Thursday, May 28, 2015

Bailando en la Lluvia ~ Dancing in the Rain

Jane, or Talia as she is called here in Ecuador, volunteered with Starfish during summer 2014, and has joined us again this year.  Since rainy season has been longer than usual, Jane is experiencing her first rainy season and today shares with us a great reflection on what rain means in our Starfish communities.

Photo Credit: Mary D.

"We were soaked, from head to toe. At that point, it didn’t matter anymore. The rain soothed; it cooled our bodies. We were going to get drenched anyway, so we figured, Hey, might as well enjoy the precipitation.

There was a sense of liberation in feeling the rain on our skin, allowing the earth to soak us.

We were alive.

Dancing in swirls, singing “Bailando,” happily eating guineos empastados, hopping around giant puddles, trying not to fall into any rushing “rivers” as we made our way up the steep loma to Erica’s house.

We peeled garlic under a wobbly tin porch “roof,” surrounded by Erica’s family, cousins, and neighbors. 45 pounds of peeled garlic earned the family $5.

I had been thinking about the rain. Pounding on the tin roof, flooding the streets and walkways, soaking our clothes, saturating the dirt cancha where the children played soccer, inviting mosquitos to rest in its puddles, nourishing the earth’s greenery.

“What struck you most of about your first week?” Meredith, a rad Catholic missionary we were blessed to meet this week, asked us.

“La lluvía. The rain,” I answered immediately, without hesitation. After three previous trips to Ecuador, what stood out most in my mind was the liquid precipitation that fell from the sky. Before this year, I had never been to Ecuador during the rainy season — only during the dry season, when it never rains.

The rain had been challenging me.

I had never given it much thought, especially from a social justice perspective.

In the U.S., rain is just rain.

It waters the earth. It means a gray, drizzly day. With an umbrella and adequate infrastructure, liked paved roads and sturdy houses, it doesn’t physically affect us much. In fact, for me, the rain carries hope. April showers bring May flowers. Rain helps the flowers grow and bloom and radiate brilliant beauty. We can wait through the storms with the hope that the flowers are coming — that the rain is going to result in something good and beautiful.

Rain is not quite the same here, nor does it carry the same hope. Yes, the rain waters the plants, allowing for a lush landscape, and allows for cooler temperatures; however, its negative consequences seem to far outweigh its positive one(s).

Here, the rain directly affects the marginalized — our host family, friends, students, neighbors.

In Ecuador, el invierno (when it rains) normally lasts from December to April; however, this year it’s decided to stick around with a vengeance for a few extra weeks, raining at night and sporadically throughout the day. Just yesterday, it started pouring as the Integration Day came to a close around 2pm.

The rain doesn’t appear to bother the kids much — they’ll happily continue playing soccer barefoot and walk home without an umbrella or anything to shield them from buckets of water. They will talk about the rain, though, and how awful it can be at its worst. They will mention family members who have been sick and in bed with dengue or chicuguña, two serious mosquito-borne illnesses. As Marcos, one of the Starfish’s educadores, explained to us, there has been a significant increase in the number of cases this rainy season.

Here, rain is a public health threat. Especially for the many people who have limited-to-no access to quality medical care. Mosquitos, which thrive in warm, damp places, especially in standing water, carry potentially fatal diseases if not treated.

The rain affects infrastructure. It wrecks foundations and causes roads and the exterior of buildings to wear down. It can destroy weak cane houses, leaving people homeless or with significantly damaged homes.

The rain affects transportation. It floods the roads, forming large “rivers” and puddles in dirt roads, making it impossible for a car or bus to pass. Just walking through these muddy messes is a challenge.

The rain affects pollution. It carries heaps of trash, sewage, and other pollutants, into the streets where people step.

And Jackie and I are not even here for the thick of it. We are only here for the tail of the season, when the rain is finally beginning to calm down.

