Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Meetings galore! from Michael & Martin


It was our first day back in Guayaquil after a trip to Quito and I needed a haircut. The unique thing about the haircut was the lady that cut my hair came to the house we are staying at. It was a different experience getting my haircut where I am staying; it shows me how different our cultures can be. After we were ready we went to Mi Cometa for a meeting with the kids. The meeting was to introduce the photography project to the kids. My mother came with us so that she could explain the project to the kids. Arriving at Mi Cometa we had to get the keys from Andres to open the upstairs room. The kids arrived around 1:30 and started to come in one by one. Martin went with a few of the girls to get drinks and snacks while my mom and I waited for the rest of the kids to get there. Finally, pretty much everyone showed up and we were able to begin. We started the meeting with a name game where we had to say our name then followed by our favorite fruit. I couldn’t think of anything so I just said “Melon”.  Then Martin asked the kids if they had any questions for my mother or I. They had asked our favorite color, what I study, and where I go to school. We started the meeting by telling them about the cameras. We explained the two types of cameras and how they work. We then explained the type of work we were going to be doing with the camera and followed up with the main goal of the project. We then broke off into groups to make a list of rules for the camera. We sort of made it into a contest making it girls versus boys. We sat at the boys circle and they were saying some pretty crazy stuff that would make all of us laugh. One of the boys said, “Don’t take the camera into the bathroom”, which was pretty much implied but I told them they could write it just in case. We finished with that little game and then shared our rules with the whole group. Most of the girls answers were nice and a few basic rules. They said things like, “take pictures of flowers, people, and other beautiful things”. The boys were more focused on the actual rules of the cameras; it was interesting to see the comparison in the thinking of the kids. We then passed out snacks for the kids and while I did that Martin had the kids take a picture, with the digital camera, of the person to the right of them. My mom demonstrated first and the kids learned quickly.  Our meeting was pretty much done after that so we did a few icebreakers. We played the “Cow” and “Ninja” game. The Cow game went by pretty fast because it is a trick that is played on one of the kids. During the game I had to take one of the kids outside so my mom could explain they were playing a trick on him. I took Geovanny to the roof and was able to have a conversation with him. I found out that he plays volleyball and soccer. I told him one of the days I come I will play with him. I also asked if he has a girlfriend, but he said no. Then I said, “Tienes dos novias?” he laughed at me and agreed. I was glad I was able to connect with one of the kids because during the meeting I felt so distant because I wasn’t speaking much.  The Ninja game took a little longer, but the kids really enjoyed it. I was one of the winners along with Andres. We then told the kids the schedule for us being able to work with them and had them all write it down. We closed the meeting and the kids roamed free for a while. Some of the girls asked me what my favorite type of music was and I told them I didn’t really have a favorite type. Then a little later two of the girls wanted to take a picture with me so I gladly agreed to. Then, Geovanny came running in so we took a group photo it was pretty cool. I had to bend down a lot though because I tower over all the kids. All in all it was a great day and the kids were super excited to meet us. I look forward to working with all these kids for the next few weeks.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Michael & Martin - day four

Today we were working again in Flor de Bastion. We went straight to the piece of land where we set up and are allowed to play with the kids. Today Martin brought some English books so the kids could get a look at them. Christian, Samantha, and a few more kids were already there while we set up some tables. We played a couple of games of Uno that took forever for us to finish. More kids started to show up as we played and they just jumped in to join the game. After a while Christian, Martin and I started to play soccer with Christian's little cousin. Everyone pretty much started doing their own thing at that point. Samantha joined us so we started playing volleyball with everyone, even one of the other girls, Ana, jumped in to play with us. We were having a blast then we all sat down and the kids were talking to me. They asked me questions about how to say things in English, and then they asked if I could sing for them. I wasn’t prepared to sing anything so I got kind of embarrassed. The kids started chanting, but usually when I am asked to sing I forget all the songs that I know. I told Christian that if he went first I would follow. Christian didn’t end up singing, but one of the older guys named Jordan sang and he sings really well. The girls sang next and at that point we were all just hanging out. Then they asked if we could dance and what type of music we liked to dance to. Samantha offered to dance with me, but it was getting late and we had to pack up so we promised them to do it next week. These are all such great kids that were put into difficult situations but if they keep on the path they are on they should have no problem becoming what they aspire to be. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday / Feliz Cumpleanos to all the Starfish Scholars with birthdays in June and July!

