Thursday, December 25, 2014

¡Feliz Navidad!

From all of us at Starfish, we want to wish you a very 
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

It's Christmas Time in the City...of Guayaquil!

The holiday season is in full swing here in Ecuador.  The city center is decorated and Christmas music is playing at all of the malls.  Concerts, parades and other presentations to celebrate the holidays take place on a daily basis.

At Starfish, our celebrations have started as well.  Our classrooms are decorated and Christmas traditions have commenced.  Last Sunday in Guasmo and this coming Saturday in Flor mark the dates for our now annual Christmas party for the younger siblings of Starfish.  Christmas is a season of giving, and as part of our Scholars' commitment to their scholarship, they plan and host a party each year for their younger siblings as a community service project.  There is music, dancing, presentations, snacks, face painting and more.  This year the Guasmo crew even chipped in to buy a piñata!  The Scholars' siblings all leave with a special toy and gift bag of candy as a treat to celebrate Christmas!

Starfish Scholars and tutoring students will also celebrate Christmas this coming week with music, dancing, Secret Santa, and a raffle for some donated clothes.  Follow us on facebook & twitter for more Christmas updates from our students during the 12 days of Christmas!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thank you for a successful #GivingTuesday 2014!

We owe a huge THANK YOU to all of you for your support this past #GivingTuesday!

For those who are wondering, Giving Tuesday is the non-profit world's answer to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (this year December 2nd) - charities, families, business, community centers, and students across the world came together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give!

According to the United Nations Foundation (one of the co-founders of the Giving Tuesday movement) more than 26,000 partners participated this year with civic initiatives, fundraising campaigns and volunteer work.

Starfish has participated for the past 3 years, since the start of this initiative.  This year we participated by hosting happy hours and dinner events across the U.S.!  16 Starfish volunteers & supporters in MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA, MD and NE combined to host a total of 10 events.  Friend of Starfish organized happy hours, dinner events and more while promoting Starfish to their friends, co-workers, neighborhoods and community in hopes of spreading awareness and raising funds for Starfish - and they sure were successful!

We are excited to announce that so far a total of $4,072.15 has been raised from these events and other supporters on Giving Tuesday.  In the coming weeks we will have a final tally to share with you.

If you still want to join in on the fun, you have one last chance - tomorrow - Friday, December 12 from 7-10pm at the Gin Mill on 81st & Amsterdam in Manhattan!

Thank you!!!


Thursday, December 4, 2014

November Updates from Ecuador!

In Flor our biggest accomplishment over the past few months has definitely been family involvement.  Involved families has had a direct result on the increased attendance, punctuality and grades of our students.  While there is always much more work to be done, I am really proud of our employees who have made great efforts to improve relations with our students' families.  As grades come in from first semester I am proud to say grades are improving across the board in Flor!  Parents have become involved in more ways - providing daily snack, and lunch twice a week for our international volunteers who travel 2 hours on bus twice a week from our Guasmo neighborhood where they live.  Parent meeting attendance is well over 90% as well - a great example for our Scholars!

During the November meeting our Flor educadores prepared a meeting for the parents about getting to know their children in a new way.  First we did a fun dinámica where the parents were blindfolded and had to find their child(ren) by touching their faces to see if they could recognize them. Then the child & parent teams had to present facts about each other - what they like to do, what they've learned from each other to the whole group.  Lastly, parents were asked to fill out a survey about how much they know about their child's school, grades, likes/dislikes, etc. in preparation for our next set of visits to the schools.


After the parents left, the kids got to finish up with a fun activitity with our volunteers, 2 of whom just finished their voluntariado.


In Guasmo, thanks to a continued partnership with Mi Cometa and the scholarship program that runs there - CASF, we have been blessed with the help of 3 educational psychology students in their last year of their studies.  As the prepare to graduate, they are completing their internships with Starfish & Mi Cometa families.  Twice per week they attend to special cases with our students and their parents, in hopes of establishing more communication, a better home life, and as a result the ability to succeed in their studies.  Once a week a licensed psychologist also comes to treat some of the more delicate cases, as delegated by the intern psychologists during the week.  This trial period will continue throughout December and we hope to continue this program next year as well as expand its service to our Flor de Bsatión neighborhood!

All in all, November was an exciting month at Starfish - and December is sure to have even more excitement with the holidays just around the corner!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful for Education: Part 4

This year for Thanksgiving we want to share with you one of the many things we are thankful for - our education.  This short series includes reflections from many various Starfish supporters on why they are thankful for your education.  We encourage you to read these reflections and also reflect on your own education.  Read our first reflection below and comment, What part of your education are you most thankful for?

