Thursday, March 31, 2016

Moving to Wordpress!

The Starfish Social Media Team is excited to announce that we have officially moved our blog from blogspot to Wordpress! 

Click here to access our new Wordpress blog! 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Since its birth several years ago, the aim of Starfish has been, and is today: to instill hope, inspire, and make change- one student at a time. Our movement, rooted in promoting education and development of the whole person in order to open opportunities for youth in Guayaquil, Ecuador- is certainly a grassroots movement. But it's a powerful one. We start small- by securing the education of one student, with the aspiration that they will then be the ones to affect change. Student, family, school, community, world. We begin with the student, and watch our movement grow from there.

And that is exactly the change that we have been blessed to see, time and time again. And it starts with our own scholars.

María Rivadeneira exemplifies the ripple effect of Starfish. A mother of three, including Ariana Sosoranga, a Starfish scholar, María has also been going back to school. María has always encouraged her children to dedicate themselves to their studies, and to never give up on their dreams. Ariana, a top student, completely involves herself in her extracurricular activities, and she assumes the role of a leader both in school and in after school projects here at Starfish. Watching Ariana achieve and succeed, María recognized how important it was for her children to have a role model to look up to, and she wanted to be that example of hard work and perseverance. María never graduated from high school, but took it upon herself to go back to school and complete her studies, with the hopes of eventually becoming a nurse.

After years of sacrificing to support her children and keep them in school, María has achieved her dream, and the one she still carries for her children. She graduated from high school this past Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

But María's education will move even beyond high school.

She scored high enough on her college entrance exam to secure herself a spot to start her university studies right away, with the dream of becoming a nursing assistant and eventually a licensed nurse! María told us that if it weren't for the help Starfish provides Ariana, she wouldn't have had the financial resources or the time to finish her own studies.

María embodies the values of Starfish, and serves as a role model not only for her own children, but for our entire Starfish community. We hope that our organization will continue to reach those beyond its direct impact. In all honesty, it's not really us that's affecting change- it's our students. We put our faith into our students- that they will continue this powerful grassroots movement in inciting change- one by one.

María and her three children

Ariana Sosoranga, a Starfish scholar

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Aprendiendo a Expresarnos: The first ever Starfish Debate!

We will be featuring a series of blog entries from our students, reflecting on the activities at Starfish during the February vacation period.  This year the vacation period started one month early due to heavy rain, so we took advantage of that by adding additional academic classes and extra-curricular clubs to our Starfish schedule! Today, some students share about their experience participating in our first ever debate.  4 groups divided to form teams for and against 2 topics: All students should have to wear uniforms to school and all schools should be mixed-genders.

Génesis Rivera: 
"What is important, in the debate that Starfish organized, is listening to others, and reciprocally, being listened to. We learned that it is important to debate topics that are truly interesting for us, and for the other side of the debate. My topic was: should all schools be mixed-gender? For us, it's important that they do exist as mixed gender, for that helps us develop our social skills, and we learn how to better interact among different groups of people. With regards to debating, I think it's very important to have debates about topics that are widely disputed between groups of people, but that it's even more important to choose a debate topic that doesn't have a clear solution; in that way, we debate and we hopefully find solutions, or at least justifications for our solutions. The art of debate helps us gain skills in interacting with our own team, and with those opposing our views, and through this, we learn how to dialogue successfully,  and respect each others' opinions while simultaneously holding on to our own, and not giving up on a topic we believe in." ~Génesis

"Lo importante es ser escuchado por medio de un debate de Estrellitas del Mar.  Aprendemos que es importante debatir en temas que son interesantes para ti y para los demás.  Mi tema era de que si debe existir las escuelas mixtas.  Para nosotros fue importante porque aprendemos a desarrollar nuestra capacidad de desenvolvimiento interactivo.  Es muy importante debatir sobre temas que tu crees que es muy debatido entre personas, pero que no hay solución.  Por eso es importante debatir para encontrar soluciones.  Te ayuda a interactuar con el equipo contrario y dialogar y aprender mucho más sobre el debate sin rendirse en un tema que tú crees que es necesario." ~Génesis

Luiggi Plúas 
"In 2016, we, the Starfish Community, began an activity called "Debate." This process includes defending a specific theme, and participating in groups. I the group that I participated in, we were discussing, why we should not wear uniforms in school.  We also had a group that opposed us, who defended why we should wear uniforms in school. My group prepared a Prezi slideshow. The debate went very well, and my group was chosen as the best. The process of debating will help us to further our talents, and enable us to better express ourselves." ~Luiggi

"En este 2016 iniciamos un proceso llamado "Debate".  Dicho proceso consiste en defender un tema específico.  El grupo en el que yo participaba, estábamos hablando sobre "¿Por qué no deberíamos usar uniformes escolares?"  Así que teníamos un equipo contrario, el cuál defendía sobre "¿Por qué sí deberíamos usar uniformes?"  Mi grupo preparó una presentación de diapositivos en "Prezi".  El debate salió muy bien, además fuimos escogidos como los mejores.  Estar debatiendo nos ayudará a desenvolvernos mejor y a expresarnos." ~ Luiggi