Another performance from Integration Day!

Three Guasmo ladies (Dayanna, Karaoyln and Maria) prepared this song to sing for the party in a matter of minutes! Don't they have beautiful voices?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Michael & Martin visit Flor de Bastion!

Today was our first day in Flor de la Bastion. First, the whole family went to the apartment that Martin and I are staying in. We got a ride to Flor de Bastion.  He dropped us off where the motor taxis are and we were able to take that most of the way to where the scholars are. The cost of the motor taxi was only a quarter each, which I thought was awesome. When we arrived to the houses the kids were overjoyed to see Martin and meet our family. We were invited inside by Samantha’s aunt; she offered us watermelon and something to drink. The house was not built to the same standards I am used to. It didn’t have a roof or shower, but did have a little fridge and stove in the living room, cardboard for cover, and one bed. This reminded me of all that I should be thankful for. Although these people live in small homes and don't have much money, but they find a way to be happy, thrive, and prosper. We rounded up all the kids then went to the place where we are able to play with them since it is a weekend and they didn’t have school. I may not know the language, but there is a universal language that worked to my advantage: playing. My brothers and I were kicking the ball around with Christian while my mom showed the rest of the kids how to play the games we brought. We took Connect 4 and Uno with us to give to the kids.  They loved the games and by the end of the day they were already proficient in playing both games. They were all shouting with my mom “Comé! Comé! Comé!” when they had to pick up cards from the deck. It reminded me of what we used to do as kids which was heartwarming. I can’t wait to see the kids again! The mother of Lily lives across from the lot we were using so she invited us inside to eat, but I didn’t want to impose. We had already had a close relationship with Lily, her mother and Christian because they were there when we landed to see Martin. They made us feel at home and gave what they had to feed us. Only my mother, father and brother ate because I truly wasn’t that hungry at the time. My family wasn’t going to eat there but the mother insisted and had already prepared the food. She did pour me and my other brother a glass of homemade orange juice which is probably the best I have ever tasted. We said our goodbyes, but they surprised us further by walking us all the way back to the main street to catch the motor taxi. The smallest boy, lily’s little brother, was running to try to beat us but tired himself out so I picked him up and put him on my shoulder. The little rascal then started calling me “Caballo”, which is a horse, and whipped my shoulder to make me go faster so I pretended to trot then he was saying crazy horse. All in all a great day with the kids and I can’t believe how awesome some of these families are. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Summer Interns Michael & Martin continue...


Today we went to Mi Cometa and it took around an hour. On the way Martin showed me the buses we would be taking and we passed by Flor De Bastion. When we arrived to Mi Cometa I wasn’t sure what to expect, but our hosts were always looking out for us. I was a little surprised to see it looked very similar to some of the places I have visited in Mexico. We went inside the establishment and found Janet. Our mom went with us and they made small talk while we got a tour of the building. My mom was quick to make friends with the workers there and they seemed to like my mom. We finally got into the meeting with the parents and a couple of students. The room was bare with no chairs and no air conditioning but I don’t mind the change much because I can adapt to my surroundings very well. Starting the meeting Janet introduced who we are and what we were going to be doing with the organization. I believe they had already met Martin, but I wasn’t sure. Janet introduced me as Martin’s little brother, then my name.  It was really funny to see all the reactions of the parents because they immediately lifted their hands motioning how much taller I am then him. Janet had us grab some chairs to sit down while she began presenting the agenda for the meeting. We started off with an ice breaker which was introducing our names, naming our favorite animals, and having to move like the animals we said. I chose a tiger so got down on all fours and growled, embarrassing myself in front of the parents. I remember Maria was a turtle, my mom was a tortoise, Martin was a lion, Fernando was a horse, but was reluctant to get on all fours so he pretended to ride the horse. We then broke off into couples where we had to describe each of our parents and tell how that has affected the person we are today. I was paired with a woman named Maria. She only spoke Spanish so I had to explain to her I didn’t speak much, but was able to understand most of it, so I thought. I found out later that the woman I was speaking to husband died around 2 years ago; she had two children in the program now and 5 children in all. The oldest is 20 years old, but she described him as not being her son anymore. Another man, Fernando, just lost his job and is taking care of one boy in the program that isn’t his biological son, but he considers the young man to be his son. One of the most heartfelt stories came from a grandmother of the child; I couldn’t understand her but my mom translated it after the meeting. She is an older woman taking care of her grandchild because the parents forgot about the child. She has to go out and find work every day just to provide food on the table; she described the situation as just trying to survive day by day putting bread on the table. These stories touched my heart because I was able to see all the excess I live in. I don’t really ask for much from my parents anymore, but still go out with friends and use more money then I should. I wish I could take back all that I have asked for in my life and put the money to help people in these situations.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Update #1 from Summer Intern Michael