I grew up in a household deeply committed to education. You might say it was a core family value. Growing up, it was never a question of whether or not I would go to college, but, rather, where I would go to college. The only question really was if I would choose to earn any degrees beyond a baccalaureate.

But, my parents never had to choose between buying our next family dinner or an expensive textbook. In fact, they had the luxury of choosing to send me and my sister to a tuition-based school rather than the local public school. Not that my parents didn’t make sacrifices for our education, they certainly did, but those sacrifices never involved choosing between feeding and clothing our bodies and feeding and nurturing our minds.

I remember thinking once when I was young—perhaps 9 or so—how lucky I was to be born where I was, when I was and to whom I was. I also remember grasping the sheer vastness of the world and the incredible odds I landed in such a good spot. I still believe that, though need to force myself to stop and contemplate it more.

My education has become an integral part of who I am and I how I interact with the world. It’s not just that I am thankful for my education; I am who I am because of it.  Too often economic privilege and educational access go hand in hand. This is true in the United States and, as we well know, it is especially true in Ecuador. I was drawn to volunteer with Starfish Foundation because of how much I value my own education and have come to know further privilege and success because it.

When I really push myself to think about why I am most thankful for my education it’s because it (hopefully) has allowed me to be a part of the solution. And not just because it taught me to think about things on a broader scale and recognize the complex and nuanced factors that attribute to almost every major problem/conflict/crisis in the world. Rather, it has given me the opportunity to support myself and my family through activities that engage my mind and allowed me to make more than a living wage while only working 8(ish) hours a day, five days a week. It gives me sick days. It gives me paid vacation. It gives me a way to plan financially for the future.

These things sound boring, but it all adds up to big impact. Why? Because it gives me the time, energy and financial resources to support worthy causes. It also, most likely, ensures that future generations of my family will have those same opportunities, and therefore, the same chance to give back to the world in meaningful ways.

The cycle of poverty is a very real, documented and studied phenomenon. As is inherited privilege, just picture the kids in the front row in the cartoon that Jenn describes in her blog post. I landed on the luck side of that equation. But, too many people born into this world do not.

What is the best known way to break the cycle of poverty? Education. So, I am thankful for my education so that I might—in some small and sometimes seemingly insignificant way—help others achieve an education as well, especially those up against the greatest of odds.

Written by Alex Maegdlin, Starfish Communications Manager

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thankful for Education: Part 3

This year for Thanksgiving we want to share with you one of the many things we are thankful for - our education.  This short series includes reflections from many various Starfish supporters on why they are thankful for your education.  We encourage you to read these reflections and also reflect on your own education.  Read our first reflection below and comment, What part of your education are you most thankful for?

True confession: I was part of the planning committee that decided it would be a good idea to have some friends of Starfish write blogs about why they are grateful for their education; it seemed like an easy way to tie together what we do and the current holiday and just seemed like low hanging fruit.  I have been staring at a blank computer screen intermittently for the better part of the morning, it turns out that explaining why I am thankful for my education is like trying to explain why I am grateful that there is oxygen in the environment. Ironically, I have spent this semester limping across the finish line of getting my masters, so this thankfulness exercise is much needed.

I did not understand how passionate my parents were about education until I was a junior in high school.  My brother was in his second year of college studying fine arts at a state university.  He had landed a job doing the framing on multi-million dollar houses and making “good money”, he informed my parents that he was going to quit school because he could make more money working (isn’t it always true that you can make more money working full-time than you can being a college student?). They informed him that he would take one class per semester until he graduated or died, whichever came first; He decided to take two classes a semester.  I never remember a conversation about my future with my parents, it was just always implied that I would go to college. In 10 days I will become the first person in my family to obtain a master’s degree. I want to also be clear that education does not necessarily mean just formal education.  It pleases me so much that as of late, many colleges and universities have understood the importance of sending their students abroad and also pushing their comfort zones. Some of the crown jewels of my education were delivered in Xhosa at a senior citizen’s center in the townships outside of Grahamstown, South Africa.

Abraham Maslow, a famous psychologist created a hierarchy of needs positing that you cannot fulfill any needs on the pyramid until the ones below it are satisfied—it’s pretty straightforward if you don’t have food, clothing, and shelter you cannot/do not worry about love and belonging.  I always count myself lucky that despite growing up poor, I did not have to worry about the basics and had the time and space to flourish in the classroom.  Only recently have I left education—after graduation with my B.A., I worked in education, then went back to school full-time.

