Thursday, July 30, 2015

Volunteer Reflections: Sarah

Greetings, Starfish supporters! This summer we are especially excited to share the reflections of our current cohort of Starfish interns, who are supporting us in our social media and fundraising projects. Today's post comes from Sarah, who is a member of our Summer 2015 Social Media Team. She writes our Motivational Monday posts! 

“Service” is one of the most meaningful words to a volunteer. When I hear that word, I immediately think of the incredible experience I’ve had volunteering, especially for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Buddy Poppy Drive. This year I stood outside Walmart,  greeting and encouraging customers to donate in support of our troops. This project hits close to home, as my Sergeant Major father is a Vietnam, Gulf War, War on Terror, and Army Reserves Veteran of 42 years. I love not only having the opportunity to fundraise to help soldiers I’ve never met, but I also have the chance to instantly connect with strangers and make them smile. I want to offer my service because I’m so inspired to give back to the men and women who so willingly sacrifice for my freedom.

The moment you dedicate your life to service is the moment you realize how much the world needs your kindness. I’ve always believed that with each special encounter during service projects, you share a part of your heart that can never be regained–that’s the beauty of volunteering. The idea of giving something away, such as your time, skills, or enthusiasm, is the selflessness that service is all about. But what inspires me the most about service is that while you’re giving to others, you’re actually gaining something back—it’s the gratitude from the people you’ve touched with your kindness.

That gratitude is so uplifting, delicate, honest, and pure. Once you’ve shared your heart through service, you feel the desire to share more, learn more, and do more. You become the best version of yourself when you take the time to experience life from the perspectives of the people you’re helping. By simply making the decision to offer your kindness to others through service, you are reaching people’s souls and reminding them that good really does exists.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Volunteer Relections: Saumya

Greetings, Starfish supporters! This summer we are especially excited to share the reflections of our current cohort of Starfish interns, who are supporting us in our social media and fundraising projects. Today's post comes from Saumya, who is a member of our Summer 2015 Social Media Team. She manages our brand new Tumblr!

I never thought that I would love the field of education as much as I do today. Education for me used to just mean getting up early in the morning and going to school. When I started my first year of college at the George Washington University, my eyes were opened through different tutoring and mentoring programs that I worked with. Education is the one of the rare things in this world that won’t be exhausted no matter how much you use it. Usually, the more of something you give to others, the less of it you have. But such is not the case with education. The more of it you give to other people, the more knowledge other people have to give to others. If you have a torch of knowledge, you can light up that torch for others, and they can light it for more people, and so on. That is the beauty of education. 

I certainly believe in investing in the power of education. When you help someone get access to good education, you help them help themselves. Education gives you the tools and knowledge to step up from your past, and build a better future for yourself. These thoughts exactly have been my motivation to work on education for others. We’re always talking about how there are many problems in the world, and we’re looking for leaders to solve them. Giving someone access to education means that that person can go on and use their knowledge to change the world for the better, and maybe even inspire others to make the world a place for the better. There is a saying that says, if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man how to fish, you feed him for life. So why should we invest in education? Well, if we want the better world that we seek, and if we want better standards of living for others that we seek, then we must seek a way to give people proper access to a good education. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Volunteer Reflections: Zainab

Greetings, Starfish supporters! This summer we are especially excited to share the reflections of our current cohort of Starfish interns, who are supporting us in our social media and fundraising projects. Today's post comes from Zainab, who has volunteered with our Social Media Team since December 2014.

May 2014. My life changed. I attended the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership conference (HOBY) where I was taught the necessary skills to be a successful leader individually, in a group setting, and in society. At this outstanding conference I met Beth Awalt. She introduced the group of over 200 eager sophomores about her non-profit, the Starfish Foundation. 

The magic of HOBY!

I have always enjoyed learning about different non-profits and how I could be involved with organizations that help with education, poverty, civil rights and the environment. I was an active volunteer for the non-profit Enabling Minds, which shares similar goals as Starfish in education children in underdeveloped countries. 

Beth shared her story filled with passion and excitement. A few months after HOBY, fall of 2014, Beth asked HOBY alumni if they wanted to join her team and help promote The Starfish Foundation via social media. I jumped at this opportunity. I loved being able to see the pictures of the students in Ecuador, reading about them on the website, and telling everyone about the amazing work that the Starfish Foundation is doing. 

I hope one day to visit these students whose pictures I've seen and stories I've read. Thank you Starfish for giving these children a chance to grow and become successful through continuing education. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to see their smiling faces and hope that one day in the future I can make a similar impact on the future.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Volunteer Reflections: Laura

Greetings, Starfish supporters! This summer we are especially excited to share the reflections of our current cohort of Starfish interns, who are supporting us in our social media and fundraising projects. Today's post comes from Laura, who has volunteered with our Social Media Team since December 2014.