It is my first day in Ecuador. The flight was very long because we had three layovers. We went from LAX to San Salvador then proceeded to Costa Rica. From there we went to Quito, then to Ecuador, and finally one more short flight to Guayaquil. I am so excited to be able to have this opportunity. A year ago I never would have imagined being on a different continent. I am still unsure of what I want to do in the future. Currently, I am a business student at St John’s University. My father told me it was the most practical major because there is business in every aspect of life; this is why I choose Business. I am learning new things while studying in college, but the one thing I never want to let go of is helping others. If I can do one thing in my life it is to make a difference in other people’s lives for the better. Most of the times I prefer to work with kids because they are not at fault for the situations they have been put in, so if they are willing to work hard and strive they should be eligible for the same opportunities other children have. This internship is the perfect opportunity for me to reach out past my boundaries and discover myself while helping people in the process. I am also very nervous for the internship because unfortunately I don’t speak Spanish. I have been around Spanish all my life, most of my family and my parents speak the language fluently but I didn’t learn it. Right now I have a basic understanding of Spanish, I am confident I can understand most of it but I am not that good at speaking it. I feel this will be the greatest challenge for me because without knowing the language I won’t really be able to connect to the kids as much as I want to. Fortunately my brother is fluent in Spanish and he will be able to translate. I am sure at first it will be a challenge but along with these amazing kids my brother has told me so much about we will bypass this obstacle. Since I don’t know Spanish I have been questioning the way I am going to help the program. I am really good at interacting with children so that should work to my advantage. We are also going to implement a Photography program that I am excited for. I believe this is where I can contribute the most because I have been reading up on photography and although I am a beginner I am sure we can get this program off the ground with these kids. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Skit from our Dia de Integracion

After the group finds the money on the ground, they debate what to do with the large prize. In the end, the voice of reason shines: "the man's money fell; we have to return it to him. We have to be in solidarity and honest. We have to continue onwards. Therefore, we WILL return the money."

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Day of Integration!

Sunday, June 17: Dia de Integracion - Estrellitas del Mar
We spent our Father's Day 2012 bonding as a whole group. Here's a play-by-play of what we did this day.

Mi Cometa's driver brings the Starfish Scholars from Guasmo to Flor de Bastion. Jenn had the place all decorated! Two friends of ours, Becky and Marita, joined us for this day. The three of us were so excited to see all the work Jenn had done in Guayaquil with Starfish thus far! 

Jenn and I each gave some opening remarks, and then one student each from Flor de Bastion and Guasmo spoke. Check out the videos on Facebook soon to see these speeches!

The students from Flor did a skit about honesty and solidarity. Finding money on the ground ... do you return it to the owner or spend it yourself? What if you are really in need? Starfish Scholars tells us that it's important to be honest and live in solidarity with those who have worked hard for their earnings.

Becky popped one of the flour balloons on our head. Thanks Becks :)

Becky and Marita were pulled to dance by Dayanna and Geovanny!

