Thursday, August 23, 2012

Taking a brave step, thanks to HOBY.

My biggest motivation as a HOBY Ambassador in 2004 was the keynote speech from Sandy Queen. Sandy's message centers around a song by Jana Stanfield - "What step would I take today if I were brave?" As I sat there in the auditorium, I knew that I had to take a big step. I can be courageous. I can make a difference. ...but how? That question remained to be answered.

After my year of volunteer service in Ecuador, I was asking myself many questions. The original question that Dr. Albert Schweitzer asked Hugh O'Brian was, "What are you going to do about it?" What am I going to do about the poverty I know exists? What am I going to do about the lack of opportunity for jobs, education, and food? After just a few weeks back in the U.S., inspired by many people at HOBY and Villanova, my friend Jenn and I took a big step. We started The Starfish Foundation, Inc.

Just about a year after my return to the U.S., I spoke at HOBY's World Leadership Congress (WLC) in Chicago to share the impact that HOBY has had on my life. Truth, I've been involved in numerous adventures that led me to where I am today. But more importantly -- I was finally able to answer Sandy Queen's question.

I wanted to blog just a bit about speaking at WLC for a few reasons. HOBY is very important to me, and many HOBY alum have been so supportive to Jenn and I in this endeavor. The Ambassadors at WLC were an incredible audience - mainly because many of them have also started non-profit organizations! I feel confident in saying that many of these students are going to take VERY brave steps in the next few years. 

Here are some pictures from my time in Chicago! Thanks to Angie U. for taking them :)

About to speak alongside LTC Brian Yee, HOBY MD 1986, and Laura Limarzi, HOBY Canada and WLC 2011, about keeping the HOBY spirit alive.

Explaining the millions of thoughts running through my head as a high-school sophomore in 2004.

Reiterating that ever-important question: what was I going to do about all the poverty that I knew existed?

Sharing the story of The Starfish Foundation, Inc.!

--Beth Awalt, Co-founder of The Starfish Foundation, Inc.,
HOBY Maryland and Central PA Volunteer

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The most fun yet...

I was wrong last time because today was the most fun I have had in Guasmo. When we arrived at Mi Cometa, we went upstairs and most of the kids were there already. We saw that Solange had brought a basketball so we immediately started dribbling. We went all the way on the roof and were dribbling up there. Anthony and Andres wanted it to be them two against me just trying to steal the ball from me. It was really fun keeping it away from them, but also challenging too. The girls started taking pictures of us playing and finally they all said they wanted to go to a park where they have basketball courts. Martin and I agreed without hesitation because basketball is our favorite sport. 

The park took a while to get there but it was an amazing park. They had giant slides, high monkey bars, rings, a chain to climb, soccer field, jet, train, basketball court, stage and see-saws. We had so much fun at the park with the kids. We took pictures of all the activities we were doing played some games that the kids made up. We played a 5 on 5 basketball game that the kids seemed to love. The kids did really well they all had their own talents that were good for playing. Joel is an all around athlete and excels in every sport he plays. He is really quick and learns things fast. Andres and Anthony were doing really good at shooting the ball. Solange was able to dribble and pass the ball well and Maria was very aggressive it surprised us. Esteve was all over the place so when we played it was a good match up. We took more photos of the kids on the jet plane and on the train. 

In the afternoon, William, Marlon, Bebzebeth, Dianna, Eric and Carlos came. We all were upstairs and we asked them what they wanted to do. They said they wanted to go to the park we went to earlier to check it out. We didn’t do as much stuff but still had a blast playing basketball. It was Martin and William versus Marlon, Eric and I. The girls were just going around taking pictures of each other posing for them. They got very into taking pictures so fast and the quality of their photos keeps increasing. The thing that I think is most important is to have a variety of pictures, but not just in numbers; by making sure they take pictures different ways from different angles. We just want them to be creative and express themselves. 

--July 23, 2012

We left early to Mi Cometa today. It was a great success this morning because we were able to get there only taking two buses. When we got there Betzabeth called Martin and so we went to walk her from her house. We played some of the games upstairs until Maria and Esteve had to leave at 11. The kids have gotten pretty good at Uno and know the tricks to the game. I don’t think I will ever be able to play Uno again without thinking of all the amazing kids here. They have truly impacted my life for the better. 

