Thursday, December 31, 2015

Metas para el Año Nuevo= New Years' Resolutions!

Our students share their resolutions for the 2016! We are so proud of them, especially as they continue to set, and achieve, their goals.

Jerico Acuña: 
"My goal for this year is to finish with good grades."
Mi meta para este año es pasar con muy buenas notas.

Arelisa Rodriguez
"I think that for this year, my goals are: to do well in school, and to conquer problems that life presents me." 
Creo que mis metas de este año es transcurrir mi año escolar y superar los problemas que se dan en la vida.

Briggitte Bravo:
"My goal is to be in good health, and to be able to apply myself in my studies."
Estar con salud y poder aplicarme en mis estudios.

Joselin Cevallos: 
"My goal for this year is to be able to finish the school year with excellent grades and to be able to continue sharing my time with people whom I love most." 
Mi meta para este año es poder terminar con excelentes notas el año lectivo y poder seguir compartiendo con las personas que mas quiero.

Milena Mora: 
"My goal for this year is to be able to continue with my studies, and this way, also be able to continue being a scholarship student at the Foundation."
Mi meta para este año es poder continuar con mis estudios y así tmb poder seguir siendo becada en la Fundación.

Ariana Sosoranga: 
"My goal for this year is to get good grades and to be able to continue being a Starfish scholarship student."
Mi meta para este año es tener buenas notas y poder seguir siendo una de las becadas de starfish.

Maria Loor:
"My goal for this year is to finish with good grades and to be a top high school graduate, and to spend the year with people who I care about the most."  
Mi meta para este año es pasar con buenas notas y ser una buena bachiller y terminar el año con las personas que mas quiero.

Diego Barrezueta:
"My goal for this year is to be able to finish high school, and attend university." 
Mi meta para este año es poder terminar el colegio y seguir la universidad.

Jean Carlos:
"My goal for this year is to get good grades in my exams, and to be able to graduate and to start university off on the right foot." 
Mi meta para este año es que es sacar buenas notas en mis examenes de grado y asi poder graduarme y comenzar con pie derecho la universidad.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Feliz Navidad!

To offer a glimpse into our communities in Flor and Guasmo, here is what we've been up to recently!

A few months ago, we introduced a workshop for our educadores, the purpose of which was to cultivate technology and communication skills, thus enhancing our educadores' confidence and abilities in the professional world. We've been continuing these professional development workshops, which have so far been a great success! Furthermore, as we mentioned previously, our new psychologist, Karen, has been creating more workshops, which strive to further inform, educate, and empower our students.

In terms of more exciting news, we recently took the students on a field trip to a water park as a Christmas present! Our bingo event held this past November provided us with these funds, and we and the students are grateful for this opportunity to receive such a gift.

The Advent season, a period of four weeks in preparation for Christmas, is a time of hope, faith, joy, and peace, each theme represented by one candle on the advent wreath. These virtues are visibly present in our students, who continuously demonstrate these beautiful virtues.

Christmas, especially, is a time in which "We must give cheerfully and accept gratefully" (Maya Angelou). Our students bring us hope, faith, joy, and peace, and they teach us how to give and receive with open and happy hearts. We are grateful for our students, our educadores, and all of the support we receive in the forms of donations and volunteers.

Below are some photos from our Fiesta de Navidad where both of our Starfish communities from Flor & Guasmo came together to have fun & celebrate.  Also a big thanks to Colegio "Domingo Savio" and "Big Cola" for providing donations to make this event even better!! i

It looks like Santa joined us for our fiesta!

In addition to our games and gifts, our Christmas festivities included face painting!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Responsibility as a Community

This week, we feature a short blog post by two of our educadores, Pamela and Jasmin. In this honest reflection, we learn that small actions, when an entire community participates, can have a great impact.

Pope Francis's recent encyclicals about ecology and climate change beckon us to open our eyes to the natural world around us, and to take actions towards truly caring for the environment. As a worldwide human community dependent on the world's resources, we should work towards integrating ourselves with our nature: on caring for and protecting our environment. Pope Francis invites us to participate in the "the divine harmony between beings and creation."

During his visit to Ecuador (July 7, 2015) and meetings with political, business, and community leaders of the country, Pope Francis boldly and truthfully proclaimed: "We received this world as an inheritance from past generations, but also as a loan from future generations, to whom we will have to return it!” Pope Francis calls us to claim responsibility for our actions, and to realize that future generations will have to address the environmental problems that we have created. Furthermore, the Pope asserts that "We are not God. The Earth was here before us and given to us."

And here, our very own Ecuadorian youth share their thoughts about community and the environment: 


If we begin today, helping with the small things in our community, then in the future, we will see results. 
Today there exist many problems within society. 
One of these is the lack of communication about things that affect our environment. Thus, our objective is not only to strive for a general academic and economic improvement, but for our youth to help, to do, and to be informed about the environment we live in so that they may work themselves towards improving it. For this reason, we learn how to creatively reuse materials on a daily basis, so that we may contribute in the smallest way to caring for the environment. Do you want to help us change the world?