Lili, Arelisa and Pamela's mom Elena serving the lasagna. Cristhian's mom made the delicious lunch for us!

Becky, Marita, Beth and Jenn! <3 

Making Father's Day cards! Samantha, pictured here, won one of the two prizes.

Dayanna working on her card.

Jenn with some of the supportive family members in Flor de Bastion - Cristhian (in aqua), his sisters and mom (left) and Pamela's mom, Elena (right). We couldn't do it without them!

2012-2013 Starfish Scholars <3 

Jenn gave Samantha her Father's Day card award, and here I am giving Anthony his!

MIL GRACIAS to the four Scholars who have turned in EVERYTHING on time!

As Jenn says, here at Starfish, birthdays are really important to us. Look how many people we sang to for June and July!

Thanks for a great celebration, Jenn! It was so wonderful to meet all these incredible young leaders. <3 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Flor de Bastion welcome speech!

Firstly, I want to give thanks to you all for coming, although we have told you welcome. Equally, we thank you for that which we have had, and we give you thanks for giving us the support that you have been able to provide for us.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gracias a Mi Cometa!

During my visit to Ecuador, Jenn gave me a great little tour of Mi Cometa. Come join me on the tour!
Upon my arrival at Mi Cometa, Jenn ushered me into Gladys' office. We talked at length with her and the woman in the red shirt, Eugenia, who told us that Mi Cometa used to work all over Guayaquil - in neighborhoods north and south! She was one of the founders of Mi Cometa, when it began 20 years ago in the neighborhood of Guasmo.

Later, I spent time with both Gladys (left) and Janet. Gladys is the president of Mi Cometa - we love that a female runs this great organization! Janet is in charge of Creciendo Nuestros Hijos (CNH), a program to provide early stimulation for children ages 0-5.

Look - we have a cabinet! Jenn is able to keep supplies in this cabinet, in a locked room at Mi Cometa. We are so appreciative of the space to keep track of our Scholars' materials!

I peeked into the room where CNH operates, and I met one of our Scholars (Geovanny, middle) and one of our huge supporters from CNH! Many of the staff members at CNH recommended certain families for Jenn to visit - in total, she checked out almost 50 houses to elect the 28 Starfish Scholars!

THANKS ... For keeping this space clean, "remember that cleanliness is part of good living."

"We care for the environment." Mi Cometa and Starfish share many values!

View from the roof of Mi Cometa. You can see for miles!

One location of many Guasmo Starfish meetings.

Another view from the roof of Mi Cometa. It was so peaceful up there - a great place to sit and think!

The bulletin board for Adopta Una Familia (AUF). The program works with families in the area to have "minga" - joint clean-up sessions - where everyone pitches in to build a house for one of the families. AUF works closely with a church in Connecticut to sponsor and support this effort.

Jenn and I with Marjorie, one of the AUF social workers and promoters. Marjorie has SO much energy - she made me feel right at home!

Thanks to Mi Cometa for a wonderful visit! I also learned a lot about the music school at night and their new efforts to care for street kids in 2013. I appreciate every one of you and all the work you are doing so much. God bless you all!

--Beth Awalt, Co-Founder
The Starfish Foundation, Inc.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Martin's First Day in Ecuador!

Hi =]

Me and my family made it safely to Ecuador! And much to my delight I was surprised to see Senora Elena, Lily, and Christian greet me at the airport!! They met my parents and my brother and I know i'll be seeing them really soon! My family was picked up by some family friend's and we are spending the night at their house, but first thing in the morning,  7am, I am leaving to Urdesa to meet up with Angelo and move into the apartment Jenn and Beth have so graciously found for me! Then, in the evening I will head to Guasmo for a meeting at Mi Cometa headquarters. All is going to plan with homework help and the photo project starting up  +Monday! =] Look out for more posts by the end of the week!!

Peace and Love,


Friday, July 6, 2012

Martin's journey with Starfish

Hi, my name is Martin Garcia and I am excited to be interning for Starfish this summer. I will be a senior at Villanova University. It was at Villanova that I first learned about Starfish. I was taking Professor Klingler’s Microfinance and Social Entrepreneurship class and we were asked to work with Starfish to help raise funds. 

