now that we’re three months through 2017, I think it’s time to take a look back at what we’ve accomplished so far!

January:

  • In January, our volunteer Ellie continued with the English classes with both the students and educators. Also, the students were able to hold a party for Three King’s Day, on January 6th. The party involved playing and having a grab bag for each student. Next, there was a meeting held on January 15th, in which scholarship recipients completed activities related to the leadership school. The students had a great time and enjoyed it a lot!

Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 10.56.53 AM

  • We have also continued our tutoring classes! This month the classes were focused on nouns, sentences, comma usage and other grammar points.
  • Finally, we held a Community Service Workshop. Overall, January was a great month for the Starfish Foundation!

February:

  • In February, our volunteer Ellie completed the English classes with the students and educators. Great job, Ellie!
  • Students presented their final projects at Starfish, where they were able to demonstrate the skills they learned at our new and improved classes these past 5 months. Their project was called “Around the World,” and each group was to pick a country they had never researched previously. Then, they were to research, make a PowerPoint and present to the class, while including a creative piece such as traditional dress, traditional food, etc.Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 10.58.11 AM
  • The high school students also carried out three projects with the community in February, which they’ve planned throughout the year. Stay on the lookout for our upcoming blog posts to get an update on their projects!
  • This month, our tutoring classes were held in conjunctions, upper and lowercase letters and public communication.
  • Finally, the Leadership School held their second workshop this month, where the topic was how to be a good leader. Activities were created for students to find out their flaws, virtues, interests and values and then how these attributes make them a good leader.

March:

  • This month was the end of the school year for students!
  • In March, we received over 100 scholarship applications and are excited to welcome 54 full scholarship recipients and 16 conditional scholarship recipients!
  • We also held our year end ceremonies in March. In Guasmo, the ceremony was on March 12th and in Flor de Bastion, the ceremony was held on March 17th! For the students with the best grades, we went on a field trip to Bucay at the end of the month.
  • Coming up, we have a new summer reading initiative! Starfish students are expected to read daily, complete a reading log and attend weekly sessions for 1 month to discuss what they’re reading, with our educators.

These past three months were absolutely great and we can’t wait to see what the next three have in store!

Until next time,
Henry

Ecuadorian Women Who Made History

American historian Laurel Ulrich once said, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” In celebration of Women’s History Month, here are a few of the millions of brave women that have broken all conventional rules to make a difference in the world.vera

Noralma Vera Arrata – Former Ecuadorian Prima Ballerina, choreographer, and Director of the National Dance Institute (Instituto Nacional de Danza)
Born in 1936, she began to dance in 1945 in Guayaquil. In 1957 she traveled to London to perfect her skill at The Royal Ballet. Throughout her career she dances in London, Paris, Ecuador, and Cuba – excelling in both Ballet and Modern.  In 1978, Vera founded her own ballet company and academy in her home city. After retiring from active dancing, Vera worked as a diplomat in Mexico and Cuba.
Fátima Ptacek – Actress and UN Activistfatima

As an actress, she is most well-known as the lead actor in the 2012 Academy Award winning film Curfew and its 2014 full-length feature film version Before I Disappear. She has also been the voice of “Dora” in Nickelodeon’s animated television series Dora the Explorer since 2010. As a UN activist, she has played an active role in the #HeForShe campaign for gender equality.  She is currently 16 years old, fluent in Spanish, English and Mandarin, and has expressed interest in transitioning from acting to a career in law someday.

Judith Gutiérrez Moscoso – Painter
Gutiérrez worked in multiple media including painting, sculpture, graphics, decoratives and applied installation. She also made puppets, costumes, and scenery for puppet shows. Her most famous pieces were the the Paraíso and Nocturno series. Gutierrez was known for ingenious composition of figures, incorporating symbols, and mystical scenes; nature, men, women, and the cosmos, are all the general components of her works. The critic Jorge Dávila Vásquez said that her work featured “the primitivism of those furtive encounters of man with the little demons of his childhood, nurtured by the religious Christian imaginary.”

judith - paraiso No. 2
Paraiso No. 2

aliciaAlicia Yáñez Cossío – Poet, Novelist, Journalist
Alicia is one of the leading figures in Ecuadorian literature and in Latin America, and she is the first Ecuadorian to win the Premio Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, which she received in 1996. Born in 1928 and raised in Quito she had “an extremely happy childhood, maybe a bit boyish, influenced by the first books I read: the works of Julio Verne and Tarzan’s feats.” Male chauvinism is a recurring theme in her writing. Irony, sarcasm and hyperbole make evident twisted masculine superiority and she often critiques social concepts such as virginity and homosexuality.  One of her more famous novels is “El Cristo Feo” (“The Ugly Christ”). In 1996 she received the Premio Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz for the best Latin American novel written by a woman.