In the 8th grade, I visited Ecuador, having taken two years of Spanish classes, and I was so timid that I  never spoke a word of Spanish. Many of my friends ordered food in Spanish from the restaurants we visited or at least thanked our tour guide with a poorly accented but enthusiastic “muchas gracias.”  I flat-out refused. For me, language was a thing you studied in class to get a good grade, not a rich, varied aspect of a vibrant culture. I can’t say I’ve grown a lot wiser since my trip, but I can say with certainty what I’ve learned-what you study in school doesn’t end with a grade.

As a general rule, I don’t believe in turning points or epiphanies when it comes to life lessons. There wasn’t an education deity that suddenly whispered in my ear and opened my eyes to the truth. However, my journey was most definitely aided by my recent internship at the Starfish Foundation.

Within the first few weeks of working with the foundation as a Social Media Intern, I began to notice instances of Starfish Scholars and their keen appreciation for learning. For my posts, I read quotes and thoughts from students, some the same age as myself, and took note of their clear and ambitious dreams. Maybe in Guayaquil, where a good education is not guaranteed for every child, students are more aware of how significant an education really is. Starfish Scholars do well in school, to be sure, but their motivation is more than a desire for good grades. They want to learn new things for the sake of learning; they want to do new things with the education they receive.

The people who apply their education to real life are the ones who make a change in the world. We’re lucky to be living in an era of social change, where the injustices of the modern world are being brought to light and resolved. Just as important, however, are the changes that occur on a personal and community level. These are the changes of the Starfish Foundation and its participants. It has truly been an honor to learn and write about these exceptional students on a weekly basis.

I hope to visit the Starfish Foundation in a year, after I finish high school. Ecuador is too bright and resilient a country to pass over, and I can’t wait to witness it to the fullest extent. And you can bet that when I visit, I’ll be ready to speak in Spanish.  ¡Ya estoy preparada! --Laura

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Ecuanomics ~ a Volunteer Perspective


Bananas, prawns, cocoa, oil, and coffee - that's what the Ecuadorian economy is made of, according to the statistics. Take any bus from Guayaquil to the sierra and you can't miss the acres of leafy green banana plantations, the hectares of skeletal cocoa plants left barren after the May harvest.

But there's one additional factor to add to the list, something that you'll never read about in The Economist or Forbes or Bloomberg BusinessWeek; one very simple principle that keeps the world turning here in Flor de Bastión and weaves its way through the very fabric of the national economy.

It starts with the education system. Imagine you govern a developing country with limited financial resources and a significant poverty level. One of your many responsibilities is providing free primary and secondary education, but here's the problem: there are five million schoolchildren in your country and only enough schools for half of them. What do you do?

You divide up the school day, of course. Half the kids in the country go to school in the morning from 7am until noon; the other half use those very same schools in the afternoons from 1pm until 6pm. Every building, every desk, every single facility is shared in order to open up access to education and further social equity.

Don't have the resources you think you need to survive? Doesn't matter, you can still manage. Just share the resources you do have: that's Ecuanomics.

The same idea applies to the local economy here in Flor de Bastión, a fairly young invasion community in which every resident is living dangerously close to, if not well below, the poverty line. Not everyone has all the money they need to buy the ingredients for groceries or toiletries or household items every day, so the existing money in the community is borrowed and lent in a complex system of partial payments and zero-percent interest.

Pay me half today, I'll manage for tomorrow, and next week when I need to buy school supplies I'll come to pick up the other $5 you owe me: that's Ecuanomics.

But these unspoken agreements extend far beyond mere financial agreements between vendors and clients; they also include time and service. A local church group, made up of people who are themselves heavily economically disadvantaged, make regular visits to local people even more in need. The same mothers who have to feed a family of six on $12 a day will take a bunch of bananas, a pound of rice, or a few eggs from their own homes and take them to the houses of the sick or otherwise needy, will sit with them and provide company and conversation, will clean their house or feed their dog or take their kids to school.

However little you have, you’re still in a position to help someone worse off than you: that’s Ecuanomics.

As a Starfish volunteer, I’ve been lucky enough to experience more than my fair share of this generosity. As well as opening their homes and kitchens, Starfish families have offered me a special insight into this fascinating country. They’ve shown me what it means to be Ecuadorian, they’ve taken me in like a long-lost daughter, they've given me the gift of melodic Pacific-Coast Spanish. From an impromptu house invite for fresh ceviche one week, to a complete history of Latin American dance styles (complete with demonstrations) the next, I can honestly say I feel nothing less than privileged to be accepted into this community.

Of course, the golden rule of sharing economies like these is to contribute an amount equal to or greater than what you have received. But as eager as I am to share my passion for teaching, my love for the English language, and my mathematical knowledge, I can’t help the feeling that I’ll never really be able to reciprocate for what has been offered to me.

Giving on this scale is more than just a financial gesture; it has left an indelible mark on me, forever changing the way that I connect with others, challenging me to open myself in a way that I hadn’t thought possible before.

And that, in a nutshell, is the definition of Ecuanomics.

~Sanchia R, Volunteer.  Sanchia returned to Starfish this summer as our Volunteer Coordinator after volunteer for 3 months last fall.  She is a certified English teacher and a seasoned world traveler.  Check out her other blog posts at: