Thursday, June 25, 2015

50 Lessons I learned in Ecuador ~ Volunteer Perspective

Abby volunteered with Starfish for 5 weeks from May-June 2015.  During her time, she kept a list of lessons she learned in Ecuador.  Enjoy!

Abby with host family - Andrés, Milena, Mariana, Michelle & David!

Lessons I've learned in Ecuador:
1) High school Spanish teaches you nothing.
2) Having a chicken run into the house is normal.
3) You yell "A Ver" rather than knocking on someone's door
4) You must have change for the bus.
5) If you visit someone's house, they will almost always give you food and you must always eat it with a smile. 
6) The stray dogs tend to leave people alone.
7) The soap TV shows have terrible acting but they are entertaining.
8) Just when you think you've figured out the bus system, you realize you haven't.
9) If you have blue eyes and hair that is not black you stick out like a sore thumb.
10) Beware of mud: you will lose a shoe.
11) Having a toothless indigenous woman tickle you is hilarious to her but not to you until afterwards.
12) If you don't keep the kids busy they will play pelota (soccer), and even if they are busy they will still want to play pelota
13) The tricimotos are a blast, but also a potential death trap depending on the driver.
14) Pizza here is not the same as in the U.S. unless you go to Pizza Hut and order the "American."
15) Wearing white clothes is not an option for volunteers, and yet all the children manage to keep their white school uniforms clean.
16) Cold showers are actually wonderful with the heat here.
17) Having a mosquito net at night is your saving grace from the mosquitos.
18) The mosquitos are relentless even with mosquito repellent.
19) Roosters crow all night, not just when they are supposed to at sunrise.
20) The families here who have nothing are the first to help anyone in need.
21) All directions are given with landmarks not street names.
22) Seco de Pollo is served at least once a week.
23) Panama hats are actually made and originated in Ecuador.
24) Twilight is still just as bad in Spanish as it is in English.
25) All the kids can draw amazingly well.
26) The garbage trucks play music that sounds like ice cream trucks except they don't serve delicious frozen goods - they reek and have everyone's trash in them. 
27) The game Monopoly is expensive here.
28) Hammocks are incredibly comfortable.
29) If you fall through the floor it's okay and they can fix it. 
30) When the garbage truck comes every single person runs to get their garbage and take it to the truck before it leaves them stranded with their trash.
31) Sometimes the water will not work randomly but the people still manage.
32) The stray dogs and cats do not eat the stray chickens even though it could be an easy meal.
33) Having one mosquito in your mosquito net when your trying to sleep is the worst situation ever.
34) Even if a really bad car wreck happens the traffic doesn't stop and people will honk if you do stop.
35) People will tell you their life story for 45 minutes on the bus then ask for money.
36) Banks will take a minimum of an hour in line before you make it to the teller.
37) Rice is served with everything, even spaghetti.
38) When anything hits the aluminum roof it is ear piercingly loud, especially if it's a chicken or a cat. 
39) Even if you think you have planned things perfectly, Ecuador will still manage to throw a wrench into those plans.
40) Even if it's the first day of whale season on the coast you can still see two whales breach.
41) When the captain of your boat says you need to turn back, don't allow the two deckhands to continue to poke at the engine with a knife for an hour before finally turning around.
42) When you finally have a hot shower at a hostel, it's like the heavens have decided to descend upon you and engulf you.
43) Even if you speak the same language, you still may not understand each other.
44) Music will be played at all hours, even at five am.
45) The TV shows here are sometimes one that got cancelled years ago in the U.S. Such as "Drake and Josh."
46) If you don't love either Barcelona or Emelec, then you don't have a life. 
47) Almost every kid here is good enough at soccer to play on a high school varsity team even if they are only 12.
48) Ecuador time means 5-10 minutes later than the actual time planned.
49) The families here are more welcoming than the families in the U.S.
50) Ecuador always wins at everything. Whether that be making simple plans to purchase a cake or plans in taking an all day tour whale watching, Ecuador will always win.

What was your favorite lesson? What would you like to learn more about?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

My Starfish Story - An Intern Perspective

Karley is a rising high school senior and has been interning with Starfish for almost a year now.  At our dinner in Baltimore this past April, Karley shared her "Starfish Story" with us - and what an inspiring story it is! Hear her story in Karley's own words and get a glimpse into Starfish's U.S. operations below...

"Hi, I am Karley White and I will start off by telling you a little bit about myself. I am a high school junior involved in lots of activities in an out of the school environment including student government, frisbee, coaching soccer and of course The Starfish Foundation.  