While I could write on and on about these women and others, I instead encourage you to look into your own female role models and learn more about the contributions they have made to society – past or present. And, as always, be sure to remember the women who are close to you – teachers, principals, businesswomen – who have encouraged you to find your voice, helped you overcome obstacles, or challenged you to think differently.

Book Recommendations from Starfish Staff, Scholars, and Volunteers

Did you know? March is not only Women’s History month, but also Literacy Month. In honor of this special occasion, I decided to take a swim around and find out what some of people’s favorite books are. Here are some of the book reviews I gathered:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Atrapado sin salida) by Ken Kesey
“I love this book because it tells the story of a misinterpreted group of people. bajo la misma estrella.inddAlso, it is written uniquely through a unprecedented perspective.” – Michelle

Bajo la Misma Estrella (The Fault in our Stars) by John Green
“It’s a romance book about 2 young people who have cancer. They fall in love and live many happy moments together in spite of knowing that they had. They were very happy together.” – Diego

Watership Down (La colina de Watership) by Richard Adams
“It’s a family tradition to read this novel about an incredible journey of fellowship, loss, struggle, and triumph. Every time I read it, I learn more about myself and the world around me, and it has helped me to become who I am today.” – Sara W.left to tell

Left to Tell (Sobrevivir para Contarlo) by Immaculee Illibagiza or Tattoos on the Heart (Tatuajes en el corazón) by Greg Boyle
“The first is a powerful story of forgiveness after the Rwandan genocide through the author’s Catholic faith, and the second is A personal account about his work with mostly-Latino gang youth in LA. I’ve had the blessing to hear them both speak, and it is UNREAL to learn about their real-life experiences and their powerful character! What beautiful people.” – Beth

“Lágrimas de Ángeles” (Tears of Angels) by Edna Iturralde
“I like this book because it helps me realize the kind of life many kids without homes live. They are exploited and forced to work by unscrupulous people. It tells the story of Jaime, who lives with his dad, but runs away and gets lost in a new city. He decides to walk and he finds a girl the same age as him. She lives on the street and works at the stoplights with a lot of other kids. Jaime stays to live with them in the street and that’s when he beings to experience how life is.” – Lili

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
“I love those books because they transported me to a world that I would love to be a part of, even only while reading. I think it also helps that there are 7 of them, so they were with me for the entire second half of my childhood.” – Veronica
“My favorite book when I was younger was the Prisoner of Azkaban – the third part of the Harry Potter series. It’s very exciting to read. It’s about another adventure of Harry, Hermione and Ron, this time a dangerous assassin escapes from Azkaban and is going after Harry.” – William

harry potter

El Prínicipe Feliz (The Happy Prince) by Oscar Wilde
“It’s about a place high up in a city where there was a statue of a prince, and everyone who looked at it was impressed by the beauty and happiness of the statue. For them the statue represented the existence of happy people in the world.”

The Kite Runner (Cometas en el cielo) by Khaled Hosseini
“This is one of those books that I just couldn’t put down; I read the whole thing in a day, and thought about the story for months afterwards. Following the story of two young boys from Kabul, it is a powerful story of mistakes, guilt, betrayal, relationships, forgiveness of others and yourself, and the struggle for redemption.” – Amanda

Beloved by Toni Morrison
“Although I hated Beloved upon my first reading, revisiting it for a college course completely changed my opinion of it. While I still struggle with some aspects of it, it made me question the way that I judge other people and their decisions, and gave me even more motivation to be an open-minded reader and individual overall.” – Sara W.IJ00335601_sobrecub_canterville.indd

El fantasma de Canterville (The Canterville Ghost) by Oscar Wilde
“I had a mix of many emotions when I was reading this short story about a rich family from the United States who buys a castle where a ghost was living. The ghost had scared away many families who had tried to live in the castle previously, but, this family didn’t pay attention to the actions of the ghost.” – William

Interview with Julio Ponce, Starfish Student

This week, I traveled to Ecuador to speak with one of our senior Starfish students, Julio Ponce, who is 18 years old. I decided to talk with him about what his daily routine looks like. I wanted to know how much time he takes to complete certain tasks, how he gets from point A to point B and finally, hear about what parts of the day he really likes.