I now have a corporate job working in a blue collar environment and I am grateful for my education because it helps me empower others.  It is fairly well known that I used to work in admissions and so I have spent a lot of time counseling employees on whether or not getting a degree is the right decision for them.  Beyond that I do a lot of volunteer work with a youth leadership organization; I just had the pleasure of spending 5 days in Asheville, NC with some of the most motivated and intelligent young adults you will ever meet.  They were there because they have the will to change the world and after attending the academy the resources as well.  I volunteer for my alma mater and each year teach part of the curriculum for the alumni mentor retreat. I do lots of consulting throughout the year. I am an amateur photographer and help others capture their lives and emotions for years to come.  All of these things are possible because of the education I’ve received and the body of knowledge I strive to enlarge every day.  I’m thankful for my education because it empowered me to rise above and allows me empower those around me to never stop learning and growing.

Written by Anna Jordan, Starfish Development Manager

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thankful for Education: Part 2

This year for Thanksgiving we want to share with you one of the many things we are thankful for - our education.  This short series includes reflections from many various Starfish supporters on why they are thankful for your education.  We encourage you to read these reflections and also reflect on your own education.  Read our first reflection below and comment, What part of your education are you most thankful for?

Why am I thankful for my education? 

Let me back up a minute - how about instead of why, am I thankful for my education? Well now that you asked, of course I am! But what if you didn't ask me - would I realize how thankful I really am?  I grew up in a town where the percent of students who graduated college and continued on to college was ridiculously high.  No one asked if you were going to college.  They only asked, "where are you going to college?" with the implication that of course that's what you would do upon graduation.  From honors & AP classes, to sports & other extra-curriculars, SWHS sure laid out a pretty nice path for me to finish high school and continue on to college.

At Fairfield, the Jesuits took education to a whole new level.  Cura Personalis - care for the whole person? Seeking Magis - the more?  You mean learning isn't just at school during class?  I know I (read: my parents and my scholarship) paid a whole ton of money for the 5 classes I took each semester, but at least 75% of my education took place outside of the classroom.  Retreats, community service, immersion trips, ministry, student association, clubs, jobs, study abroad - you name it - if Fairfield offered it, I signed up!  Also I can't forget the fact that I had the opportunity to design my own second major called Social Justice in Latin America - I decided what I loved and I got to design my own path to learn more about it - how great is that? I even traveled to the Philippines & Nicaragua (3 times!) and domestically to NYC to serve the homeless population, Atlanta to a teach-in to protest injustices & Washington, DC for a humanitarian action conference.

That's not to say the classes weren't great - where else would I get the opportunity to sit with professionals in their field and just chat with them?  Those of you who know me now never believe me - but I was quite a shy person growing up.  However, over the year the professors at Fairfield taught me to believe in myself, to challenge what I learned - and even to challenge them.  Open doors during office hours, small classes of 10-15 where one could really engage in a subject - that's what education was like for me.  Years later I still stay in touch with many of them and they never hesitate to help when at all possible.

Let's back up again and pretend I wasn't born in Connecticut.  Let's say I was born in Guayaquil:

I grew up on less than $2/day.  So when it was time to go to school, most days I didn't eat breakfast first - I usually can't eat a lot in the morning anyway, but this time it wasn't my choice.  I'm hungry, but there isn't any food - or there is only a little so mom has to give it to my younger siblings and we go without.  I arrive at school after my 25 minute walk, but my homework is incomplete because I didn't have money to go to the internet cafe and complete the assigned research so I used some old books I borrowed from the neighbor.  I receive a 6 on the assignment.  At least I don't fail.  In my next class I have a test.  Despite my best efforts to pay attention and take good notes, we couldn't afford the book this year so it is hard to study. I hope I do okay anyway.  In my last class I have a really hard time understanding my teacher so I timidly raised my hand and ask a question.  He says we are out of time and that I should figure it out on my own because he already explained it once.

When I get home around 2pm I still haven't eaten anything all day but since mom & dad are at work I have to cook.  I go to the store with a few dollars and bring back the ingredients for soup, rice and menestra.  The prep and cooking takes a little over an hour.  By 3:30pm I can eat a little lunch and save the rest for dinner when everyone else is home.  I start my homework but it's so hard to concentrate.  I go outside for a bit and play soccer with my friends.  At my friend's house a social worker from a foundation is visiting.  She's talking to my friend and her mom about options for college.  No one's ever talked to me about college, I can't even think about college - I won't even make it through my first year of high school! Plus college is expensive, there's no way I can do that - I'd better get a job and help my family.  It's dark now so I go back inside to finish the rest of my homework before going to bed and starting over tomorrow.

