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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