Julio began by telling me how his day starts, “I wake up at 7:30am and then I begin to tidy up. My mom prepares breakfast and serves it to me. After that, I get my notebooks ready to go to the foundation, which is on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. At 8:00am I arrive at the foundation, where volunteers and the educators help me with homework and we do dynamic activities and workshops until 10:00am. At that time I go back home and I start to help with the household chores.” I was impressed that Julio not only attends school for the day, but still has time for his household chores! Go Julio!

Julio continued by saying, “I gather my notebooks to go to school and after that, around 11am, I eat lunch. Then I bathe and put on the uniform for that day. I leave home at 11:40am and walk for about 15 minutes to catch the bus that takes me to school. I arrive at school after 18-25 minutes on the bus, depending on if it goes quickly or not. I enter the school at 12:20pm and then I greet my classmates, friends, and teachers. The first thing we do is work on English. I don’t understand it very well, but I do everything possible to understand it, whether it is doing some activities, going to workshops or reviewing my notebook.” I was very impressed with Julio’s determination to learn English, even though he says he doesn’t understand it. We always love hearing that our Starfish students are working their hardest!

Julio next told me that his day takes him through biology, math, investigation class, recess and then citizenship education class, language class, chemistry and then finally, physical education. He had a lot of great things to say about each of these courses, but he seemed to really like his citizenship education class, “ This class is very interesting because we study the articles of the constitution or we work with activities from the book.”

After Julio’s school day is done, it’s time for him to head home. “Then the school day ends and I leave and start to walk and walk with my friends. We eat bread with cola until I arrive at the place where I catch a car and then I catch the bus which then takes me home.” After getting home, Julio has a snack, prepared by his mom, works on his personal cleanliness and then enjoys watching a fighting program. After the program ends at 10:00pm, he says, “I become tired and I tidy up my bed to go to sleep. And so I sleep until the next day, when I go through the same routine.”

Wow, that’s quite the day! I am so glad that I had the chance to speak with Julio and learn more about his day-to-day in Ecuador. I am very proud of our Starfish students and can’t wait to find out who I will interview next!

Until next time,
Henry

Original Interview:

Cuéntanos sobre tu rutina diaria para llegar al colegio. ¿Cuánto tiempo demoras en llegar al colegio? ¿Cuántos buses tienes que coger?

“Mi nombre es Julio Ponce tengo 18 años, me levanto a las 7:30 am luego empiezo a asearme, mi mami me prepara el desayuno y me lo sirve, después alisto mis cuadernos para ir a la fundación que son los días lunes, martes y jueves, mi entrada a la fundación es las 8:00 am donde los educadores y voluntarios me ayudan con las tareas, hacemos dinámicas y talleres hasta que sean las 10:00 am luego llego a mi casa y empiezo ayudar con los quehaceres del hogar.
Alisto mis cuadernos para ir al colegio, a las 11:00 am almuerzo, luego me baño y me pongo el uniforme que toque ese día. La hora de salida de mi casa es a las 11:40 am, me demoro 15 minutos para ir a coger el bus que me lleva al colegio. Llego al colegio en unos 18 a 25 minutos depende del bus, si va rápido o no, entro al colegio a las 12:20, llego saludo a mis compañeros, amigos y profesores, a la primera hora nos toca ingles claro que no lo entiendo, pero hago todo lo posible para entender, si es de revisar cuaderno revisa o hacemos alguna actividad o talleres.
Luego empezamos con biología, es una profesora que, si sabe explicar y con ella podemos hacer bromas, ella hace las clases muy divertidas. Luego viene el profesor de matemáticas es nuestro tutor, me gusta su manera de explicar la clase, también es divertida y me gusta mucho. Luego nos toca investigación, las clases son muy bien explicadas y bien expuestas por nosotros mismos.
De ahí salimos al recreo que dura 30 minutos, en este tiempo camino con mis amigos, conversamos y comemos helado, se nos hace muy cortos esos 30 minutos. Luego empezamos con la clase de educación para la ciudadanía, sus clases son muy interesantes por que estudiamos los artículos de la constitución o trabajamos los talleres del libro. De ahí empezamos con la clase de lengua, con ella siempre trabajamos con el libro, realizamos lectura, o los talleres y también nos aburre con sus anécdotas que nos cuenta ella. Luego nos toca la clase de química la profesora es súper chévere, también la clase son divertidas porque con ella si nos reímos mucho, bueno yo también me rio o hago relajo hasta que llegaron al punto de cambiarme de puesto, aparte de que explica bien las clases.
De ahí viene educación física que ya es la última hora del día, aunque en algunas ocasiones no tenemos clases a esa hora con el profesor, porque en la ultima hora nos bajan al patio para formarnos y hacer el acto cívico.
Luego se termina el tiempo de estudio, en ese día salgo del colegio y empiezo a caminar y caminar, con mis amigos y amigas, comemos pan con cola hasta que llego al lugar que cojo el carro y después cojo el bus que me lleva a la casa. Llego a casa, y mi mama a preparado la merienda me sirve y como, luego empiezo con mi aseo personal, veo el programa combate del que yo soy fanático, el programa termina a las 10:00 pm cuando el programa termina me da sueño y arreglo mi cama para irme a dormir y así duermo hasta el siguiente día que es la misma rutina.”

3 Ecuadorian Women Who Were a Force for Good

Yesterday was International Women’s Day – A time when we stop and think about the incredible accomplishments of women and girls from around the world since the beginning of time. It’s a time to celebrate the women who struggled for equality, who’ve broken barriers, and demanded that the world change for the better. In short, this is a perfect time to reflect on the incredible history of women who have been a force for good in the world.

Today we would like to highlight three Ecuadorian women who have tackled challenges, excelled in their fields, and lead by example:

Rosa Borja de Ycaza was an Ecuadorian writer, essayist, dramatist, sociologist, poet, novelist, feminist and activist. She was the director of the “Center for Literary Studies” at the University of Guayaquil, founder and director of the magazine Nuevos Horizontes, founder of the “Journalists Circle” of Guayas and vice president of the “Bolivarian Society” of Guayaquil. She was also served as Minister of Guayas province.rosa ycaza

Her most famous works were two plays: Las de Judas and Nadie sabe lo que vendrá mañana

She created the “Women’s Legion of Popular Education” and was an advocate for women’s rights and the rights of workers and employees, whom she indoctrinated with lectures and discussions.

martha fierroMartha Lorena Fierro Baquero currently holds the title of International Chess Grandmaster, and International Organizer. Fierro has been Ecuador’s strongest female chess player for many years, and has represented Ecuador in ten biennial Chess Olympiads from 1994 to 2012.

Fierro is a vice president of FIDE and a chairperson for the FIDE Commission for Women’s Chess (WOM).

eugenia del pinoEugenia Maria del Pino Veintimilla from Quito is a developmental biologist at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador. She was the first Ecuadorian citizen to be elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences – Members are selected based on their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Del Pino’s primary focus of study is the Andean Marsupial frog. She studied the reproductive and developmental adaptations of this frog in comparison with other tropical frogs.

In addition to her research, Del Pino is a professor of Developmental Biology at Pontifical Catholic University in Ecuador. She also helped the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands in the establishment of a program of scholarships for Ecuadorian students in the Galapagos Islands. This work as well as her position as the only Ecuadorian citizen to have achieved international recognition in science, have made her a figure of national importance in Ecuador

Whether we look to history for role models such as Rosa Parks, Margaret Hamilton, Ada Lovelace, or Cleopatra, or we are impressed by the role models of today such as Malala, Serena Williams, Laverne Cox, or Amal Clooney, it is easy to get caught up in the stories of incredible women. Just as importantly, though, we should be recognizing the drive and dedication of every day women and girls – our teachers, our moms, our daughters, our volunteers, local businesswomen, even ourselves.

Before these famous women were leading scientists, military leaders, journalists, athletes, politicians, artists, or writers, each of them started by asking what they could do to make a difference, and taking positive action steps to make their voice heard – Just as we can do every day in our own communities.

Until next time,
Henry

Interview with Lucy Vargas, Starfish Student

Hello again and welcome to the month of March! This week, my travels to Ecuador led me to an interview with Lucy Vargas, one of our very own Starfish Foundation students. I love discussing a wide range of topics with our students, but this week I decided to discuss the future with Lucy.

screen-shot-2017-02-25-at-9-26-38-pmI asked Lucy to tell me what she wants to be when she grows up. Being a very dedicated and determined student, Lucy replied, “My dream is to be a Commercial Engineer when I grow up. However, there are also other careers that I am interested in, like being a veterinarian or a pediatrician. I know that these are three careers that demand effort and dedication. Nevertheless, I will try very hard in order to achieve my goals.” I was instantly impressed with Lucy’s answer and had to know more!

Lucy told me that she has different reasons she is drawn to each of these careers, but that, “behind each of these careers is something that inspires me.” When it comes to commercial engineering she said, “Commercial Engineering fascinates me a lot because my dad worked in a company alongside other engineers. Their goal was to design homes that would later be built, in which several people would be able to live.” I loved Lucy’s enthusiasm to not only design buildings and homes, but to help the people who would live in those homes.

Lucy’s passion for helping didn’t stop there. Her reasons behind becoming a veterinarian or a pediatrician are both based on her desire to help living creatures. “I like the idea of being a veterinarian, because I love animals, especially dogs. In fact, I have a dog named Tobby, who is brown and white and handsome. Finally, being a pediatrician appeals to me because children are my inspiration. They are like little angels. I have two little siblings, who I consider to be little angels sent by God to brighten up my family.”

Thank you again for the great chat, Lucy! Everyone at Starfish is so proud of you and we can’t wait to see what your future holds, either as a commercial engineer, as a veterinarian, as a pediatrician or even something else!

xx
Henry

Original Interview:

“Yo de grande quiero ser una profesional de Ingeniería Comercial. Sin embargo, también me gustaría estudiar otras carreras como veterinaria y pediatría. Se que son tres carreras que exigen esfuerzo y dedicación. No obstante, me esforzaré mucho por conseguir mis metas.

Detrás de cada una de las carreras que pienso seguir, hay algo que me inspira. Por ejemplo, de Ingeniería Comercial me fascina mucho porque mi papá trabajó en una compañía junto con otros ingenieros que se trazaron como meta construir viviendas para que puedan vivir algunas personas.

Veterinaria me gusta también porque me encantan los animales y en especial a los perros. De hecho yo tengo uno que es hermoso de color café y blanco y se llama Tobby.

Finalmente, Pediatría porque los niños son mi inspiración. Ellos son como unos angelitos. Yo tengo 2 hermanitos. Considero que son unos angelitos enviados de Dios para alegrar a mi familia.”

Do What You Can; One Person at a Time: Ellie’s Volunteer Experience in Ecuador

The urge to travel through volunteering was first sparked in me by mission trips in high school. Over several trips to Guatemala, I found a love of the Spanish language and culture. In college, I decided to major in Spanish Education with the goal of becoming an English as a Second Language teacher.

Last year, I was in my second year teaching ESL in a public high school in Nashville, TN. I loved my job and grew immensely as a teacher, but my wanderlust spirit was stirring. When I decided to leave my job and travel for one year, I knew I wanted to incorporate service into my year of travel. I remembered that a friend I made in high school, Beth Awalt, co-founded a nonprofit in Ecuador called The Starfish Foundation. As soon as I read more about Starfish’s mission and focus on education, I knew it was a place I wanted to be.

IMG_7780.JPG

I arrived in Guayaquil on Dec. 9, 2016, excited to improve my Spanish and be in an educational environment again. From the start, I was eager and ready to embrace the joys and challenges that this experience would inevitably bring. The only really hard part of my transition was sleeping! Roosters, dogs barking, and loud music all night had me questioning if I would go crazy from sleep deprivation. I discovered that there are apps for your phone that make sound machine noises and I’ve been sleeping like a baby ever since.

The people of the Starfish Foundation and my host family have been the absolute best part of my experience here. My host family instantly welcomed me as part of the family and the way they care for me is simply amazing. I’ve immensely enjoyed teaching English classes to students and staff at Starfish. I’ve also been able to follow in former volunteer Anna’s footsteps and take a leadership role with the staff through assisting and offering guidance with lesson planning and curriculum development. I have loved getting to step into this new role and expand my professional knowledge and experience.