~Pamela and Jasmin~ 

Pamela Rodriguez 

Jasmin Tumbaco 

en español: 


Si empezamos hoy ayudando con pequeñas cosas a nuestra comunidad en el futuro veremos los resultados.
Hoy en día existen muchos problemas dentro de la sociedad.
Uno de ellos es la falta de comunicación sobre cosas que afectan al medio ambiente. Nuestro objetivo no es solo ayudar académicamente o económicamente sino también a jóvenes y a niños una manera de ayudar y hacer conocer a las personas de su entorno que se pueda hacer por mejorarlo y es por eso que aquí aprendemos a utilizar material reciclable de una manera creativa y dinámica.
Quieres ayudarnos a cambiar el mundo?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Pursuing Your Vocation

Victor E. Frankl, a neurologist, psychologist, Holocaust survivor and author of Man's Search for Meaning, declares that "Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Then he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated; thus, everyone's task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it." This message affirms the value, dignity, and importance of the individual, emphasizing that each person has their own personal and distinct role to play in the world. This quote beckons us to boldly and courageously pursue our calling.

As a college student surrounded by highly motivated and talented peers, I feel the constant pressure  to secure for myself a stable, sensible, profitable career, which can lead to my own disregard of my true desires and talents, and instead prioritizing financial affluence. While striving for a career that brings financial stability isn't a negative aspiration by any means, I believe there are a few more important things to first consider.

Before this semester began, I participated in a retreat rooted in the idea of taking a step back to reevaluate your actions and choices, specifically focusing on the theme of vocation. During this retreat, we discussed the discernment question of Fr. Michael Himes, a Professor of Theology at Boston College. He poses three central questions for discerning one's vocation:
  1. Is this a source of joy? 
  2. Is this something that taps into your talents and gifts- does it engage all of your abilities and use them in the fullest way possible? 
  3. Is this role a genuine service to the people around you- to society at large? 
Focusing on these questions helped me be brutally honest with myself. What brings me happiness? What am I actually good at? (Not what I wish I was good at- but what are my true talents?) And lastly, what does the world need me to do? 

I think vocation discernment is often undermined in the lives of many young people. Vocation discernment doesn't just pertain to those considering a religious vocation, but to each and every individual. And it's important for us to remember, and to be reminded, that there are thousands of career options out there, and that society desperately needs what each of us has to offer. Moreover, each profession carries with it an opportunity and duty to do good and be fully rooted in love. I believe that it is our two-fold duty and delight, as humans, to uncover our talent, and discover our place in this always-moving, imperfect yet wondrous world. Choosing to joyfully live out our vocation- to employ our talents in tandem with others' talents in order to add just a tad more light to the world- this is our mission, as individuals and as a community. What we really need- in all professions- is people dedicated to people

Furthermore, it's our responsibility to help others discover their own vocations- and this mission is at the core of Starfish. I stand behind this objective, as I think that discerning one's vocation is central to being human. Enabling students to discover their own talents and vocations provides them with confidence, and helps them recognize their own dignity. As the Dalai Lama proclaims, "With the realization of one's own potential and self-confidence in one's ability, one can build a better world." 

 In whatever way we use our talents, I believe it's important to remind ourselves that our first and foremost calling, as humans, is to open our eyes, to be fully present, and to live in solidarity with others: to acknowledge those around us as fellow brothers and sisters, realizing that each individual before us has a set of goals, hopes, and desires as complex and unique as our own. As soon as we do this- recognize the humanity of ourselves, and others- then we are able to be fully alive and choose to allow our lives to be governed by agape- a love that seeks nothing in return. 

How do you live out our vocation? What does it mean to use your talents and time to live in solidarity and kinship with others? 

"What is it you plan to do with this one wild and precious life?" 
~Mary Oliver~ 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

How do you form a leader?

This week, two of our educadores, Maria Salazar and Joel Baque, collaborated to write a blog about leadership. Maria and Joel are both noteworthy leaders in the Flor and Guasmo communities, respectively.  They serve as models of hope and inspiration for the current Starfish scholars, and we are thankful for the reflection they share with us! 

How is a leader formed? 
"A leader includes others, helping them to discover essential skills they can put to use to achieve a common goal." 

One of the experiences that can form us as a leader occurs during the period of our schooling, during which we acquire knowledge and learn from our challenges and experiences that develop from our interactions with others and group work. During group work, we are able to discover the different abilities that each person possesses. 

The different talents that we possess make us unique and special, and together, we can combine our different talents to help us reach our proposed goal. For this reason, we, the Starfish Foundation, help high school aged students to polish and refine their talents and in some cases, discover them, in such a way that converts them into leaders capable of being guides and examples for the younger students. 