Now that's pretty different from my reality.  I recently saw a cartoon online trying to explain privilege and opportunity.  Imagine a classroom where maybe I'm in the front row because I grew up in Connecticut.  In the middle rows are some disadvantaged schools in the U.S. and maybe some private schools in the developing world.  In the back row are our Starfish students.  Now there's a garbage bin in the front of the room and we all have a crumpled up piece of paper that we're trying to shoot into the bin.  Most of us from Connecticut are able to make the shot because we're so close.  But my friends from Starfish - they are trying at least as hard but they haven't been given that opportunity.  They were born in the back row and have to work many times harder to overcome those obstacles.  A few of them make the shot, but most of them miss.  Is that just? Not even a little bit.

So yes, I'm really thankful for my education and I'm thankful for this opportunity to share that with you all.  Without education, I could never have even imagined being where I am today.  I also believe that education is not only a privilege but also a responsibility.  It is a responsibility to act and to never turn a blind eye to injustice. So thanks to my education, and a big thanks to all of you for your support in continuing to make my dream come true so that Starfish can continue to allow others to value their education in Ecuador!

Written by Jenn Zocco, Starfish Co-Founder

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thankful for Education: Part 1

This year for Thanksgiving we want to share with you one of the many things we are thankful for - our education.  This short series includes reflections from many various Starfish supporters on why they are thankful for your education.  We encourage you to read these reflections and also reflect on your own education.  Read our first reflection below and comment, What part of your education are you most thankful for?

My education has opened up many doors for me and enriched my life in ways that I would never have planned on.  While my education is something that I often take for granted, looking back on it gives me perspective on lucky I am.  From a classroom content perspective, my education from elementary school to college at Villanova University has enabled me to more fully engage in the world and hold a job.  Without that, I would have much more difficulty calculating tips at restaurants, understanding how the government works, or even writing this post.

Outside of lectures and exams, my education has also given me the opportunity to meet lots of great people and develop friendships.  The majority of my friends are somehow tied to the schools I’ve gone to. I am very thankful to have met these friends.  These friends have given me the opportunity to have different perspectives on life and learn about relationships.  If it wasn’t for friends I met at Villanova, I would never have even known about the Starfish Foundation.

I’m also thankful for the opportunities that exist for me to continue learning even when I am not officially in school. I definitely hope to be a lifelong learner.  Being involved with the Starfish Foundation has helped me learn more about another culture.  I hope the Starfish students will also continue to take advantage of their learning opportunities both in the classroom, during tutoring times, and during daily interactions with each other.

Written by Danny Newell, former Starfish volunteer both in the U.S. & Ecuador

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Volunteer Perspective - Why I Stayed

Extending my Visa

Ecuador is a country filled with diversity, culture, and most importantly life. Why would anyone want to leave Ecuador? This question was always running through my thoughts during my first month of working with the Starfish Foundation.

It was so easy and comfortable adjusting to life in Ecuador, with the warm welcome from the Starfish families. With that in mind I decided that my journey in Ecuador didn't have to end so soon, and so the next step was to extend my visa.

Extending my visa is the best decision I've ever made. I've had more time to make memories and bond with the students while chatting about future plans and goals.  And best of all, every day I am able to walk into a classroom filled with warm smiles, and share time with families who open their homes to us strangers.

Working for the Starfish Foundation has been a blessing and great experience.  I wouldn't change it for the world. There is no other place like Ecuador and that's why I decided to make it my home as long as I possibly could.

Written by current Starfish Volunteer in Ecuador, Nancy Landeros

*Note* Nancy is doing a gap year between high school and college and first heard about Starfish through the extended HOBY network, of which co-founder Beth is a part.  Originally Nancy had planned to say for the 90 days that a tourist visa allows, but quickly decided she would like to spend more time in this beautiful country.  So she embarked on the challenging journey of obtaining a visa extension and was rewarded after much hard work and patience with a 6-month extension that will allow her to be with Starfish until the end of March!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Noise - A Reflection on Life in Ecuador

A Reflection on Life in Ecuador through the Eyes of a Starfish Volunteer

        I woke up the first morning to noise. The rooster´s shrieks were the first to catch my attention. Then the dogs began to compete with the roosters to see who could be louder. Next began, what sounded like, nonsense words yelled by an adult followed by a chanting response from a crowd of kids. Motorcycles roared by and street vendors yelled promoting their products. All of these noises sounded like they were happening right beside my bed due to the lack of a windowpane in the window.