My Starfish story began with being fortunate enough to meet Beth through Hugh O’Brian Maryland Youth Leadership seminar last May, and then again in Chicago at the Hugh O’Brian World Leadership Congress. Both of these seminars were a very bright light in my world, changing a lot of my perspectives as a young adult. When I came home last July all I wanted to do was go out and  change the world; I felt like I needed to give back - do something, make change. Then as I was procrastinating summer assignments on Facebook, I came upon Beth's post in the HOBY Facebook page that the foundation was looking for interns. Immediately I emailed her asking how I could get involved. Her reply asked for a resume and cover letter, both of which I did not have and was googling how to make one look nice. Soon we talked over the phone for an interview. I was so nervous. I told all my family they couldn’t come upstairs or make noise and I was just hoping to perfect it. Well, I guess I introduced myself nicely because not even 10 minutes later Beth so joyfully welcomed me to the team and reviewed my job as a marketing intern. I was absolutely thrilled, I was so happy to be apart of something great and knowing I would be devoting my time to help change the lives of students just like me earning an education. 

The past 8 or so months working with the foundation has been nothing short of inspiring and beautiful. Not only have I learned the true meaning of teamwork and synergy but I have also had so much opportunity to use my own creativity without a rubric guideline to follow. I work on a lot of short term projects, for example making a powerpoint, infographics, creating the Cafepress merchandise website, posting on the social media pages, etc. But it is not just me that works on it, it’s the flow of the collaboration that finalizes it all. We send it back and forth with edits or recommendations and always have deadlines to get it done. Also, the encouragement from everyone is certainly uplifting; there is never an email that goes by that is not concluded with thank yous and gratitude. To me there is no intimidating boss to intern type relationship, it is friend to friend working together for the common goal of making an impact. 

In conclusion, I feel as if I have gained more than I have given to the Starfish community and I have everyone on the team to thank for that. This experience continuously has been the uppermost value to me, it has been remarkable since the beginning. I consider myself lucky to say I am a part of this foundation and to have met and worked with the amazing people along the way. Thank you!"

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Volunteer Reflection: Taken Aback

Jackie traveled to Ecuador this year for a few weeks, and immediately immersed herself in the culture.  Her positive attitude and energy allowed her a special opportunity to get to know many of our students and families.  Today she reflects on a few of these special people in her life!

"Taken aback, I believe, is the most accurate way to describe how I’ve been feeling and how I’ve been processing all the different and beautiful people I have met here.

There are some people we encounter– and we all know who they are, in our own lives– that shine and live so ferociously that, even when we close our eyes, we see the bright outlines cast by their luminescent presence. These people, simply by their existence, encourage us to be better, kinder, gentler, and to live in a bold, brave, and intentional way. These kinds of people leave indelible marks on our spirits and minds. They are colorful and magnificent, radiating with determination, love, and hope. Even in seemingly hopeless and impossible situations, these people rise above the material world and overcome countless obstacles through inner strength- strength of the soul.

I have met such people here, people my own age whom I look up to as role models and hold as friends. Thinking of them and their goals and dedication inspires me to live in a radical and beautiful manera.

Melanie. Now in her final year of high school, she spends three hours total commuting to and from school each day, and on Mondays and Thursdays, she skips lunch so she can attend refuerzo and receive extra help with English and her other studies. She is a devoted student, a talented dancer, a caring daughter, a loving sister, and a loyal friend. She dreams of becoming a flight attendant: of learning languages, attending university, of traveling and seeing the world. And she will.

Joel. Currently a first year student at a top private university in Guayaquil. His high test scores, hard work, and determination led him to win a prestigious scholarship that covers 100% of his tuition. He, like Melanie, has a long commute to and from classes, and afterwards comes home to study and volunteer at Starfish, thus giving back to a foundation that gave him opportunities to grow, succeed, and continue the process of lifelong learning. He studies hard: he studies to maintain his scholarship, to learn about economics and business, and to secure a stable occupation for himself. He wholeheartedly dedicates himself to growing in knowledge to achieve his dreams. And he will.

Maria. Like Joel, she is also a first year university student. And, like Melanie and Joel, she travels several hours each day to attend classes. She studies medicine: biology, chemistry, anatomy. She has a beautiful smile, loves to dance and sing, and she, also, gives back to Starfish and works there as an educadora, providing help that she once received. She is an inspiration to the students at refuerzo, and an inspiration to me. She studies for countless hours, loves her family and friends, and dreams of becoming a pediatrician. And she will.

Melanie, Joel, Maria. They exemplify hard work, passion, creativity, love, and dedication. They constantly overcome obstacles, they leap over the many hurdles that stand in their paths, and they rise above unjust situations. I feel honored and grateful to know them, and I am proud and joyful to call them my friends.

~ We must allow the world to pierce our hearts. For if we are not passionate, sensitive, and courageous, we are nothing ~  "

~Jackie A., Starfish Volunteer.  Read more reflections from Jackie on her blog!