Will you help us to form leaders? Join us, and become a part of our family! 

With love, 
Maria Salazar & Joel Baque 

Maria Salazar 

Joel Baque 

en español:
"El líder incluye a los demás y ayuda a descubrir aptitudes esénciales para llegar a una meta en común."

Una de las experiencias que podemos tener como un líder, es en la etapa de colegio, en  el cual se adquieren conocimientos en base a retos y vivencias que en grupo se desarrollan, en ella podemos descubrir las diferentes aptitudes que cada persona posee.

Aquellas diferencias son las que nos hacen personas únicas y especiales, que en conjunto y equitativamente alcanzaran el objetivo propuesto; Por eso en la Fundación Estrellitas del Mar, ayudamos a los chicos de colegio a pulir sus aptitudes y en algunos casos a descubrirlas, de tal manera que se conviertan en líderes,  capaces de ser guías y ejemplos para los más pequeños.

¿Nos ayudarías a formar líderes? Se parte de nuestra familia…

Con cariño,
 María & Joel

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The small businesses we support!

Small Business Saturday. A relatively new tradition to support local small businesses, instead of focusing on the larger corporations usually featured during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. What are your favorite small businesses to support?

One of our favorite collections of businesses to support are those run by our families in Ecuador! Here are a few to share about with you:

A few of our families peel garlic ("ajo") for a living. It's a long process, but it sure makes the home smell great!

One of our moms is a seamstress! She has sewn the shirts (including the beautiful Starfish logos) for our employees, students and trip participants each year. 

This Saturday, which small businesses are you supporting? Are you joining us for #GivingTuesday, to support the Scholars of the families above? Don't forget! We are excited to see you there.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Friday -- and what it really means to us

It's safe to say, if you know me, that Black Friday isn't my favorite. Families split off after (or instead of) Thanksgiving celebrations to go shopping for major sales. Consumer culture at its best!

Working in Ecuador has made me struggle with Black Friday even more. Why? Because, sadly, 'Viernes Negro' has transitioned to Ecuador!

An ad, similar to the one Jenn and I saw in 2012 or 2013, at Mi Comisariato (a local all-purpose store) for Black Friday sales.

On a deeper level, there are so many people who cannot experience Black Friday. Shopping at this level, even with major sales, isn't feasible for most of our families. They are prioritizing education (even after our support, there are other needs -- like bus fare), food and clothing. They likely will have to work on Black Friday, if they have the opportunity to work a steady job. Like many retailers in the U.S., working on Black Friday might involve long hours, unpleasant consumers, and difficult crowds. Today, one of our graduates Cristhian might even be working -- he was lucky enough to land a steady job at Mi Comisariato, so he can help make ends meet at home. 

Cristhian (left) and his family!

Anyways -- my point for you today is to remember those (both in the U.S. and Ecuador) who can't participate in Black Friday. That's one of the reasons #GivingTuesday was created, to encourage people to support people in need, and not just participate in consumer-focused activities. I hope to see you at one of our eight events on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. If you're in Hoboken, Manchester CT, Wilmington, Baltimore, DC, San Francisco, or Villanova, you can learn more about who we think about on Black Friday!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

What does today's youth think about education?

Our blog this week features a post from two educadores, William Segura and Allison Rodriguez, who affirm the importance of education and speak of the great impact that Starfish has had on their, and others’, lives. This Thanksgiving, we recognize all whom we are thankful for in our Starfish community: our educadores, our students and their families, our volunteers, and all those who prioritize education and lifelong learning in community. Muchísmias gracias a todo, and happy Thanksgiving!

Education: Fundamental in Life

What does today's youth think about education? Do they think that it’s important and serves a purpose?

In my own experience, in the past, I used to think that education didn’t matter so much because I knew of people who had obtained educational degrees, but that it didn’t help them much in that they weren’t able to find a dignified job or they felt uncomfortable exercising the profession that they had been confined to due to the limitations of the education system.

However, my opinions have changed since being at the Foundation. The Starfish Foundation, along with the furthering of my own education, has taught me how to see things differently and to deeply consider others’ points of view. Furthermore, Starfish has instilled in me the core values of excellence and determination, which are fundamental to education. I learned that with just a little help, you can achieve anything that you propose.

Education is waiting for you.  Are you ready to change your point of view about education?

We are Starfish!
William Segura and Allison Rodriguez

en español:
Educación: Base fundamental de la vida 
¿Qué piensan los jóvenes de hoy en día sobre la educación? ¿Piensan que es importante o sirve de algo?

En mi caso personal, antes pensaba que la educación no importaba por que conocía a personas que habían llegado a tener un titulo pero sin embargo no les servia de mucho ya que no podían encontrar un trabajo digno o se sentían incomodos ejerciendo la profesión que les había destinado con limitación el sistema educativo.

