Thursday, February 26, 2015

Volunteer Reflections: 3 lessons (of many) from my time with Starfish

Today's post comes from Martin, our very first volunteer in Ecuador!


Lesson 1: There is a universal language spoken through hugs, smiles, and laughter.

My favorite day with the Starfish Scholars was on our trip to the park. That day was great, except for one small thing. Up to that point I had always worn a polo or a t-shirt. That day was the first time I wore a cut-off shirt since we were suppose to be playing soccer. For some reason, the girls were laughing at me. At first I thought they were giggling because they were happy to see me. I asked why they were laughing and Ana responds by lifting my arm. Maria pointed to my armpit hair and broke out laughing. I immediately pulled down my arm. I felt embarrassed for a moment and they didn't care. They laughed and laughed and all I could do is laugh with them.

Lesson 2: The people you serve are always going to do more for you than you can do for them.

I can't believe how much the families cared about me. I was served food, asked if I needed anything, served more food, and even was taken on a family trip to the river. They threw me a party with tons of food and got me my favorite cake. I always felt that people were doing things for me, giving things to me, and wishing the best for me. It was always hard to go since they made me feel so at home. The hospitality and friendliness of the Starfish families are unparalleled, aside from my own family--and they kind of have to love and feed me. 

Lesson 3: Community can't be taught, it must be built with time, trust, and consistency.

If there is one thing I learned is that trust is something given to those you love. They loved me from the beginning and are so trusting that it was a little unsettling at first. Now I think about how beautiful that was. The reason they trusted me was because the people before me, Beth and Jenn, had already put in the time to develop, maintain, and improve upon their relationships with not just the families of the scholars, but the families in the communities where they lived as well. Beth and Jenn started something beautiful, a program for the kids that was both good and the right thing to do. They didn't make it easy, though. It had a status and becoming a scholar is something you earn through good grades and attendance at Starfish meetings, tutoring, and events. The scholars host events and activities, too. They even have leadership positions. All things they can take pride in and should as they deserve the opportunities the Starfish Foundation provides. They are the future of their communities and I am hopeful for the future.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Global Education: STEM Education in the Developing World

Today's post comes from Jessica Baker of Engineering World Health.

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” - Carl Sagan 

 In the United States, we hear constantly that we should be scientists and engineers. We should study Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields because we will find good jobs, invent new things, and help the United States progress into the future. We know that STEM education is essential to understanding the world we live in.

So why would we expect STEM education to be any less important in developing countries?

 As this article in argues, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education is critical to global development. Workers in STEM fields can build modern infrastructure, advance energy production, and innovate to overcome developing countries’ unique challenges.

Putting back patient monitor with an intern.

And, as this Huffington Post article points out, this is just as true for girls as for boys: “Keeping [girls] out of the educational loop -- for social, cultural, or economic reasons - - means that half the population can't contribute to their community's economic growth.” When a country provides access to quality education to all children, they unlock the potential of their entire population.

STEM education opens up a great variety of career options for young students regardless of where they live. For example, Engineering World Health trains biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs) in the developing world. BMETs maintain and repair medical equipment in hospitals, making sure patients have access to quality health care. Our BMET students are adults, but to succeed they need a basic understanding of math and science in order to learn the special skills required to repair complex machines. When a hospital has well-educated technicians, they have more incubators to support newborn babies, more working anesthetic machines to perform surgeries, and more autoclaves to keep tools properly sterilized.

Student Oung Kakeo verifying waveform.

STEM education is necessary for all hospital careers: without it, BMETs, lab technicians, radiologists, nurses, and doctors could not exist. This is only one industry - imagine the impact across an entire society and economy if access to STEM education is severely limited or non-existent. How could such a society develop into an independent, self-sustaining modern nation?

Countries that invest in their children’s STEM education will have adults who understand the science and technology we depend on. They will use that understanding to improve themselves and their communities, develop new solutions to old problems, and empower change in the next generation.

Dr. Ram Ramabhadran teaches Spec calibration in Honduras.


Jessica Baker is the Development & Communications manager for Engineering World Health, a non-profit organization which inspires, educates, and empowers the biomedical engineering community to improve health care delivery in the developing world through STEM Education, Service Abroad, and Technician Training programs.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Día de San Valentín

Happy Valentine's Day from everyone at Starfish! Today we'd like to share with you the Valentine's traditions in Ecuador, where the holiday is also known as Día del Amor y Amistad (Day of Love and Friendship). We asked our students for their thoughts on how the day is celebrated.

Kiara tells us: Valentine's Day is celebrated with friends and gifts are exchanged between friends, boyfriends & girlfriends, and family.

(Original Spanish: Se celebra con sus amigos y se intercambian regalos con amigos, novios, y entre familia.)

From Ariana: Here in Ecuador we celebrate friendship more than love because we feel better with our friends!

(Original Spanish: Aquí en Ecuador se celebra más la amistad que el amor porque nos sentimos mejor como amigos.)

They also shared some artwork and examples of cards exchanged on Valentine's Day.

I love you a lot because I need you and I don't know what to do.
Your love makes me well, when our love is sincere.
I will love you forever.

Valentine's Day, Day of Love and Friendship
Friends Forever

Amor (Love)
Mansedumbre (Gentleness)
Inteligencia (Intelligence)
Sabiduria (Wisdom)
Ternura (Endearment)
Amistard (Friendship)
Dignidad (Dignity)

The honesty of your love makes me happy.
Valentine's Day means giving to the person who needs a hug or
beautiful smile.

Your friendship is beautiful. You're the best friend
that I've had and the best sister that I've earned.

The love of my life is sincere. The love of my
life isn't afraid. Every time my love hugs me
I feel like I'm in the clouds. When my love hugs
me, I feel loved.

Valentine's Day is celebrated on February 14. On this day we give gifts of roses or other special things to those people who are special to you. This is a symbol of love to that person that you wish to make them happy.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

So far in 2015...

2015 is already off to a great start.  As we begin the new calendar year, we are also gearing up for the end of this school year here in Guayaquil.  That hasn't stopped us from adding a few new things to our schedule though!

In January, we started off the year re-energizing a partnership with DIGS, a group based in Guasmo Sur that helps young people with develop creativity and teamwork skills.  This year we're taking our partnership one step further.  Starfish has three teams that will compete in the March tournament hosted by DIGS in Mi Cometa.  Teams practice once or twice a week with their leaders.  Stay tuned for more info about their final projects in March!

In other exciting news, after receiving the grades from the first semester of studies, we selected our top Scholars to join us on a fun field trip to Bucay! Bucay is a town on the edge of the mountains.  We were able to escape the Guayaquil heat for the day and enjoy a water park complete with multiple water slides, fields to play on and a delicious meal!  We can't wait for the year end grades and we hope to celebrate with even more students who have worked hard to raise their grades!

Lastly, January also marks the despedida or goodbye to our longest volunteer to date.  Nancy has been volunteering with Starfish since July and will now continue her good work in Colombia before heading back to the U.S. to see her family and begin college.  Our students and educadores will certainly miss Nancy.  Thank you for all that you have done!!