I laid their in my bed, wide awake, wondering what I had gotten myself into. Where was my quiet and peaceful room? There are no roosters or street vendors in my middle-class American neighborhood, and my room has windows to keep out any noises on the street.

But, as I spent more time here in Ecuador I began to understand more. Those rosters are a source of food and nutrients; those dogs are the people´s pets; the kids are students learning their syllables through repetition; those vendors are working hard to provide for their families. As I learned more about the life here, the noises just became sounds, and after awhile the sounds became somewhat musical.

The sounds don´t wake me up any more – they don't bother me at all; it actually feels strange to hear the sound of silence.

Written by current Starfish Volunteer in Ecuador, Patrick Lydon

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Spotlight on Betsabeth's Nursing Career!

Hi, I'm Betsabeth.  I was a scholarship recipient and now I'm one of the workers.  Thanks to God and my mom's hard work along with my own, I was able to reach my goal of graduating and with the support from Starfish, I was able to realize my dream.

Now that I'm done with high school, I signed up for college and I am studying medicine so that I can be a licensed nurse.  I am learning a lot.  I learn all the different kinds of diseases and illnesses and they've taught me to take pulses, breathing, blood pressure and the pupillary reflex.  Now we are doing a internship with elderly people.  We are helping them to control their blood pressure on a daily basis, and at the same time I am doing an internship at a morgue where I am learning to do autopsies and analyze the body and all of its organisms, and the brain and how much skin we really have as human beings.

After all of the internships and practicals, at our final class we are given a test where we have to explain what we learned.  I really like my major because it's helping me get over my fears and at the same time preparing me to be a great professional.

Here I'll put a photo to show you what I am learning. Thank you!

Hola, Soy Betsabeth.  Fui becada en Estrellitas del Mar, ahora soy trabajadora.  Gracias a Dios y al esfuerzo de mi mamá y mío, logre llegar a mi meta que era graduarme y gracias al apoyo que me dio Starfish Foundation, pude cumplir mi sueño.

Ahora que salí del colegio, me inscribí en la universidad y estoy estudiando la carrera de medicina para llegar hacer licenciada de enfermería.  Estoy aprendiendo mucho.  Me enseña a conocer todas clases de enfermedades de las personas y me enseñaron a tomar el pulso, la respiración, la presión arterial y el reflejo pupilar y ahora mismo estamos haciendo practica con las personas adultos mayores.  Le estamos controlando su presión diariamente y a su vez estoy haciendo practica en un morgue donde estoy aprendiendo hacer la autopsia y analizar en el cadáver todos sus organismos y el cerebro y cuantas piel tenemos en realidad el ser humano.

Después de todas las practicas que tenemos en cada clases al finalizar de la clase nos toma un examen por lo cual nosotros tenemos explicar lo que aprendimos y me gusta mucho mi carrera porque me esta ayudando a superar mis miedos y a su vez a prepararme en mi carrera para ser una buena licenciada.

Aquí les pongo una fotito para enseñarles lo que estoy aprendiendo. ¡Gracias!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A day in the life of a Starfish Volunteer

A day in the life: Thursday 23rd October 2014

I shuffle around in bed trying to silence my alarm clock before it wakes the rest of the house. Get up, get washed and dressed, bread and honey for breakfast and some strong, sweet coffee to wake me up. I eat with Nancy, a fellow volunteer, and our host mother, Filadelphia. Charge our volunteer phones. Out the door.

“It’s chilly today,” we say to each other. It’s 24ºC/75ºF. The bus pulls up, Nancy and I give the driver 25 cents each and hang on for dear life. People going to work, children going to school.

We pull in to the bus station and hurry across the platform to the next Metrovía. Only three stops on the express service, packed like sardines in a tin can. We disembark when the exotic Iglesia Victoria gardens slide into view.

We cross the street and the number 49 arrives after a couple of minutes. 25 cents to the bus driver, take a seat on the empty bus. We navigate the busy city centre, the bus filling up rapidly as we take turn after turn. Men selling coconut water, boiled sweets and apples get on and off again.

The bus reaches the motorway, the breeze whips through our hair, huge green hills and the dusty air lays a soft coffee-coloured haze over everything we see. Newly built roads and bridges and parks, with a message from the Mayor: “esto es tuyo – cuídalo”. This is yours – take care of it.

We hop off the bus and catch an auto rickshaw hasta bloque 15 por favor. It's 31°C/88ºF. Up the dirt road, down the hill, across the rope bridge over the sludgy stream, two houses up and three to the left. No street signs in Flor de Bastión.