LA FUNDACION ESTRELLITAS DEL MAR me enseñó una forma de ver las cosas diferentes con respecto al punto de vista de las demás personas con base en la educación y la vida.
Fundamentándose en la excelencia y la determinación, que son la clave de la educación; aprendí que tan solo con una pizca de constancia puedes llegar a cumplir lo que te propongas.

La Educación espera por ti. ¿Estas dispuesto a cambiar tu punto de vista con respecto a la Educación?

¡Somos Starfish!
William Segura y Allison Rodriguez

3 things I'm thankful for about Ecuador

In honor of Thanksgiving, I wanted to write a special post on gratitude. I started to think to myself, though -- is the topic too overdone? Not original enough? How can I make our readers understand the immense gratitude that I feel every day for my experiences in Ecuador?

So I'm going to tell you.

We celebrated Thanskgiving in Ecuador, sort of -- we celebrated with all the ex-Pats who we knew in Guayaquil. It was the first (and only) time I'd ever worked on Thanksgiving. I remember trying to explain "pumpkin" in Spanish to my students. The closest translation of 'pumpkin' I've ever found is really the word for 'squash.' Try that comparison tonight at the dinner table! Somehow Jenn made a really close resemblance to a pumpkin pie. I still remember Carlos saying [in English, but with a cute Spanish accent], "Pumpkin pie!"

Anyways, I've digressed. Here are three things that Ecuador has made me thankful for:

1. Cooking. You would never have known it at the time -- because I certainly didn't cook back then! -- but a huge piece about Ecuadorian culture that I love is the cooking. Families (usually the mom) cook every day, often two or three meals. They use super fresh ingredients, and their skills are top-notch. The food is tied in to the hospitality, in a 'loaves and fishes' kind of way -- there's always more, and you're always welcome. I started cooking more seriously about 9 months ago, and it's been a source of joy at the end of a long day. Plus, the notion of standing on my feet after a full day of sitting is refreshing!

Soraya, pictured here, always cooked delicious meals for me and my community-mates!

2. Hospitality. Anyone who's ever stepped foot in Ecuador knows that the Ecuadorians' hospitality is second to none. They invite you over at all hours of the day, make you food, clean up for you, and entertain you during the whole visit. A great story of their hospitality is when our flight got delayed 7 hours (yes, seven!). We were so tired, but we wanted to rally and still have the whole day to play with our new friends. Neighbors of Starfish let us into their homes for an afternoon nap (a 'siesta,' if you will). Yes -- you read that right -- we went into these homes of families most of us barely knew (although Starfish knew them well!) and took a nap in their beds for the afternoon!
Anna and I being goofy during the aforementioned afternoon naptime. We also spent a significant amount of time talking about Ecuadorian hospitality! 

3. Tradition. I have never been so grateful for tradition as I have in Ecuador. Our neighbors asked a lot of questions about our traditions - what does our family do for Christmas? What's the meaning behind turkey on Thanksgiving? Why do people have picnics and go camping during Independence Day? It made me think a lot about some of the traditions we have. Traditions are beautiful because they show that this action (or the people who passed it on to us) are meaningful. Even a tradition as simple as starting your day with coffee can be symbolic of a moment to rest, pray, be in silence, create conversation or show hospitality. 

One Ecuadorian tradition is to have an Olympics every year at schools. The students have academic and athletic challenges to complete. A few years ago, we picked up on the tradition and started Starfish "Olimpiadas" too! Above, the different groups display their team spirit. 

So, here's to cooking more, increasing hospitality and celebrating tradition. What are some things you are grateful for this Thanksgiving? 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

But first, let me take an #UNselfie

In 2013, the Oxford Dictionary declared the world selfie as the Word of the Year 2013. Made popular by a recent song, selfies have really become a generational phenomenon. Parents will take selfies with families at holiday parties, friends will take selfies at happy hours -- even presenters and teachers will take selfies with their participants!

Now, what's the buzz about an #UNselfie, you ask? Well, the term #unselfie was coined in 2013 (the same year selfie was declared Word of the Year, remember?) to show the world why YOU unselfishly support the efforts of #GivingTuesday. Still wondering what #GivingTuesday is? From the official #GivingTuesday website, "We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give."

So, here is my #unselfie for you:
This #GivingTuesday, I give because I believe in #educationforall, and I support the good work that our @starfishchange Scholars have accomplished! #UNselfie

I recognize that education is a privilege, and it's one that has given me the opportunity to advance in my career and service in ways I never could have achieved otherwise. I am grateful for my Villanova undergraduate and Loyola graduate experiences, as well as my public school foundation in Baltimore County, MD (go Dulaney!). 

This week, there are events all over the country to support our Scholars! Want to hang out with like-minded people while raising funds for a great cause?? Join us in Baltimore MD, Washington DC, Hoboken NJ, Manchester CT, Wilmington DE (twice!), San Francisco CA, and Villanova PA for some awesome events

Not in one of those cities? Have plans on Tuesday, December 1 (some events are on 11/30 or 12/2 - check the events page to be sure)? You can always give online in honor of #GivingTuesday. Just add #GivingTuesday to the memo of your donation!

