Thursday, February 28, 2013

Felicidades Señor Presidente!

A few weeks ago Ecuador held elections, including many Asambleistas (like Congressmen) as well as the President.  Ecuador is officially a "Presidential Representative Democratic Republic". What does this mean?  Well as of the current constitution (written in 2007, approved in 2008), the President is elected every 4 years, and can be re-elected once just as in the United States.  Ecuador's government also has both a Legislative and Judiciary branch with regular elections.

Congratulations to Señor Presidente Rafael Correa on his re-election!  Correa is well-liked and respected by the citizens of Ecuador and most Latin American leaders for his many social initiatives such as conservation of natural resources in the Yasuni/Amazon, housing projects for low-income families, bringing social services to invasion communities and for his work on education reform.

Presidente Correa and VP Jorge Glass celebrating victory!

Some fun facts about elections in Ecuador -
  • In Ecuador you can vote when you're 16 years old.  
  • It is MANDATORY to vote for everyone 18-65 years old.
  • After you vote you get an official document proving that you voted with the date of the election.  It's a little smaller than your driver's license and is required for many official transactions such as securing a job or opening a bank account!
  • Ever heard anyone complain about the "two-party system" in the U.S.? (Yes we are aware there are other smaller parties!) Well on this year's ballot in Ecuador over 20 parties were represented!
  • This is technically Correa's 3rd term as President, since he became President in 2007.  In 2008 when the new Constitution was approved, Ecuador established the 4 year term and 2 time re-election from then forward, making Correa still eligible for this third term.
  • This means Correa when he finishes this term he will have been President for 10 years, while in the previous 10 years Ecuador had 6 different Presidents!

Initial Election Results


Thursday, February 21, 2013

¿Quieres jugar carnaval?

Our Starfish scholars are enjoying a well deserved break during their "summer" vacation.  This year the beginning of school break coincided with the celebration of "Carnaval", the days leading up to Ash Wednesday/Lent.  In Ecuador you "play carnaval" by attacking your friends and family with water, paint, mud, flour or really anything you can get your hands on.  Check out how some of our Starfish scholars in Flor de Bastion celebrated carnaval!

And at the end of the day, we're all still friends :)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Our top "battle star" winner in Flor: ARELISA!

Arelisa is a ball of energy. She is the first to speak up when decisions need to be made or responsibilities need to be completed. Measuring in at a good 6 inches shorter than most of the other Scholars does not stop her from asserting her opinions. She consistently brought in the best grades all year out of all Flor de Bastión Scholars. She is a great leader from head to toe. She can take charge of a meeting, quiet a crowd, and knows when to take a step back.

Arelisa, working on nutrition activities at a Starfish meeting in November, with a healthy bowl of yogurt for a snack.

One of my favorite leadership moments with Arelisa all year was when we were electing officers for our tutoring program - President, VP, etc. The obvious choice would have had her in one of these top roles. But she pulled me aside first..."Jenn, don't you think Milena would make a great President? I know she's quiet but I think we need new leaders." 

Milena, working on some homework.

Wow! Milena ended up being elected President by her peers based on Arelisa's campaign to elect someone new with lots of potential. Arelisa was able to recognize in her peer a quiet potential for leadership that has blossomed into a great balance of leadership within our Flor de Bastion Starfish Scholars. These are the kinds of skills we wish to see in our Scholars. With more leadership like Arelisa's I have lots of faith that our scholars will help transform their families, their communities and the world!

Evelyn, Samantha, Milena, Lili and Arelisa at the September Starfish "Integration" Day -- an event focused on building community between Scholars in both neighborhoods!

Our top "battle star" winner in Guasmo: STEVE!

In our most recent survey, one of the questions we asked Scholars was: What are two things you like best about the tutoring program? Steve had a very unique answer - going to buy snack.

Steve, with the view of Guasmo behind him.

You see, part of our Scholars' community service promise is to help me out with various projects. When we started giving a small snack a few months ago I asked for a volunteer on the first day to go buy $1 worth of mandarin oranges. Steve jumped out of his seat to help - every single day that week. After a while I didn't have to ask for volunteers - Steve just went and bought the oranges, even when I was out for two weeks.

Steve (right) and Geovanny at the front of the Starfish meeting. They are always willing to help!

This is the perfect example of Steve's good nature and passion to help others. He plays around like any 12 year old boy, and more than once I've had to remind him to be quiet during homework time - but when it comes to lending a helping hand, Steve is always the first to the gate.

Steve, working on a project at a Starfish monthly meeting.

Steve is a great teacher for me too. If I have to go buy something in the neighborhood, I often take him with me. He knows how to fix things and where to go to buy the materials - or better yet how to fix them without the materials. He knows where you can get milk for 50 cents per liter instead of the 80 or 90 cents you pay in most other stores. He is resourceful and street-smart - and only 12 years old.

Steve, getting creative on a craft project after tutoring.

Steve also comes from the most economically impoverished family we have in our Guasmo neighborhood. It is for students like Steve that Starfish exists. He could easily drop out of school to work to support his family - earning a few bucks here and there helping his father in construction. In his free time he could hang out with the other kids and fall into the temptations of the street in a process callejización.

Steve in his modest home in Guasmo.

But instead he goes to Starfish. His mother is a full-time stay at home mom of 6 kids, while his father works occasional jobs in construction when available, bringing home about $180/month or less than 2/3 of the current minimum wage. Sometimes he doesn't eat 3 meals a day...or sometimes he doesn't even eat 1 meal a day. But you can be sure he'll be at Starfish bright and early with a smile and a hand ready to help!

Genesis and Steve at a Starfish meeting this past summer!

-Jenn Zocco, Director of Ecuador Programs

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Student Drawings

Taking inspiration from Solange's portrait a few weeks ago, Starfish scholars decided to draw portraits of each other for our blog.  Thanks to Steve, Solange, Maria and Geovanny for sharing their representations of their friends with us!

Solange's portrait of Steve!

Maria's portrait of Geovanny "I am Geovanny from Starfish, I love you all a lot!"

Geovanny's portrait of Maria "Hi I'm Maria"

Steve's portrait of Anthony "I'm Anthony and I'm really cool"

Thursday, February 7, 2013

School's out for "summer"!

The school year has ended.  Our students just finished taking their final exams and are ready for vacation!  One way Starfish was able to help this year was to support our students in some special projects and practicums required of our older students.  Betsabeth shares with us all that she learned from her experience participating in a play as part of her Language Arts class!

Picture above is the set Betsabeth helped assemble and paint!
She writes...
"The House of Dolls"
This is a play about a husband that treats his wife like a doll and at the same time they have other problems because the wife also tricks him with the lawyer.  This play was really great because we learned how to understand the various characters.  It was great because we all supported each other.  Also we understood that this isn't just a play but it happens in real life too.  This helped us to reflect on many things that we sometimes ignore and we were able to understand that we can't hurt the people we love the most!