At the Foundation building, we greet the educadores with a kiss on the cheek and take a seat. Just two of us this week; the other volunteer is giving guitar lessons to the local children in the suburb where we all live. I help Joselyn with her algebra homework, and as usual Mirka has a thousand and one intelligent questions about yesterday's English lesson at school.

I teach this week's English lesson at the Foundation using World Food Day as our theme. The kids pore over images of exotic dishes from around the world. Does tagine come from Morocco or Egypt? And what ingredients go into a bowl of ramen?

The kids go home to get ready for school. We are taken in by the Rodriguez family, close friends of Starfish who volunteer to look after us until the afternoon, solely out of the kindness of their hearts. The entire house is the size of my parents' living room. We talk to Señora Leonela about her sewing business, look through family photos and play with little Ashley and Emily. The sun shines through the newspaper glued over the wooden slats that form the walls. The mango tree outside is beginning to bear fruit.

Lunch is a steaming bowl of soup, followed by marinated chicken on a bed of rice. Mugs of freshly squeezed orange juice sit on the table. I know they are pulling out all the stops for us. As we eat, Kiara and Michelle arrive home from school, where they have been since 7am that morning. We'll see them again at the Foundation in the afternoon.

We say muchísimas gracias and chao, and return to the Foundation. It’s one large room with a dirt playing field outside. Inside, the walls are covered in photos of community service days, visits from American board members, the kids with their families, the kids working with volunteers, the kids playing pelota. One wall is covered in colourful handprints, our way of christening this beautiful new space.

The students who had school in the morning arrive for the Foundation's afternoon refuerzo session. This cohort is older and has a larger percentage of becados – pupils who receive academic scholarships from Starfish in return for consistently high grades, regular attendance at the Foundation's monthly meetings and good behaviour. Cristhian greets me in English and Pamela asks me about my life in London; as usual they are impeccably presented, witty, smiling, inquisitive, bursting at the seams with youth and ambition.

The English lesson goes down well, to say the least. We are writing about our favourite foods, and the usual suspects surface: encebollado, arroz con pollo, ceviche. Then we write about the foods we've never eaten that we'd like to try, and the list is more varied: American deep-dish pizza, Japanese sushi, Indian curry, Greek salad, Mexican tacos, Italian lasagne. For a second I imagine winning the lottery and taking the entire group to Europe for a food tour.

We've overrun by half an hour. The tables have been cleared but Argenis is crouching on the floor, leaning his paper against a chair and asking me about forming the conditional mood in English.  I wish for 25 hours in the day or at least enough time to give all the Starfish scholars the private lessons they deserve.

Jenn has given us a lift all the way to the bridge but we're late because we've stopped to buy chocolate coconut cake the size of our fists for 30 cents each. On the bus back I daydream about a future in which the Starfish students achieve their dreams of becoming doctors and teachers, of travelling the world, of supporting their families on the journey out of poverty. Today was one more step along that road.

We race past the softly lit river as dusk begins to fall. Overhead, two huge flags fly proudly in the evening breeze: red, blue and yellow for this diverse and captivating country, and blanco y celeste for our city, beautiful beyond words.

We're back in Guasmo. I rearrange my English lesson for use the next day, then try and fail miserably not to fall asleep.

Filadelphia wakes me for dinner. It's seco de pollo and I can't eat it quickly enough. Must write that recipe down somewhere. We chat to Leo about his day; our other ñaños are working. I write a quick Facebook message to my family and friends, check my emails, brainstorm ideas for next week's English lesson.

I set my alarm for 7.45am; we'll be volunteering here in Guasmo tomorrow morning. Buenas noches.

Written by current Starfish Volunteer in Ecuador, Sanchia Rodrigues (below, right)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Vacation Fun @ Starfish

The first two weeks of October are always an exciting time for our Scholars – school vacation! Last year the government standardized the school year schedule so that all schools have vacation at the same time.  This was especially exciting for us at Starfish because it meant that we could plan some special activities for all of our Scholars and tutoring students.

This year we had a fun mix of activities including: Crafts with recycled materials, Talks on Self-Esteem and Values, Debating, Music, Games, Community Service, Sports and more!  All of our Educadores were able to share their special talents and knowledge with all Scholars and tutoring participants.  We all got to learn a lot - exercising both our minds and our bodies during school break!

To end the week our students from Guasmo traveled to Flor to inaugurate the new space and end vacation with a fun-filled day of ice-breakers, games, soccer and more.  We even decorated the place a bit – each person leaving their mark with their handprints on the wall.