Another way to help is by sharing YOUR #UNselfie! Tag us @starfishchange (Twitter and Instagram) -- we can't wait to see what you share. If you aren't yet convinced, here's a sneak peek at some fun Starfish selfies :) Enjoy!

Genesis and me during the trip this summer. She asked to send this to her pen pal, David G.!

Anna and I at the talent show in August. We were SO EXCITED that you all supported our fundraising campaign to the level where we could get glow sticks for the kids! I'm not sure who was more excited, in fact. ;) It was a great night!

Jenn and I at the Olympics on Sunday morning. She brought so many shirts so she could join a number of teams! (Don't worry though -- she wasn't a fair-weathered teammate. I think she ended up timing most of the activities!)

Itaty and I - I hadn't spent much time with her before this trip in August, but she is queen of the soccer field. Luckily, I was assigned to her team (the white team!) for Olympics. We didn't win overall, but we did place well in the soccer tournament!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Starfish Students elected as part of the Guayaquil Student Council!

This week we are featuring a blog post from Luiggi Pluas, a Starfish student from Flor de Bastion, who, along with Itaty Morocho, were 2 of the 12 students elected to represent District 8 in a city-wide student council. The selection of Luiggi and Itaty demonstrates their academic success and leadership abilities, and we are incredibly proud of them. Being chosen as a representative is a great honor and accomplishment. Congratulations, Luiggi and Itaty!


The Youth and Adolescents Advisory Council of Guayaquil 

In the first council, the Guayaquil officials had to elect 12 youth representatives from a previously selected group of 24. During this meeting, Itaty and I were fortunate to be elected as 2 of the 12 representatives from District 8 (our district). There are a total of 10 districts, and each district sent 12 youth representatives to the large, city-wide Student Council, which totaled to 120 children that attended the council. 

At the first meeting [that Itaty and I attended], only members of District 8 participated, but at the second meeting, we joined all of the districts representing the entirety of Guayaquil. To accommodate  such a large group of youth representatives, the meeting occurred in the Multifunctional Town Center (Zumar). When we arrived, they gave us purple shirts, the purple signifying that we were representatives of District 8. The other districts had various colors to differentiate themselves.  We began with icebreakers, then we created some small representations (sketches) of the social problems present in Guayaquil, such as drugs, alcohol, human trafficking, and pollution. 

Itaty and I truly enjoyed the activities. After the group discussions and activities, we then went to eat, and once we finished, it was time to choose the 12 representatives of the entire Guayaquil and 12 alternates from the 120 students present at this council. Truthfully, choosing 24 students from 120 proved to be very difficult; therefore, the 120 candidates had to participate in many exercises, such as speaking, socializing, etc., and during these activities, we were evaluated and had to pass certain criteria. As they were determining the 12 representatives and 12 alternates, I was incredibly nervous, since I didn't know what was going to happen, or if I was going to be chosen. When they gave us the final count of the votes and informed me that I didn't qualify, I felt a little sad that I wasn't chosen to represent Guayaquil as part of that small council. However, there will be another opportunity soon, and I have to keep faith that I could be a representative in the future. 

The purpose of this Council of Students is to gather ideas from the adolescentes and present them to the mayor, so that the city government may come to understand what the youth of Guayaquil wants, which is: for our city to become a better, safer place

~Luiggi Pluas

Luiggi Pluas 

Itaty Morocho 

(en español)
Consejo Consultivo de la niñez y adolescencia de Guayaquil

Primero nos mandaron a citar en al primer reunión, en la cual se debía escoger a 12 niños entre aproximadamente 24 niños del distrito 8, ya que los demás distritos (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) ya habían tenido anteriormente otras reuniones en la que también escogido a 12 niños mas, es decir, entre todos los distritos tenía que haber aproximadamente 120 niños escogidos, desde hay ya quedamos como representantes del distrito 8.

Posteriormente a esa reunión, nos citaron a otra, pero esta vez era para concursar ya no solo los que estábamos del distrito 8, si no contra todos los distritos para que representemos a Guayaquil entero, y asi fue, la reunión se realizo en el Centro Municipal Polifuncional Zumar, cuando llegamos nos entregaron una camisa de color morado, el cual nos representaba como distrito 8, los demás distritos tenían otros colores para diferenciarlos, entonces eramos como 100 niños que estábamos concursando, primero hicimos dinámicas, pequeños sketchs sobre problemáticas sociales como las drogas, el alcohol, trata de personas, contaminación ambienta, etc…

Nos divertimos mucho, luego fuimos a comer, una vez que terminamos, ya había llegado la hora de comenzar a escoger 12 representantes de Guayaquil y 12 mas de suplentes, de entre todos los aproximadamente 100 estudiantes, al verdad es que estuvo difícil, y aunque teníamos que dar diferentes criterios, hablar, socializar, etc, pero cuando ya fueron los votaciones yo estaba nervioso ya que no sabía de que iba a pasar, pero cuando ya dieron los votos finales, me dijeron que estaba descalificado, me sentí un poco triste ya que no pude alcanzar a representar a Guayaquil, pero para una próxima oportunidad será, hay que tener fé de que se va a poder.

