Thursday, February 25, 2016

Breaking Bread with Aldefa, a guest post by Annalise Deal

Today we feature a reflection post by Annalise Deal, a sophomore at Boston College studying Theology and English, whose passion for learning Spanish and discovering Latin American culture inspired her to participate in Boston College's Arrupe program. Thank you, Annalise, for your sharing your experience with us! 

Breaking Bread with Aldefa 
By Annalise Deal

This month, I was fortunate enough to be one of the 150 Boston College students who travelled to Latin America through the Arrupe International Immersion Program. My group of fifteen and I travelled to Puebla, Mexico to participate in a week of service and various immersive activities. We met a lot of people and gathered countless impactful stories along the way, but the story that has stuck with me the most was that of my host mother, Adelfa. For two nights, myself and two other girls stayed with her in her home in the village of Tecuanipan, outside of Puebla city. This is her story. 

Born into a family of nine children Adelfa and many of her siblings have struggled with chronic heart failure since they were young. Due to a lack of affordable health care, they have been unable to receive formal treatment. So despite an effort to change their diets, at age 50, she has already lost three of her siblings, and one is currently not doing well. Also due to their poverty growing up, she never finished elementary school because her parents could not afford uniforms or transportation to get her there. She recently finished elementary and middle school at the adult night school in Tecuanipan center. This year, she took a painting class there, and next semester she plans to take basket weaving. 

She and her husband Aceuencio have two sons: Edgar and Ivan. Before having Ivan, they lost their first baby, likely because of inadequate neonatal care. Their second son, Ivan, was born with multiple brain tumors, which were removed right after he was born. However, as Adelfa said, “su cabeza no funciona” (“his head doesn’t work”) so he was never able to go to school. Now he has a job in Cholula and seems to be doing alright. Their third son, Edgar, migrated to the U.S. six years ago, when he was only 20. He currently lives in Brooklyn and works as a line cook. Adelfa hasn’t seen him since he left, and when I asked if she has ever considered visiting him she clapped and said “que deportarme así!” (“they would deport me just like that!”) She then tried to convince one of us to move to Brooklyn to find her son and marry him, so that she could have grandchildren and a daughter-in-law who would be willing to move back to Mexico. 

Now, Adelfa lives a quiet life with her husband, son, and nephew, in a simple house with a dirt courtyard and a detached kitchen. The have a mule, a horse, countless bunnies and chickens, four adorable dogs, two cats and some doves. Despite all of the tragedy they have gone through as a family Adelfa clings to her Christian faith. Every time we tried to say “gracias,” she would respond, “No, gracias a Dios” (thanks to God). She prays often, loves her bible, and is guided in everything she does by the promise of eternal life which she believes awaits her. Her strength and resilience to come through such a troubled life, and still be so full of joy and constantly cracking jokes was remarkable. 

Before we left, our head coordinator Margaret often reminded us of the word “acompañarse” which means to accompany; it is the essence of solidarity. That word is made up of the Spanish words “con pan” or, “with bread,” which comes from the story of the Last Supper. Jesus, in his life and ministry, often showed the power of sharing bread, and this trip really brought that idea to life for me. It is one thing to know what poverty is, or have an intellectual understanding of the immigration crisis. It is a different thing entirely to sit at a small plastic table late at night, laughing together, drinking warm milk and eating fresh, bright pink pan dulce. 

I will carry Adelfa’s story with me as I move forward in my college career and beyond, attempting to make some difference in the world. I will remember how she broke bread with us, and in doing so, formed an emotional and spiritual bond that transcends geographic distance. Although our week in Tecuanipan did not reverse the seemingly insurmountable problems the people there face, sharing meals with them reminded us of the value and power of community, which knows no borders.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Spotlight on a scholar: Itaty

Meet Itaty Morocho, a bright, talented 14 year old Starfish scholar whose determination and hard work has enabled her to reach for, and achieve, her goals.

The oldest of 5, Itaty serves as a motivated, positive role model for her younger siblings. Itaty and her mother are very involved in our community, always willing to devote their time and energy into Starfish, thus entering into the cycle of receiving and giving that we try to cultivate here at Starfish. Itaty is an inspiration to her classmates, her family, and the entire Starfish community! A few months ago, she and Luiggi were nominated to go through a competitive selection process to be on the city-wide student council in Guayaquil (as we elaborated on in a previous blog post: Guayaquil Student Council! ).

And as of recent news, Itaty has been nominated for a prestigious English scholarship! The road to winning the scholarship is long and intense, and Itaty has had to prepare for several interviews and presentations. 70 students from the Guayaquil's school system were chosen to enter into the scholarship contest, and 30 of those original 70 actually receive the scholarship (becado). For the first stage of the scholarship process, Itaty prepared a papelografo, a large poster board, and she also participated in group activities in which all the candidates' skills were evaluated and critiqued. The next phase is a house visit, in which the scholarship committee went to the candidates' homes and conducted an informal interview. A formal interview is the last step in the determination of who receives the scholarships. Best of luck, Itaty!