The theme of the day was “5K”.  Why you might ask?  To support our friends over at VISEDAL in Nicaragua.  Their Baltimore based non-profit sponsored a virtual 5K for their scholars.  This meant that you could run 5 kilometers – or do 5 of any activity – from anywhere in the world!  Our students participated by playing 5 games of soccer, building 5 towers, jumping with 5 friends, cooking (& eating!) 50 pounds of rice and much more!  Check out the VISEDAL page to hear more about this awesome event! Starfish even won a special prize as the largest group to participate in the 5K.  ¡Felicidades chicos!

Friday, October 17, 2014

An Inspiring Day of Professional Development

Last month all of our educadores had a chance to get together for a professional development day, thanks to some great collaboration from other Starfish volunteers and supporters.  We gathered in the new space in Flor to learn about critical thinking, and ways we can encourage that in our students.

Unfortunately the public education system in Ecuador is mostly based on memorizing answers and later repeating them on a test or quiz.  Many teachers dictate from books and research often means printing out an article form Wikipedia.  Here at Starfish we hope to change that.  We want our students to be creative, to not be afraid to think for themselves, and more importantly to not be afraid to make mistakes.

Thanks to an excellent PowerPoint from Mary, a friend of Starfish, Jenn was able to present to the information to the teachers, and even practice some of the activities with them. Our favorite activity by far was when we had to invent a rap in groups about various school subjects.

We all have had experiences with a child who asks “why” and when we give them an explanation, it is followed with another “why?”  In our workshop we learned to ask the students “Why?” so that they don’t just answer questions, they know why and how to think about and answers these questions and more. We also learned to compare & contrast, inspire creativity and motivate & encourage our students to have confidence in themselves and their ideas.

Another fun Starfish update – we will now call all of our employees who work at the tutoring sessions “educadores”.  Previously “ayudantes”, we have decided that educadores gives them more authority and is also more accurate to their roles as educators both inside and outside of the classroom.

"Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working." ~ Pablo Picasso

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Taste of Ecuador in the Eyes of Volunteer Elisabeth

I travelled through South America for 3 months and Ecuador was definitely my favorite country. The natural beauty and diversity was amazing but what made my visit very special was the people. Through Starfish I got to know the "real" Ecuador, not only what tourists see. My host family were the most happy and welcoming people I have ever met and made me feel at home every day, despite the very different living conditions between England and Ecuador. There was no hot water in the house and no glass in the windows, but it seemed to be irrelevant because they were so grateful and happy every day for what they had. I hope to take that happiness back to London!

Written by Summer 2014 Starfish Volunteer in Ecuador, Elisabeth

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A message from our Guasmo Employees

During the months of July, August and September, we have had a lot of activity which we are really happy to share with you in this post.  It's important to the help of the volunteer during these months and it's a pleasure that some of them are still here.  They are a big help, especially with English and some other activities like ice-breakers, group activities, etc.

During these months, we've continued working with the parents for snack at tutoring.  The parents are a lot more committed to the foundation and this is really important for us because we feel that the work isn't only done within the premises of the foundation, but also in each home.

We are very happy to have had the Starfish Board and visitors here in Ecuador.  Thank you for visiting us and thanks for your words of encouragement and well wishes.  We also enjoyed the 2014 Starfish "Olimpiadas" (field day) here in Guasmo.  We were looking forward to the Olimpiadas and by the blessing of God and working as a team, everything turned out well.

We also went to the beach with the visitors.  This was very special for everyone.  The students were very happy and they behaved well both on the trip there and back.  All behaved well, while also having fun and continuing to be charismatic.

We've done a lot of diverse activities, one of which is starting each day with an ice-breaker activity or group game since this helps them work as a team and participate more.  It's really good since it helps wake the students up and get rid of any stresses from the day.

Recently during the month of September, we had our monthly Scholar and Parent meeting, where we were able to update the parents on the various activities we have been doing.  One of these is the visits to all of the high schools.  We informed each parent on the behavior and grades of each scholarship student, encouraging them to keep moving forward and aspire to continue with the scholarship in 2015.  We had the help of Carlos Campos (new volunteer).  He prepared a powerpoint to help the parents have better control and to not neglect their students' grades & education.  With the scholars we did some ice-breakers and we Carlos had also prepared a slide about the "Comfort Zone".  It was really interesting and it helped us reflect on the fact that we should not complacent but we should always aspire to be something more.

With true success in teamwork, luck has nothing to do with it; luck is for the improvised and unprepared; success is the result of perseverance, responsibility, effort, organization and the balance between reason and the heart."

We continue to work for an even better foundation.