Despite the excitement and joys of working with Starfish, I must be honest and say that my time here has been hard on me as well. I knew what I was getting myself into by accepting this volunteer position. I have traveled and lived in developing countries before, so I know what it’s like to encounter the realities of poverty. However, seeing face to face the daily challenges of extreme poverty is NOT something you get used to.

There are things that occur daily in this community in poverty that simply would not happen in the community I grew up in, or even in the poorest communities in my country. Most people know you can’t drink the water in most Latin American countries, but what I find most startling is the environmental degradation that takes place as a result of lack of wastewater treatment. Basic infrastructure and public systems – like water treatment, accessible roads, and trash clean up – are not present in this community. These improvements alone would greatly increase the quality of life of every person in Flor de Bastion.

Additionally, I’ve witnessed some truly tragic events in this community that have shaken me to my core.

  • I’ve seen a hysterical mother crying in the street as an electrical fire raged outside her house while her daughter tried to call emergency services for over 30 minutes before getting through to an operator with the fire department (and the fire department never came).
  • I’ve seen a little girl fly into the air as she was hit by a car and heard her screams as she was rushed to the hospital in a car – no one bothered waiting for emergency services that time.
  • I’ve watched a two year old beloved dog die in my arms due to an unknown illness that could have been prevented or treated.
  • I’ve heard thieves and house robberies discussed as regularly as the weather.
  • I’ve met countless teen moms, heard stories of alcoholic/abusive fathers, and listened every night as a neighbor mother screams at her children.

Each of these experiences has taken a toll on me, even though I am just a bystander.

In the midst of all these hardships, there is life. This life is reality for thousands of people in Guayaquil and millions of people worldwide. Amidst these hardships, many people in Flor de Bastion find joy and abundant life every day!

img_8107I am here, confronting this reality that is so different from my own. I will soon leave Ecuador, but I will not be able to turn away from the things that I learned. I will continue to process this experience for years. Americans typically have an action mindset – if we see a problem, we want to fix it. When I was studying abroad in college, one of the greatest lessons I learned about interacting with other cultures is to focus on learning before action. As an American, I do not have answers that will be applicable in the context of this culture, but I can seek a deeper understanding and share my experiences with others.

As I learn more about Ecuador, I am left with more and more questions every day:

  • What is my role as an outsider in this culture and community?
  • What will my role be when I go home?
  • What would “development” look like for this neighborhood and this city?
  • What is the goal of “development” in the third world – to make other places more like the U.S./other western nations?
  • Will this come at the cost of heavy consumerism/materialism/environmental exploitation?
  • How could environmental care transform this city?
  • How could sustainable agriculture affect the environment and health of people in this city?
  • How can the public school systems be improved to promote real learning and critical thinking?
  • How could education transform this city and country?

I do not have the answers to these questions that linger in my mind, but they all draw me back to the very theme behind the name of the Starfish Foundation. The world has many problems on a grand scale, but I will choose to implement change by doing what I can for one person at a time. As more people join the struggle for change, an exponential increase of change will occur. I invite you to reflect on my questions and questions raised in your own experiences abroad and at home. It is in this reflection, I believe, that we will find deeper understanding and mutual respect for all human beings.

Whatever your religious beliefs are, I hope you can find comfort in this verse. It is about accepting everything in life, from the joy of abundant life to the pain of suffering and loss:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job 1:21

 

Carnaval: An Opportunity of a Lifetime

When many people think of Carnaval, scenes of Brazil’s or Germany’s super-famous parades may come to mind: Colorful costumes. Huge parade floats. Music and dancing. Food and drink. But Carnival in Ecuador isn’t quite the same.

Many countries around the world with dominant Catholic populations observe a form of Carnaval. It is a celebration before the start of Lent, and by many Ecuadorians it is considered a very special day.

carnaval
Photo Credit: El Comercio (x)

On Carnaval they enjoy the company of their families and find fun and festive ways to celebrate. “Every minute is incredible and you have to enjoy each of them because you have to wait a whole year to be able to do it again,” says one participant. Armed with water balloons, water guns, and colorful paint, many Ecuadorians turn public spaces into jubilant battlegrounds. Balconies and other high places serve as strategic positions from which to soak unsuspecting passersby.