Alexander Lícoa
"To debate is to defend a topic given to us. In our debate, I learned to work in a group setting, to express myself clearly and efficiently, to listen, to formulate an opinion, and to respond to questions that the opposite side gives me. Moreover, I learned that, in order to achieve, you have to work as a team!" ~Alexander

"El debate es defender un tema que nos pongan.  En el debate aprendí a trabajar en equipo, a expresarme bien, escuchar, opinar y responder a las preguntas que me hacía el lado opuesto.  También aprendí muchas cosas especialmente sobre el tema que me tocó.  ¡Hay que trabajar en equipo para hacer las cosas bien!" ~ Alexander

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Breaking Bread with Aldefa, a guest post by Annalise Deal

Today we feature a reflection post by Annalise Deal, a sophomore at Boston College studying Theology and English, whose passion for learning Spanish and discovering Latin American culture inspired her to participate in Boston College's Arrupe program. Thank you, Annalise, for your sharing your experience with us! 

Breaking Bread with Aldefa 
By Annalise Deal

This month, I was fortunate enough to be one of the 150 Boston College students who travelled to Latin America through the Arrupe International Immersion Program. My group of fifteen and I travelled to Puebla, Mexico to participate in a week of service and various immersive activities. We met a lot of people and gathered countless impactful stories along the way, but the story that has stuck with me the most was that of my host mother, Adelfa. For two nights, myself and two other girls stayed with her in her home in the village of Tecuanipan, outside of Puebla city. This is her story. 

Born into a family of nine children Adelfa and many of her siblings have struggled with chronic heart failure since they were young. Due to a lack of affordable health care, they have been unable to receive formal treatment. So despite an effort to change their diets, at age 50, she has already lost three of her siblings, and one is currently not doing well. Also due to their poverty growing up, she never finished elementary school because her parents could not afford uniforms or transportation to get her there. She recently finished elementary and middle school at the adult night school in Tecuanipan center. This year, she took a painting class there, and next semester she plans to take basket weaving. 

She and her husband Aceuencio have two sons: Edgar and Ivan. Before having Ivan, they lost their first baby, likely because of inadequate neonatal care. Their second son, Ivan, was born with multiple brain tumors, which were removed right after he was born. However, as Adelfa said, “su cabeza no funciona” (“his head doesn’t work”) so he was never able to go to school. Now he has a job in Cholula and seems to be doing alright. Their third son, Edgar, migrated to the U.S. six years ago, when he was only 20. He currently lives in Brooklyn and works as a line cook. Adelfa hasn’t seen him since he left, and when I asked if she has ever considered visiting him she clapped and said “que deportarme así!” (“they would deport me just like that!”) She then tried to convince one of us to move to Brooklyn to find her son and marry him, so that she could have grandchildren and a daughter-in-law who would be willing to move back to Mexico. 

Now, Adelfa lives a quiet life with her husband, son, and nephew, in a simple house with a dirt courtyard and a detached kitchen. The have a mule, a horse, countless bunnies and chickens, four adorable dogs, two cats and some doves. Despite all of the tragedy they have gone through as a family Adelfa clings to her Christian faith. Every time we tried to say “gracias,” she would respond, “No, gracias a Dios” (thanks to God). She prays often, loves her bible, and is guided in everything she does by the promise of eternal life which she believes awaits her. Her strength and resilience to come through such a troubled life, and still be so full of joy and constantly cracking jokes was remarkable. 

Before we left, our head coordinator Margaret often reminded us of the word “acompañarse” which means to accompany; it is the essence of solidarity. That word is made up of the Spanish words “con pan” or, “with bread,” which comes from the story of the Last Supper. Jesus, in his life and ministry, often showed the power of sharing bread, and this trip really brought that idea to life for me. It is one thing to know what poverty is, or have an intellectual understanding of the immigration crisis. It is a different thing entirely to sit at a small plastic table late at night, laughing together, drinking warm milk and eating fresh, bright pink pan dulce. 

I will carry Adelfa’s story with me as I move forward in my college career and beyond, attempting to make some difference in the world. I will remember how she broke bread with us, and in doing so, formed an emotional and spiritual bond that transcends geographic distance. Although our week in Tecuanipan did not reverse the seemingly insurmountable problems the people there face, sharing meals with them reminded us of the value and power of community, which knows no borders.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Spotlight on a scholar: Itaty

Meet Itaty Morocho, a bright, talented 14 year old Starfish scholar whose determination and hard work has enabled her to reach for, and achieve, her goals.

The oldest of 5, Itaty serves as a motivated, positive role model for her younger siblings. Itaty and her mother are very involved in our community, always willing to devote their time and energy into Starfish, thus entering into the cycle of receiving and giving that we try to cultivate here at Starfish. Itaty is an inspiration to her classmates, her family, and the entire Starfish community! A few months ago, she and Luiggi were nominated to go through a competitive selection process to be on the city-wide student council in Guayaquil (as we elaborated on in a previous blog post: Guayaquil Student Council! ).