From, Yuliana, Cynthia, Lissette, Betsabeth & Marcos


And for our Spanish language readers, the original post:

En los meses de julio, agosto y septiembre hemos tenido muchas actividades, las cuales nos llena de mucha satisfacción  mencionarlas en el siguiente post. Cabe mencionar la importante ayuda de los voluntarios en estos meses, y es un gusto tenerlos a algunos de ellos todavía, ya que son de gran ayuda en el idioma inglés para los chicos y otras ciertas actividades como dinámicas, trabajos, etc.

En estos meses hemos seguido trabajando con los padres con el refrigerio de los chicos, los padres se ven mucho más comprometidos con la fundación y eso para nosotros es muy importante porque sentimos que no solamente el trabajo se lo realiza dentro de las instalaciones de la fundación sino que también se lo realiza en cada hogar, tanto en los chicos que son becados como los que no son becados.

Nos llena de mucha alegría haber tenido la grata visita de la Directiva de StarFish aquí en Ecuador, gracias por visitarnos y gracias por las palabras de aliento y los buenos deseos. También disfrutamos de nuestras Olimpiadas Estrellitas 2014 aquí en Guasmo, nosotros estábamos muy ansiosos por las Olimpiadas y gracias a la bendición de Dios trabajando en equipo, logramos que todo saliera muy bien.

También fuimos a la playa con la Directiva, que para todos fue algo muy especial, los chicos estaban  muy contentos y tuvieron un buen comportamiento, tanto a la ida como en la venida, todos bien comportados y tranquilos, no dejando el lado divertido y carismático de ellos.

Hemos realizados diversas actividades una de las cuales que hemos hecho es comenzar el refuerzo con dinámicas, es muy bueno ya que los chicos se les quita la pereza y también el estrés. Realizar trabajos, juegos en grupos, ya que les ayuda a trabajar más equipo y que sean más participativos.

Ahora último en el mes de septiembre tuvimos la reunión de Padres de Familia y Becados, lo cual nos ayudó a explicarle a los padres las diversas actividades que hemos realizado, una de ellas es la visitas a los colegio, le informamos sobre el comportamiento y el aprovechamiento de cada chico becado, animándoles que sigan adelante y que aspiren a la beca en el año 2015, tuvimos la ayuda de Carlos Campos (nuevo voluntario), el preparo una diapositiva para ayudarles a los padres a que ellos tengan un mayor control y que  no descuiden las calificaciones de los chicos. Con los becados realizamos dinámicas y también Carlos les preparo una diapositiva acerca de la Zona de Confort que fue muy interesante y ayudo a reflexionar que no debemos de ser conformistas sino aspirar siempre algo más.

“En el verdadero éxito en equipo, la suerte no tiene nada que ver; la suerte es para los improvisados y aprovechados; y el éxito es el resultado obligado de la constancia, de la responsabilidad, del esfuerzo, de la organización y del equilibrio entre la razón y el corazón.”

“Seguimos trabajando para hacer una fundación aún mejor.”

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

An Evening for the Stars...CT style!

Beth & Jenn with former Starfish volunteer and photographer for the night, Maria!
A few weeks ago, we held another successful, "Evening for the Stars," this time in Windsor Locks, CT.  For the third time now, friends of Starfish gathered together for a night of good food, great company and a chance to learn a little bit more about our programs.  

Delicious buffet dinner
The night started off with some social time to browse the silent auction items and participate in a 50-50 raffle.  This year's auction not only featured several items from Ecuador, but also many local products.  In total there were over 35 items up for auction!

Auction Items from Ecuador!
Once all of our guests had arrived, we sat down for a delicious meal of rice, beans, enchiladas, chicken & more.  We shared with our guests about the need for Starfish and shared some of videos of our students. 

Guests Nadia, Joe, Matt, Rachel, Liz, Alyssa, Jenn & Jeff
As dinner was winding down, we had one last call for the silent auction before our keynote speaker, Don Awalt, gave a heartwarming and thought-provoking reflection on his recent trip to visit Starfish in Guayaquil.

Don during his reflection
All in all, it was a great night to share with friends, and a very successful fundraiser.  Between ticket sales, auction, raffle and general donations including those received from friends who could not attend, we raised 10% of our total budget for the entire year in just one night!

Guests Gabi, Julie, Shane, Nicole & Marcus
See our newsletter for official numbers, and if you don't already receive it, don't forget to sign up!

This night would not have been possible without the dedicated help and organization of many volunteers like those pictured below.  Thank you, gracias, from the bottom of our hearts!