Update as of February 21, 2016: 
Itaty got the scholarship!!!

She will get to study English for three years free of cost at an excellent school sponsored by the U.S. consulate. At the end of the three years she will take an exam that will prove her proficiency in English. March 7, 2016 is her first day of class! Congratulations, Itaty- we are so proud of you.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Updates from Guasmo and Flor

We've been busy here at Starfish over the past few months, including celebrations for Navidad, vacacionales, community service projects (Melanie P's project was featured on our blog a few weeks ago!), and now our high school seniors are preparing for their graduation, which is only a month away!

Vacacionales - Due to schools altering their schedules because of the weather brought by El Niño, we have altered our format and structure of vacacionales. On Monday and Wednesday of our vacacionales, we implemented academic reinforcement (tutoring, study sessions) and on Tuesdays and Thursdays we introduced clubs! Our choices for clubs include: Manualiadades (Crafts), Dance, Community Service, Sports & Theater.

Our scholars enjoy their new Sports club on Tuesday's and Thursday's (we all know how much they love to play with la pelota, so our Sports club has gained quite the popularity).

As part of our Community Service club, our scholars brainstormed and together, created this definition for community service:
  • helping others 
  • uniting as one so we can achieve something greater 
  • collaborating with one another 
  • working as a team 
  • everyone striving for one common goal, or objective 
After creating our definition of community service, our scholars chose projects based on the needs in the community.  Throughout the month, they are completing their projects, with results to be presented at our open house during the last week of February!

Our scholars discuss with each other their plans for their community service project. 

Community Service club participant Juliana delivers her "Random Act of Kindness" to Starfish volunteer Cristhian.

Our students prepare for their debate, working on skills such as logic, problem solving, and communication, as part of their after school activities!

In addition to our new extracurricular options, long-term Starfish volunteer and Program Advisor Sanchia along with a co-worker are offering high-quality English classes at Starfish- one class to our Educadores and one class to our top 10 scholarship students - equivalent to what they would get at the prestigious school where Sanchia teaches. Classes are being offered at Starfish for free!

And for some exciting news: Felicidades - Congratulations - to Starfish Scholar Angie! As part of the city's "Jóvenes Ejemplares" program, the top students at each high school are rewarded. The third level of prizes is a bus pass, while Angie reached the second level - a brand new laptop! Congratulations on your success and we are extremely proud of all your hard work, Angie.

Angie with her new laptop!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Cafe Justo: a small coffee cooperative seeking global change

Through a Boston College program called Arrupe, I went on an immersion trip to Chiapas, Mexico, over Christmas break, a trip filled with intense learning and discovery. Our short week in Mexico gave us a window into a vibrant, beautiful culture, rich in history and tradition. We also learned of the many, many injustices pertaining to immigration, politics, and foreign relations. Our Arrupe group paired with Borderlinks, an organization that promotes awareness and seeks to educate others about the realities of immigration. We had the blessing and honor to hear from the residents of Chiapas- we were welcomed with abrazos abiertos (open arms), and we are grateful to have been touched, pierced, and inspired by the people we met through honest conversation.

We spent the last few days of our trip in a small town called Salvador Urbina, a pueblo known for its coffee cooperative, Café Justo, which seeks to address the economic push factors of immigration by providing fair wages to its laborers. This cooperative eliminates the many "middle men" that play a role in the coffee production. This therefor reduces any unfair wages or scamming, as the profits from the coffee go directly to the workers. The business is entirely owned by the growers in Salvador Urbina, and the coffee is exported to the United States, and even European countries, as our host families proudly informed us. 

Café Justo, though seemingly a small cooperative, is, in reality, an essential agent in attacking the root causes of immigration by asking the fundamental question: Why are people willing to leave their home countries, risk their lives, and leave behind their families and communities? The most prevalent answers are: political turmoil, which creates instability and life threatening situations (such as the current state of El Salvador), and economic instability, which creates and perpetuates unfair wages, thus creating an absolute need to leave to find work. Child labor, drug trafficking, human trafficking, assault, and lack of education are sadly only a few of the complicated issues that stem from mass immigration- from people forced to leave their homes because their communities, once safe havens, have become unlivable. In Salvador Urbina, Café Justo is challenging this economic instability by providing income for  42 + families, and by inspiring the youth to stay in school: it gives them hope that they, too, will be able to work for fair pay and provide for their families some day, and be able to take pride in working in their own community. 

A long-time employee and "associate" of Cafe Justo hauls a bag of coffee beans. 

Genaro plants coffee!