Martin and his group presenting their semester's worth of ideas on fundraising for Starfish.

Our group decided a Benefit Dinner at Villanova would be a great idea because Starfish was Co-founded by Villanova’s own Beth Awalt. The Villanova community is always looking to help support their own. 

Our more creative fundraising idea was to start a photo project with our wonderful scholars in Ecuador. Our hope is to emulate what was done in the documentary “Born into Brothels.” We are hoping to help the student’s raise their own funding for school supplies, books, and uniforms by selling photographs of their home-life environment in their own artistic representations of life. I also see this photo project as giving something tangible to the kids. They’ll be keeping their photos and making their own memories. For many of the kids, it’ll be the first camera they have ever used.

Martin, pictured here with The Starfish Foundation co-founder and Villanova University alumna Beth Awalt (front right), along with the rest of the group from the Microfinance and Social Entrepreneurship class.

I feel blessed that Villanova’s President, Father Peter Donohue, and the Center for Global Leadership of the School of Business gave me financial support to make this internship possible. 

So I am back from my training in Guayaquil. Jenn prepped me on everything from which busses to take to how to put money on my cell phone. I was lucky to have Jenn training me because she knows everything there is to know about Starfish, its partners, and most importantly the student scholars and their families. Hands down, Jenn is Awesome!! 

I now feel confident about returning to Ecuador on July 5th and being able to get to where I need to go and do what I need to do to make my stay a success! The best part about orientation was meeting all the Starfish Scholars! Walking into their homes, they were instantly friendly offering food and whatever else they could despite their disadvantaged economic conditions. The scholars are also very smart and responsible. I am leaving tomorrow to go back to Ecuador and I am really excited to go back!!

--Martin Garcia, Villanova University Class of 2013
The Starfish Foundation, Inc. summer intern

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A humble house.

Imagine my surprise as I find out that one of the Starfish Scholar parents wants to meet me! In fact, I believe Jenn said she insisted on meeting me. 

Marina’s* two oldest children are Starfish Scholars. Marina cried as she shared that this is the first year her children don’t have to wear used uniforms. The youngest of the two Scholars, Steve, was so excited – “Mom, I love that the professor just tells me what the homework is and I can pull out my workbook and do it!” 

For the next oldest children in Marina's family, two young girls in elementary school, they don’t have a scholarship. When her elementary-school-aged children ask for their workbooks or textbooks, Marina has to tell them, “Look- this is how much money I have for the day. You’ll have to choose between the book and your tummy. Which do you choose?”

What a decision to make! I have never even had to consider a decision like this. Food or books for school? My memories of the summer always end with a huge school-supply shopping spree at Target, where I was able to buy all the supplies I needed (and then some). At the end off the trip, we usually went to grab lunch somewhere or had a big dinner at home. The thought of choosing between my tummy or a school book is so difficult. People should not have to make that choice!

In the hour and a half we were in her home, Marina used the word "humble" seven different times. She described so many things as "humble": her house, the snack she bought us, the soup we were served, even the chair we sat on! But I have to say -- no matter what she tried to claim as 'humble' - the most humble feeling in the room came from me. I was so humbled by Marina's generous hospitality, genuine curiosity about Jenn and I, and thoughtful appreciation. Marina taught me more in those 90 minutes than most people could in a year.

“I’ll never stop thanking you. Well, first God, then you all. Because you all came to me through Him. I asked God to provide – and he did, by sending you!” The visit with Marina put so much meaning to what we do with Starfish.

*name changed for privacy

Me with Maria, who left for school first, around 12:15pm. She was ready to go on time -- a rarity for many Ecuadorians!

Steve left about 20 minutes later. Marina told us that Steve and Maria's friends and professors didn't believe that they got scholarships this year! The Starfish Scholars had to carry their letters of acceptance to prove that this blessing did exist.

Me, Marina, Jenn and one of the younger children. Thanks, Marina, for a lovely visit!

--Beth Awalt, Co-Founder, The Starfish Foundation, Inc.