It was only Genesis and Betzabeth left at Mi Cometa with us so we went to grab some food. We went to this sit down little restaurant that Martin and I had been to before. Martin and I shared a plate and the girls shared a plate. The food was really good! Betzabeth kept telling me I was very bad for not eating the soup, but I didn’t care for it much. 

When we got back to Mi Cometa we were showing the girls some magic tricks. Martin started off with the cards and doing a few card tricks and then I started doing a trick with paper. I hold the paper to my thumb for a while so it stays then eventually I pretend to suck it into my mouth, but what really happens is that I put my thumb back so it isn’t visible. I finish the trick by coughing and pretending to catch the paper in my hand. The girls were so amazed by my trick it was so cool to see the looks on their faces.

--July 30, 2012

Michael, Ryan and Martin with Guasmo Starfish Scholars!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Continuing the Photo Projects

Today was a very interesting day. Walking outside the gate from our friends house I realized with Martin how I used to waste dimes like they weren’t any value at all. Don’t get me wrong- I used to collect coins, but I would also see one on the floor and just kick it or throw it. I never could have imagined someone else desperately needing that money to get to work or to school. It is just way different. 

We took the 2 bus all the way to Flor de Bastion and then took a motor taxi up to the houses. We got there a little early so we just hung out discussing what we should do today. Lily and Christian were the first to arrive and they were so excited to see us. We showed them the new Uno spin game so they could read the instructions and explain to all the other kids for us. I asked Lily how she had done on our test and she said she got 18/20. We started to play the new Uno game while everyone else was getting there. 

We asked if anyone wanted to take photos and Arelisa was the first to start. She had gone back inside for a while and me and Christian were playing when I realized that Martin and Argenisis were taking pictures. I grabbed Christian and took him with me to go find them. It was a good thing I did because that is when they both fed off each other’s energies and were really excited. While I watched them take photos I asked Martin if we should be taking pictures of them using cameras for the first time. We agreed that it would be a good idea and people would like to see the excitement in their faces. 

--July  17, 2012

It was probably the most fun I have had at Mi Cometa today. When we got there no kids were waiting for us so I was thinking that the kids weren’t coming again today. Martin started calling the families and Esteve was the first to show up. I was glad he showed up because he started helping Martin with calling all the other kids. They worked together and got through pretty much everyone. 

We let Joel, Marlon and Melany roam free to take pictures. The kids seemed to like the project and were very energetic. We even had them doing some poses in a circle and I took the photo of them to show them examples of being out of the ordinary with pictures. They definitely got the idea so I hope they will be able to excel in the program. Martin took a picture of Dianna with her friends because she lives so far it is hard for her to get to Mi Cometa. The girls and Geovanny showed up after so we were playing with all the kids. We gave Dianna one of the disposable cameras and told her to take around 15 pictures. We played soccer with the kids, taught the girls games and were all hanging out having an awesome time. This was the best time at Mi Cometa so far- it was great. 

--July  18, 2012

Today when we got to Flor de Bastion, Martin gave Samantha a camera so she could take some pictures of the kids and family. She took a lot of photos of the new born baby and the younger girls. While she did that we met Christian’s mom for the first time. She was very nice, inviting us into her home like if we were family. 

Martin, Lily, and Christian were all thinking of ideas to put on small pieces of paper so we could all play charades. We filled up a whole bowl of papers front and back. Martin explained to the kids and parents how to play and he went first. Everyone understood the game after Martin went with the occasional reminder that you can’t talk. Samantha has picked “Godzilla” but she wasn’t sure what it was so acted something else out. She asked me what it was after so I did my best to explain to her. I asked if she knew what a lizard was but she didn’t understand me so I started acting it out a little. Finally I said a dragon and she understood that so I kept going with it. I just said to her in Spanish a green dragon but with no wings. The whole family participated in playing and mostly everyone acted. The family had a lot of fun playing charades with us I was glad. 