And as of recent news, Itaty has been nominated for a prestigious English scholarship! The road to winning the scholarship is long and intense, and Itaty has had to prepare for several interviews and presentations. 70 students from the Guayaquil's school system were chosen to enter into the scholarship contest, and 30 of those original 70 actually receive the scholarship (becado). For the first stage of the scholarship process, Itaty prepared a papelografo, a large poster board, and she also participated in group activities in which all the candidates' skills were evaluated and critiqued. The next phase is a house visit, in which the scholarship committee went to the candidates' homes and conducted an informal interview. A formal interview is the last step in the determination of who receives the scholarships. Best of luck, Itaty!

Update as of February 21, 2016: 
Itaty got the scholarship!!!

She will get to study English for three years free of cost at an excellent school sponsored by the U.S. consulate. At the end of the three years she will take an exam that will prove her proficiency in English. March 7, 2016 is her first day of class! Congratulations, Itaty- we are so proud of you.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Updates from Guasmo and Flor

We've been busy here at Starfish over the past few months, including celebrations for Navidad, vacacionales, community service projects (Melanie P's project was featured on our blog a few weeks ago!), and now our high school seniors are preparing for their graduation, which is only a month away!

Vacacionales - Due to schools altering their schedules because of the weather brought by El Niño, we have altered our format and structure of vacacionales. On Monday and Wednesday of our vacacionales, we implemented academic reinforcement (tutoring, study sessions) and on Tuesdays and Thursdays we introduced clubs! Our choices for clubs include: Manualiadades (Crafts), Dance, Community Service, Sports & Theater.

Our scholars enjoy their new Sports club on Tuesday's and Thursday's (we all know how much they love to play with la pelota, so our Sports club has gained quite the popularity).

As part of our Community Service club, our scholars brainstormed and together, created this definition for community service:
  • helping others 
  • uniting as one so we can achieve something greater 
  • collaborating with one another 
  • working as a team 
  • everyone striving for one common goal, or objective 
After creating our definition of community service, our scholars chose projects based on the needs in the community.  Throughout the month, they are completing their projects, with results to be presented at our open house during the last week of February!

Our scholars discuss with each other their plans for their community service project. 

Community Service club participant Juliana delivers her "Random Act of Kindness" to Starfish volunteer Cristhian.

Our students prepare for their debate, working on skills such as logic, problem solving, and communication, as part of their after school activities!

In addition to our new extracurricular options, long-term Starfish volunteer and Program Advisor Sanchia along with a co-worker are offering high-quality English classes at Starfish- one class to our Educadores and one class to our top 10 scholarship students - equivalent to what they would get at the prestigious school where Sanchia teaches. Classes are being offered at Starfish for free!

And for some exciting news: Felicidades - Congratulations - to Starfish Scholar Angie! As part of the city's "Jóvenes Ejemplares" program, the top students at each high school are rewarded. The third level of prizes is a bus pass, while Angie reached the second level - a brand new laptop! Congratulations on your success and we are extremely proud of all your hard work, Angie.

Angie with her new laptop!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Cafe Justo: a small coffee cooperative seeking global change

Through a Boston College program called Arrupe, I went on an immersion trip to Chiapas, Mexico, over Christmas break, a trip filled with intense learning and discovery. Our short week in Mexico gave us a window into a vibrant, beautiful culture, rich in history and tradition. We also learned of the many, many injustices pertaining to immigration, politics, and foreign relations. Our Arrupe group paired with Borderlinks, an organization that promotes awareness and seeks to educate others about the realities of immigration. We had the blessing and honor to hear from the residents of Chiapas- we were welcomed with abrazos abiertos (open arms), and we are grateful to have been touched, pierced, and inspired by the people we met through honest conversation.

We spent the last few days of our trip in a small town called Salvador Urbina, a pueblo known for its coffee cooperative, Café Justo, which seeks to address the economic push factors of immigration by providing fair wages to its laborers. This cooperative eliminates the many "middle men" that play a role in the coffee production. This therefor reduces any unfair wages or scamming, as the profits from the coffee go directly to the workers. The business is entirely owned by the growers in Salvador Urbina, and the coffee is exported to the United States, and even European countries, as our host families proudly informed us. 

Café Justo, though seemingly a small cooperative, is, in reality, an essential agent in attacking the root causes of immigration by asking the fundamental question: Why are people willing to leave their home countries, risk their lives, and leave behind their families and communities? The most prevalent answers are: political turmoil, which creates instability and life threatening situations (such as the current state of El Salvador), and economic instability, which creates and perpetuates unfair wages, thus creating an absolute need to leave to find work. Child labor, drug trafficking, human trafficking, assault, and lack of education are sadly only a few of the complicated issues that stem from mass immigration- from people forced to leave their homes because their communities, once safe havens, have become unlivable. In Salvador Urbina, Café Justo is challenging this economic instability by providing income for  42 + families, and by inspiring the youth to stay in school: it gives them hope that they, too, will be able to work for fair pay and provide for their families some day, and be able to take pride in working in their own community. 

A long-time employee and "associate" of Cafe Justo hauls a bag of coffee beans. 

Genaro plants coffee!