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!