Afterwards we went outside and we were playing volleyball with Christian’s soccer ball. Eventually a bunch of the local kids just walked up so we asked all of them if they wanted to play. We had a whole game going with about six players just keeping the ball up. All the kids had a lot of fun and the girls got some pretty good pictures of us. After a while of playing volleyball, Christian called us to his aunt’s house where his mother and aunt had made us some food. They gave us a mountain of rice that filled me up so much. The food was really good and we appreciated them cooking for us. They had just got a new motorcycle so we took pictures of the kids on the motorcycle. We had to leave after taking a few more photos and bid everyone a farewell.
 --July  19, 2012

Martin with some Starfish Scholars in Guasmo.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Photo Project in Guasmo: Day 1

Today we had to wake up really early because we had to get to Mi Cometa by 9 a.m. When we got there 4 kids were upstairs working on their homework. We asked if they needed any help with the homework, but they all said they knew how to do it. Maria was done with her homework already so Martin gave her the camera and let her roam free while he created a guideline list of what they could take pictures of. We had a list of 15 things and were able to get the kids really interested in the camera. 

When all the kids finished we went to the roof and took pictures of stuff there.  We told the kids to use their imagination and take whatever type of photos they wanted. We took some silly photos, too. The kids got really creative! Then we went down the street. Esteve took a really good photo of a tree that might have been my favorite photo of the day. They also took photos of caterpillars, hearts, shoes, the street, and of the organization. 

After we were done in the streets we went up to the roof and the kids wanted to play the ninja game again. Then they taught us some of the games that the kids play. It was interesting to learn the games that the children play. One we had to slap hands then the person it ended on called out a person and they would have to try to step on someones foot and if they missed the person they went after calls out another name. The other game was like hot potato playing with a scrunchie and someone else behind calling out something. The only difference was that if you do get caught with the scrunchie then you have to do a dare. I had lost so they took a picture of me acting like a monkey. 

After we took a lot of photos and played games we went back downstairs and worked on a puzzle with the kids. We had started the puzzle when the kids had to go back to get ready for school. We sent them off then went to go eat because we had time to kill before the other kids were going to get there. We waited and waited and waited but no other kids showed up. Finally toward the end of the time we had Martin called Genesis to come to the building. We explained to her the functions of our disposable camera and sent her on a mission to take at least 10 photos using her imagination. With that we asked if she had any work, but she said she didn’t so we dismissed her. We learned from the experience because in Flor de Bastion usually the kids show up without having to tell them, but here in Guasmo we would have to send out reminders to the families. 

Michael with some Starfish Scholars from Guasmo.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Introducing the Photo Project in Flor

Today we were working in Flor de Bastion. When we arrived at the house we took down all the chairs and tables. All the children came down and we set up the chairs in a circle so no one would feel left out. Martin then had them write their names down and asked if they had any questions for me. He then explained the photo project to the kids as best he could and I think they understand. 

We then broke the kids up into groups to brainstorm ideas for what to do and not to do with the cameras. The kids had a harder time coming up with ideas then the kids at Mi Cometa. I think it may have been the way Martin explained it or because the kids at Mi Cometa have a much larger group. We added stuff to the group we were helping, giving them ideas so they could get moving with other ideas. The group was definitely not as rowdy as the Mi Cometa group. We came together to share our notes and all the kids spoke, behaved well, and listened. 

The whole time we were split into groups Lily was using the camera to take pictures of everything that was happening. We finished explaining the photo project and had the kids make a pledge to take care of the cameras. I then got out the crackers and peanut butter and right away some of the girls knew what it was. Only Evelyn and Argenis preferred the crackers without the peanut butter, the rest of the kids seemed to love it. We then played the ninja game with the kids, I think they understood the game well because Martin was one of the first out. We then played a game where we had our hands on the table and one slap meant keep going the same direction, while two slaps reverses the flow. It took a while, but the kids understood. After that we played some Uno with all the kids and Melina won way before everyone else, she keeps winning it is ridiculous. The kids were packing up to leave already so we put the tables and chairs away. 

Lily’s mom then invited us in to eat some rice with lentils and tomatoes. She had already served us so I couldn’t say no to her, especially since they don’t have much. It was heartwarming to see someone with so little offer you things out of the kindness of your heart. I was very humbled by the mother. I normally can’t stand the taste of tomatoes, but for the first time I ate a full cut up tomato. Lily had a test the next day so we asked her if she needed help studying. We helped her a little with her math and English. These students are so engaged in learning that they are willing to learn a new language instead of just relaxing at home. I don’t know many kids these days that even do their homework, let alone go off by themselves to work on other things.

Martin and Michael in Flor de Bastion.