I had never given much thought to weather and precipitation before — something that is out of our control, but without a doubt, seriously impacts poverty. No wonder countries in tropical regions tend to be the most underdeveloped. In many ways, intense rain and heat coupled with poor infrastructure perpetuate a cycle of poverty.

I’m not sure I’ll ever see rain in quite the same way. And maybe you won’t either."

~Jane L., Starfish Volunteer.  Read more reflections from Jane on her blog!

Friday, May 22, 2015

This week in global education

Exciting news this week, Starfish followers. On Monday, the World Bank announced that it will be allocating $5 billion dollars to improve the quality of global education.

They released this in advance of the World Education Forum, which is meeting in South Korea this week to determine benchmarks for sustainable development goals, including: right to education, equity in education, inclusive education, quality education, and lifelong learning. Among criticism for current efforts is that while enrollment has increased worldwide, the content of said education has not been improved. Recently, UNESCO released a report detailing key areas for improvement, including early childhood care and education, as well as child and adult literacy.

World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, hopes results-based financing will make a difference in fostering better outcomes for students worldwide. However, global education advocates recommend a broad range of approaches in order to ensure best results and work well with local governments.

Regardless, the need for improvement in the quality of education is clear. One in four children  are illiterate--some 250 million children cannot read or right. Among solutions are: lower teacher-student ratios, better access to materials, and literacy-focused education.

Read here for more information on the UNESCO report and the potential impact of the World Bank's contributions.

And to contribute to the quality of education for our students in Ecuador, consider sponsoring a scholar today.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Back to School!

Educadora Jasmin & Volunteer Mirka helping Flor students set goals for the first semester!
Classes officially started back up last Monday, May 4 here in Guayaquil.  We are so proud of all of our students, new & old, who are making the commitment to one more year of education!  At Starfish tutoring is off to a great start.  We have 55 scholars and over 60 non-scholarship students already enrolled and participating in our daily sessions.  A growing wait list may mean even more exciting additions to our programs in the coming months!

Guasmo Scholars Mike, Sara & Briggitte during an icebreaker on the first day of class!
So far in the first few days of tutoring we have focused on getting to know each other a little better, as well as establishing guidelines for a great classroom environment and setting some SMART goals for the semester.  The educadores have done a great job planning ahead for a successful year and we are excited to see all of the exciting things our Scholars accomplish.  Next week our summer volunteers begin to arrive, so stay tuned for updates from them.  Our Scholars always enjoy learning from our visiting volunteers as well as sharing a bit about life in Ecuador.  

Arelisa in her new uniform at a brand new school!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Studying Medicine in Ecuador

Today we'd like to share María's thoughts on her studies in medicine. This was originally posted to Engineering World Health's blog.

María graduated from high school & Starfish in March 2014 and since then has worked as a teacher (educador) at Starfish’s tutoring program. She is 17 (18 this Saturday!) and just finished her first semester at college! María writes:
En Ecuador siempre se han enfocado en la educación pero muy poco en la salud, por ello hay niños con desnutrición y deficiencia para aprender. Esto me inspiró aún más a seguir medicina y sobre todo especializarme en Pediatría. Al seguir esta carrera jamas pensé afrontar la obsesión por la perfección de mis compañeros, la desigualdad de genero y sobretodo la imposición de los hombres. Mi consejo es que seguir medicina puede no ser fácil , si bien es cierto es una carrera de resistencia y sacrificios. Pero todo esto a la larga sera recompensado con la mayor riqueza , que es el sentimiento de haber salvado una vida.
In Ecuador, we have always focused on education but very little on health. For this reason, there are many children with malnutrition and deficiencies. This inspired me even more to study Medicine and specialize in Pediatrics. When I choose this career, I never thought I'd be met with such problems as classmates obsessed with perfection, gender inequality, and most of all, the imposition of men. My advice is that while studying medicine might not be easy, it is a career of endurance and sacrifices. However, this will eventually be rewarded with the greatest wealth, which is the feeling of having saved a life.