Thursday, August 28, 2014

Alegría - Happiness: A Starfish Volunteer Reflection Part 1 of 2

¡Saludos desde Ecuador!

I am very proud to be associated with such a great organization as the Starfish Foundation. Ecuador is a very unique country filled with extraordinary people. I was given the opportunity to meet some of the most generous and gracious people whom I now have the pleasure of calling my friends. All of the families we met warmly opened their homes to us and shared their culture and their lives without hesitation.


During the week, the volunteers attend refuerzo, which are the tutoring sessions that occur at the foundation for the scholarship students as well as many of the neighborhood kids. The general set up is an hour and half of studying and doing homework and then a half hour of dynamicos (a game that gets everyone up and moving). There are two locations for refuerzo: one in Guasmo and the other in Flor de Bastion. My job as a volunteer was to help with student’s homework and to explain concepts that they did not understand; my primary role was to assist the students in English, Math, Biology, and Chemistry, all in Spanish. This allowed me to get a glimpse of the education system in Ecuador, which is a wakeup call for most of us. A major struggle that we have to deal with is the fact that the students don’t always have the most competent teachers in their schools. Many times the homework they have is only copying problems or multiple pages out of their textbooks into their personal notebooks without truly understanding the concepts. With this, the kids are only going through the motions because the massive amount of work prohibits real learning and understanding. Despite this, they still keep going and are dedicated and excited to learn. 

 I found it interesting to observe the differences between the two groups and how they have formed their own community within Starfish. The two towns have their own distinct personalities, both towns being of extreme poverty. Guasmo being slightly more developed and Flor de Bastion only having running tap water for the last three months. One can only imagine how a child would act coming from either of these two scenarios, yet the commonality amongst all of the children and people who I worked with was a genuineness, eloquence, and love that was obvious within the first few moments of meeting them. While talking to one of the other visitors, he made the comment that if you needed to learn how to love you could not find a better teacher then the families in Ecuador.

Given the loving and genuine nature of the people it is hard to imagine that the areas in which they live are in utter shambles. The typical house has windows covered by large metal gates and tin roofs. While lucky families have cement floors and walls, the remainder of the houses are made of dirt floors and cane. What is extraordinary is the happiness that radiates from these people while living in this level of poverty. It is said money cannot buy happiness and you wouldn’t need more proof then to spend the day with the Starfish families. 

Written by Summer 2014 Starfish Volunteer in Ecuador, Greg Branigan.  Stay tuned for part 2 of Greg's reflection next week!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fiestas de Guayaquil

Starfish Scholar Lili in a traditional dress, with her classmates.
The "Fiestas de Guayaquil" celebrate the Foundation of Guayaquil every year on July 25.  Across the city, people celebrate in many ways including parades, fireworks and parties.  At many high schools, including Colegio Huancavilca where 4 of our scholars study, they also hold festivals with traditional art, music and food.  The volunteers and I had the opportunity to go and watch our Scholars in action celebrating their city!

Starfish Scholars Lili & Pamela with their friend Alex

Typical Guayaquil food - ¡qué rico!

Starfish Scholar Eddy competing with a classmate in the traditional 3-legged race

Huancavilca students performing a traditional dance to ends the festivities for the day!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Education Ignites Change

A Reflection on Education

I’ve come to realize that material things rarely truly empower people. Rather, it is the intangible things, such as education, that garner the most transformation. Education does not create dependencies; it sustains and empowers, allowing women in particular to be independent.

In a society where theft is a constant fear, education is a beacon of hope. What you learn in and outside of the classroom cannot be taken from you. Education is the catalyst for change, for development, for dreams that become realities, for peace.

Education allows individuals to empower themselves. With knowledge, they can make informed choices -- about their health, about their relationships, about their futures. And it is perhaps the greatest hope that this knowledge will translate to understanding and tolerance, which in turn will work to create a more peaceful, just, compassionate world. A world in which every human being is given the opportunity to grow and evolve and improve and empower himself/herself and others, where every person is treated with dignity, respect, and love.

That’s what makes Starfish so cool.

Jane with Genesis, Eloisa, Angie and Lissette in Flor de Bastión
It empowers its students to become leaders in their communities by supporting their academic needs. Focusing on education is a grass-roots approach, which puts power in the hands of locals who more fully understand the complex nature of the injustices that exist in their own communities.

That is not to say simply going to school will fix all the problems. The education system here is broken in countless ways (I’ve yet to hear a positive anecdote about the department of education). Poorly trained teachers, ill-equipped classrooms, and relatively ineffective curriculum based mainly on rote memorization deter children from being passionate about learning and/or interested in going to school. It’s often hard to explain to the students how important education is when their school day is more or less miserable and boring.

There are rays of hope though -- that despite broken systems, going to school is definitely not all for naught. That education really does ignite change. 

Jane at Veronica's house with Briggitte, André and Andreina
When André beams about how much he loves English class and practicing his English with us volunteers.

Or when Cristian talks about his passion for the sciences, biology especially, and how he doesn’t need help with science homework because he understands it.

Or when Pamela will let nothing get in her way of becoming a flight attendant.
Or when Maria, one of Starfish’s first students to graduate high school, begins university classes this fall in medicine, with dreams of becoming a pediatrician.

Jane with Maria on a field trip to the beach!
These awesome students represent the beginnings of a new generation: a generation of passionate, inspired leaders and doers and shakers.

That sounds like a pretty beautiful future to me.

A future that Starfish is shaping, poco a poco.

Written by Jane Lorenzi, Summer 2014 volunteer in Ecuador.  Check out more of her reflections here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Meet the Students: Parte Ocho - El Fin

With this last post, you've now met all of this year's new students.  These 24 new Scholars join 17 returning scholars and almost 100 new tutoring students.  We are so excited about the growth of Starfish, and also of each one of our students who has made the choice to make education a priority!


Hi my name is Andreina.  I am 13 years old.  I study at “Antonio Jose de Sucre” high school.  I like to sing, dance and play soccer.  My goals for this year are to get good grades and pass 8th grade.  When I’m older I want to be a secretary.


My name is Genesis.  My goals for this year are to get good grades and pass 10th grade.  Above is a picture of Genesis with 2013 Starfish volunteer, Maria.



Hi, my name is Yesenia.  I like to listen to music, dance, study, and swim.  I am 13 years old.  I go to “Aurora Estrada” high school.  It’s going really well, I like my school.  I am in 8th grade.  My goals are to finish my studies and be a great professional so that I can help my family, especially my brother. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Meet the Students: Parte Siete

In this week's Meet the Students, meet newcomer to Flor de Bastión - Jordy, as well as tutoring students Michelle from Flor and Nery from Guasmo that earned their scholarship this past year :)


My name is Jordy.  I am 14 years old.  I am in 9th grade.  I go to "Transito Amaguana" high school.  I play a lot of soccer.  I like the colors gold, silver, black and white.  My favorite food is baked chicken with salad.  When I'm older I want to be a plastic surgeon. I'd like to have my own family, house and car.


My name is Kerly, but most people call me Michelle.  I am 12 years old, my birthday is May 9.  I am studying at “Martha Bucaram de Roldos” high school.  I am in 7th grade.  I like to listen to music.  My favorite music is bachata.  I have 4 sisters and 1 brother.  My favorite subject is Computer and Physical Education.  My favorite food is rice with mashed potatoes and meat.  My favorite fruit is achotillo. When I’m older I want to be a doctor. 


My name is Nery.  My goals for this year are to get the best grades and to be a good students, but also a good person.  For me, my family is really special and beautiful.