Este proyecto, tiene el fin de recolectar ideas de los niños, adolescentes para asi los directivos, alcalde, tengan una idea concisa de que es lo piensan los jóvenes y así ser de Guayaquil un lugar mejor. 

Luiggi Pluas

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My dream, Scholars' dreams, and refugees' dreams

So, if you're connected with world news at all in the past week, it's been a tumultuous week to say the least. Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, and Japan all made world headlines within a few days' time. But, sadly, another recent news headline started a long time ago (and has progressed): Syria's refugee crisis.

I'm not writing this blog to take a political stance -- but I'm actually reframing this situation for you with a different perspective. For our Scholars, they are blessed to not currently be living in a war-torn country. Their country has not been attacked by terrorists. They are not traveling thousands of miles to a potential new home - hoping that someone will care for them along the dangerous journey.

The sad reality is, though, our Scholars do face very real challenges. They face extreme poverty, lack of food, lack of clean water, violence in their community, gang and drug pressure, and more. The difference I am grateful for is the opportunity for our Scholars to receive an education.

Here is our "Goals" or "Dreams" wall. Each Scholar put his/her dream on the wall, next to a photo of him/her in school uniform. We believe this motivates them to keep focused on their dreams!

We also like to celebrate students' academic achievements and efforts. Here, Maria Belen congratulates Luiggi, one of our Scholars that we recognized last month!

Pamela, one of our work-study volunteers (who will be starting as an educator for us soon!) dreams of becoming a flight attendant. At her Starfish graduation celebration earlier this year, the Starfish educators and Scholars made her a card that reads, "Congratulations, future Flight Attendant!"

So far, Starfish has had 8 graduates (2 in 2014 and 6 in 2015, four of whom are pictured here). 6 more students are expected to graduate this coming year, in March!

I write all of this to share with you how grateful I am that our Scholars and tutor-only (mentee) students live in a country where there is peace. The challenges for many of these families are large, but the opportunity that these students receive is incredible, and I'm proud we can welcome them to receive their education. 

Throughout my time in Baltimore, I've also met many refugees - people whom the U.S. has welcomed into a land of peace, opportunity and education. I am grateful for these refugees, for all they have taught and brought us, and for the kind compassion they have been shown in times of hardship. 

Most importantly, I pray for the people who are not experiencing peace right now, that they find peace and compassion soon in their journey. 

So, tell me - what are your dreams? Share them here, or email me at I'd love to hear your dreams!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Our educadoras write about leadership!

The past few weeks have been exciting for both the students and educadores of Starfish!
Our educadoras participated in a technology workshop, in which they refined communication skills, such as professional emailing and blogging. They divided into groups and composed blog posts about different topics. Here is what educadoras Cynthia and Lissette have to say about leadership!

Leadership and I
(( Examining the importance of leadership in our daily lives )) 

Implementing our leadership skills enables us to both achieve our aspirations and resolve our problems.

Asking the question, "what do the people want?" helps to guide us in being effective, efficient, and caring servant-leaders. Leadership plays an essential role in our lives. We know that if we use our talents, we will be able to endure any obstacles and effectively lead a group by incorporating everyone's different skills and gifts.

As a leader, one must have an intense internal drive to be able to motivate, inspire, and encourage others. Doing so will enable us to be effective in the workplace, to inspire others to work hard, and to ultimately reach our goals both in the workplace and our daily lives. Furthermore, we strive to continue to develop our communication skills in order to be a good leader (educator) at the Starfish Foundation, which has helped us acquire and refine our own leadership abilities.

Collaborating with others in a group makes completing tasks easier, since everyone is using their unique talents to work towards a common goal. Group work pushes us to make decisions, to delegate tasks, and integrate each group member's input.

"The success of a leader resides in understanding what the people desire and demand."

Lissette Loor, Guasmo educadora 

Cynthia Gurumendi, Guasmo educadora 

// be sure to check in next week, as we will be featuring blogs from two of our Starfish students who were nominated to be members of the Guayaquil Student Council //

en español: 

El liderazgo y yo
En un futuro podremos solventar más el liderazgo! 

~ Sabes lo que la gente quiere? ~

El liderazgo es muy importante porque nos conlleva a que nuestras habilidades las podremos sobrellevar y mantener a un grupo con la finalidad de tener capacidad de motivar, convocar promover e incentivar y evaluar para para que dicho trabajo sea eficaz y así lograr alcanzar las metas y objetivos propuestos en nuestra vida cotidiana. Por lo tanto, también desarrollamos mucha comunicación para poder ser un buen líder en la fundación.

Por lo que, el trabajo en equipo simplifica las cosas y aporta nuevos conocimientos que nos permite lograr la toma decisiones e integrar una propuesta para que los integrantes del equipo toman conciencia de sus tareas que deben cumplirlas en un tiempo determinado por su líder.

“La habilidad de un líder reside en entender fielmente lo que la gente quiere o demanda.”


Monday, November 9, 2015

The Top 5 Reasons We Started Starfish

Happy fourth birthday, Starfish! I'm so excited to celebrate this day - I remember when Jenn and I began, I had the thought, "It might last one year, and that's great! Or, it could last 5, and that's awesome. Or maybe even 10 or 20!" Look - just one year out from my next 'mile-marker' -- we've come so far!

I thought it might be fun to share with you a little bit about why Jenn and I decided to start Starfish.

1. We knew we had to give back to those we love, who had given us so much. We had just returned from a powerful year serving in Guayaquil, Ecuador with Rostro de Cristo. We had met these incredible families that had opened their homes to us through offering us food, love, hugs, a listening ear, and so much more. Even if we weren't in this neighborhood specifically (which Starfish isn't), we wanted to support that beautiful culture of hospitality, faith and service.

Some of the children from some of my favorite families, in a neighborhood behind the one where I lived, called Elsa. 

2. Carpe diem. We had to sieze the day! What a better time to do something really crazy then when you just finished doing something else really crazy?! In all seriousness, Jenn and I both knew it was a little nuts -- we were told we shouldn't make any big life decisions during such a powerful transition, but ya know... sometimes your heart just speaks louder than your head. Neither of us had many serious commitments at the time, so it seemed like a reasonable time to take a leap of faith.

3. To put our faith into action. Jenn and I are both dedicated to our faith. We are both Catholic, but we're on the same page that faith is faith -- and it means doing good works when you are able to serve those most in need. We both love the Jesuit traditions (Jenn having gone to Fairfield - me now studying at Loyola, plus spending time at a Jesuit parish in Baltimore). The notions of serving those most in need rings loudly in our hearts, and it's something we take seriously.

4. "She who sees is responsible." Taken from the motto of Notre Dame Preparatory School, we knew we had to do something about what we had witnessed. We had seen (and still see) so many families struggle to make ends meet with food and shelter alone, that education seemed to be a daunting task for our loved ones. We had seen the challenges with finding income, maintaining health, and working for justice - and we knew we couldn't sit still.

5. Because of Hugh, and Dr. Albert Schweitzer, and Villanova. Hugh O'Brian started the famous HOBY Leadership organization, one that I'm quite involved in. Dr. Albert Schweitzer inspired Hugh to start HOBY after a trip to Africa, where Schweitzer asked, "Hugh, what are you going to do about it?"

My family and I with Hugh O'Brian himself!

Around the same time we returned from our year in Ecuador, Villanova (my alma mater) had just started their Ignite Change, Go Nova campaign. The entire campaign focuses on supporting Villanova community members to do things just like this. What perfect timing! I remember visiting campus for the first time after I returned back to the U.S., telling professors and friends that I wanted to start a nonprofit. No one even doubted it -- the common answer was, "Great! Tell me more."

So, Jenn and I decided to ignite some change... and look where we are today. :)

The banner that really inspired my passion to go forth with this project.

We hope you enjoy celebrating this 200th blog post and this 4th birthday with us today -- and here's to many more!

Con cariño,

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Guest Blogger: Danit Lieberman

Danit Lieberman, a sophomore studying business at Boston College, reflects about her experience this past summer, when she served at an orphanage in Argentina. Danit grew up in Mexico City until she was 11 years old, and now she and her family live in Denver, CO. Danit is bilingual, and her passion for mastering languages continues in her university studies, as she is minoring in Chinese. Thank you, Danit, for your honest and raw reflection about service, different realities, and gratitude.

During my time in Argentina, I was simultaneously haunted and comforted by the thought, “I have the luxury to return home.” I have the luxury to return to a clean, spacious house. The luxury to return to my family. Not a perfect family, certainly not, but a family who gives me personal attention and love. What I leave behind is a world with few “Me” and “I.”
This summer I volunteered at an orphanage in Cordoba, Argentina called Hogar Bethel. While reflecting about my experience, I realized that the kids were always clustered into groups; “These are the Hogar kids,” “these are the older girls,” “these are the babies,” “these are these siblings.” They are seen as part of a group identity, but they are rarely recognized for their individual identity. Yes, they each have a name, a personality, an attitude. But they share many of the luxuries I’ve had to myself.
They share a shower, which immediately takes away any sense of privacy. They share clothes: school clothes, weekend clothes…No one child has his or her own clothes, the clothes are the Hogar’s and they alternate in who wears what. They share rooms, toys, food. One other precious thing that they are forced to share is their time, their lives.  At home I spend time alone, I have the option to read quietly in my room or watch TV with my family. I can choose to hang out with friends, or I can choose to be alone. I have the choice.
At the Hogar the kids don’t have choice. They are always together. Always with the same people, who in many cases don’t treat them right. They share all of their time. They wake up next to each other, shower next to each other, eat next to each other, and go to bed next to each other. There is never any independence.  Never any healthy solitude. Their lives are all intertwined together under the roof of the Hogar.
I lived in the Hogar for one challenging month. I struggled with the lack of privacy, the lack of structure and direction, and the lack of attention to the kids. I slept in a room without a door, so everyday the kids came in and woke me up. I had to keep my belongings in a separate room with a door so the kids wouldn’t steal my things (because they would if they had the opportunity).  During that month, I longed for my private room at home. I craved my alone time that I take for granted. And I realized that I have the luxury to return to that. But at the same time, I felt guilty for needing that and wanting it.
For me, my experience at the orphanage was temporary. I voluntarily lived there for a limited time. However, these kids are taken there involuntarily and for an indefinite amount of time. This thought humbled me. These “commodities” that I take for granted every day, are unimaginable luxuries for these kids.
My experience in Argentina was hard. I missed home and I wasn’t peaceful in the Hogar. My days had no structure and I couldn’t find the means to have a bigger impact on the children. But as hard as it was, the hardest part was leaving the beautiful children and returning to my luxurious life.
Service trips wake us up to realities outside our experience. They make us be more aware of the struggles people face around the world, and the drastically different lifestyles that people lead. But these trips also open our eyes to the many blessings we have in our lives. So no matter what challenge we are facing right now, we know we are blessed with a life of luxury, and we need to remember to be grateful for that.

Are you interested in an experience that wakes you up to a new reality?  We are looking for volunteers in Ecuador!  If you are interested in volunteering, contact us at  If you are interested in joining us for a shorter period of time as part of our annual Friends of Starfish trip, please fill out this survey!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Las Entrevistas (Interviews): Isis and Yesenia

Join us for another brief segment of las entrevistas (interviews) with our Starfish students! 

Today, two of our Starfish scholars from Guasmo, Isis and Yesenia, share some of their pensamientos (thoughts) about their motivation and inspiration for their educations. 

Stay tuned for more entrevistas with our scholars, coming next week, in addition to a blog post created entirely by our very own educadores as a part of their technology workshop! During this workshop, our Guasmo educadores learned about technology in the workplace, and practiced skills such as professional emailing, and creating blogs and powerpoint presentations All of these skills will provide our educatdores with valuable resources for their own careers and studies, as well as enable them to better develop the skills of our scholars. 

Isis Matias, 14 years old.

What motivates you to excel in your education?

-"My main motivation to excel comes from my parents, because each day, I see the daily sacrifices they make to provide me with an education so that I can better myself and truly become someone in this life." 

What is one thing about your country that you wish to change?

-"I hope that one day, society changes to create a greater level of respect. In this way, I wish that people can develop a different way of thinking." 

 Yesenia Guallo, 14 years old.

Tell us about a professor or educator that has helped you to discover your academic strengths.

-“One day, my professor Mercedes told me that there are always, and will always be, difficulties in live and that a setback is not synonomous with a defeat. Mercedes believes that I can overcome struggles, and she helps me achieve my goals. I’m grateful for this advice, for it has helped me realize that if I fail, it doesn’t mean I am defeated.” 

What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone younger than you?

-"One piece of advice that I would give would be to set goals, and to achieve them, for this is the best thing to have done. However, only set goals that benefit yourself and those around you."

En español: 

Isis Matias, 14 años. 

Que te motiva para sobresalir en tu educación?

-"Mi mayor motivación son mis padres porque veo como se han sacrificado en la vida para darme educación y que yo me supere y sea alguien en la vida."

Cual es una cosa de tu país que te gustaría cambiar?

-"Que esta sociedad cambie se forma de ser respecto a cómo tratar a las personas solo por tener una manera diferente de pensar."

Yesenia Guallo, 14 años. 

Cuéntanos sobre un profesor o educador que te ha ayudado a reconocer tus fortalezas académicas?

-"Mi profesora Mercedes un día me dijo que siempre hay dificultades en la vida y que por tropiezos no significa la derrota y que piense en superarme y que cumpla mi objetivo. Y gracias a este consejo me ayudo a darme cuenta que si fallo no significa la derrota."

Cual es el consejo que tu le darías a una persona menor que tú?

-"El consejo que le daría seria que se proponga un objetivo, lo cumpla y será lo mejor que haya hecho, pero siempre que lo que se proponga sea para bien de él y de los demás."