I stopped in to speak with two of our Starfish to find out about their families traditions.

Elkin Moreno:
“In my case we go to the beach with my family, we bring artificial colors and balloons and as soon as we arrive at the beach we are very excited and we run to the sea to feel the waves. Then we fill the balloons with water and to play. We are never the only ones there; other people also show up and play excitedly. It’s a great chance to meet new people. Throughout the day there are also nautical and land shows, which are very beautiful and funny and they make that day really amusing and unique.”

Dervis de la Rosa
“In the morning, I have fun with my family. We prepare balloons filled with water and put them in a bucket until we have a considerable amount of them. We also go to the store to buy artificial colors to play with – this is real fun. At the end of the day we are very tired and happy for the playful day, but the most important is that we spent it with our family.”

This year, Carnaval in Ecuador will be on February 27th and 28th. I can’t wait until the festivities begin!

Senior Project Check-In: Ruddy Figueroa

Hi everyone! This past week I decided to check in on some of our senior students. As they enter the halfway point of their final year, a lot of them are making great progress on their Graduation Projects! So, I met up with one of our students, Ruddy Figueroa to discuss the theme and status of her project, both before and after she accomplished it!

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-10-53-39-amWhen I met with Ruddy a couple of months ago, the first thing I asked of her was to give a little introduction and description of her project. Ruddy told me that her project, “consists of hosting a little Christmas party for the boys and girls of my neighborhood: Guasmo Sur Coop. Julio Potes Jiménez, in the city of Guayaquil, based on the needs and scarce economic resources of the families who live in the area.” I was immediately intrigued, as this project sounded like a success already!

But, I wasn’t only impressed with the the project itself, I was impressed with Ruddy’s reasoning behind it. She said, “these families are made up of little kids that often can’t receive any gifts from their parents because of their financial situation. I want to organize this party to help and contribute to the happiness that doing community service generates.” Ruddy continued by telling me how she was going to achieve this goal. “I’ve decided to do a few different activities in order to be able to complete my project on time, including sending letters asking for donations and collaboration. I won’t need a building for the event because I plan to do it outside on a street with low a low volume of traffic. For my project I have the help of several community members who are available to help and collaborate.”

Flash forward to a week ago, and it was time for me to follow-up with Ruddy after she accomplished her Christmas party. I asked Ruddy to reflect on the project and let us know how she achieved her goal and how it made her feel. First, Ruddy said,

          “Not long ago, we started to work on a project, supervised by our foundation, the Starfish Foundation. In this project, many people close to me got involved. These people, in addition to my parents, helped me so that my idea could become a reality. Really, we started this project without knowing a lot about how to do this, but so many people were willing to help. Once we saw how abundant the help was, we decided to make the event even bigger.
When I sent letters to businesses, I received overwhelming and encouraging responses. This motivated me to keep moving forward with the idea to make the event bigger and reach out to more children than I had planned for in my project. The toys came in by the hundreds. I never thought that I would receive so much help. It really outdid my expectations.
The happiness kept growing when my classmates at Starfish offered to help me with the face painting activities for the children. Furthermore, around 250 children were able to receive gifts, and this included the younger brothers and sisters of my classmates from Starfish. I must admit, it was tiring and hard work, but the feeling of being able to was very comforting.
I also had the support of a school from my area, the “Escuela Fiscal Mixta Blanca Goetta de Ordoñez”. They lent me chairs, even though since we had a lot of children we still needed more chairs! In spite of this small challenge, the kids had a great night and had lots of fun with the activities we prepared for them. The skills of many were of great help to me in setting up the decorations for the party. My neighbors also helped me by lending me some lights, and my dad helped me to install them, so that the area was well lit for the event.”

It was so great to hear how many people and organizations were willing to chip in to help Ruddy with her party. She was so appreciative of their support and said, “That same night, at the end of the event, those who helped me with the party came over to my house where I had also prepared a meal for them to thank them for their enthusiastic efforts in making this event a success.” Well done Ruddy! Lastly, I asked her for one final thought on both the party and the project. Ruddy said, “There are so many ways to help someone who needs it, and so many ways that we can collaborate to help.”

I am so proud of Ruddy and all of our Starfish students!

Until next time,
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.

anna3

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.