Updates

Tutors lead fun learning activities at the Mission Home: Pick Up Straw Game

The children at the Mission Home are well into the school year and, thanks to our tutors, are continuing to actively participate and advance through virtual learning. As we have shared before, we are so grateful for all our tutors do at the Mission Home! Our tutors provide incredible support to the children during school hours, lead small groups of children through their virtual classes, teach supplemental lessons to ensure adequate understanding, provide homework help, and specifically work with children with educational deficits to ensure they can enroll in the Mission School. One of the things you may not know is that outside of school hours, our tutors lead developmentally appropriate, educational activities and games for the children. This not only increases playful learning hours at the Mission Home, but also gives the missionary sisters a little bit more time to finish the thousands of tasks on their to-do list before the children return to their care. 

Children at the Mission Home race to collect the most bottle caps using a straw in the Pick Up Straw Game.

Recently, one of our tutors led the children in a fun pick up game with straws. It was simple yet provided endless entertainment and competition. In addition, the game is great for building oral motor skills in young learners (though all school-age children enjoy it!). Here are the step by step instructions for how you can recreate the game at home: 

The children must use their straws to carry the plastic bottle caps back to their designated cups.

Pick up Game with Straws

Supplies needed: Plastic bottle caps of various colors*, straws, cups 

Steps: 

  1. Line up all the bottle caps, on one side of the room. Line up the number of cups to correspond with the number of players on the opposite side of the room from the bottle caps. 
  2. Give each child participating a straw.
  3. Have the children run from their cup to the bottle caps. Using their straws, the children must carry a bottle cap back to their cup.
  4. The child to collect the most bottle caps at the end of the designated playing time wins. 

If your child is playing solo with a straw and bottle caps, some fun alternatives to the competition could be to:

  1. Write a letter of the alphabet on each bottle cap and pick them up in alphabetical order
  2. Write a number on each bottle cap and pick them up in chronological order
  3. Write each letter of the child’s name on a bottle cap and pick them up in correct order to spell their name 

*We use bottle caps in Ecuador because it is easy to find them in the recycling, but colorful pieces of paper also work great!

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A Survey of Local Youth

A few months ago, we co-created a survey to explore the opinions and views of young local Ecuadorians. The survey covered subjects such as urban planning, education, technology and digital trends, and the current economic situation. Over 200 young people participated, with the large majority being between the ages of 15-18 years old. It was the first time we undertook this type of project. The purpose was to test the survey structure for future information gathering, and also to better understand the opinions of the young people our programs impact. We conducted the survey in partnership with Fondation Botnar, a Swiss philanthropic organization focused on improving the lives of young people globally. 

More than 90% of respondents were interested in participating in an organized activity outside of school.

The results of the survey were interesting and useful for future program development. Some findings were not surprising, for example, most young people thought they would live in the same city in the next 5 years.  Other findings confirmed some of our assumptions. For example, many thought that training in English language, technology, and practical skills were lacking in their current education. And over 80% responded that having technology skills would be very important to their future. And some findings were quite surprising. Despite most of the respondents sharing that their parents completed only primary or secondary schooling, over 90% thought it was possible to obtain a university degree. 

Word cloud created by Patrick Fisher, representative of Fondation Botnar, based on write-in survey responses. Word clouds (also known as text clouds or tag clouds) work in a simple way: the more a specific word appears in a source of textual data (such as written survey responses), the bigger and bolder it appears in the word cloud.

Though there were clear limits to the survey, most significantly that it was administered via Google Docs thereby limiting the pool of respondents to those that had internet access, we were encouraged by the results. The respondents were hopeful about their future and their possibilities for education and economic advancement. Many of the areas that the respondents perceived to be missing in their current curriculum are focus areas for our Mission programs at the Mission School and in our University Program. In particular, we hope to offer more students scholarships to university, to improve English language learning, and to begin a technology program. As we shared in a recent blog post, our English language project is well under way! And finally, given the positive response to the survey method, we feel that this can be an ongoing part of our planning process for program development and assessment. 

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You’re invited to our NJ Fall Fundraiser!

Click here for tickets!

Please join us for an incredible evening of fun in support of an even better cause.

After being unable to gather in person last year, we are excited to host an event in New Jersey this September. Invite a friend, enjoy an open bar, fill up on delicious food, and see how we are changing lives of children through our programs.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 23rd @ 6:30PM
(Open Bar 6:30 – 10:30PM)
The Primavera Regency, 1080 Valley Rd, Stirling, NJ 07980
Ticket: $100

Help support our event and receive other benefits by signing up for a sponsorship!

Get tickets, commit to a sponsorship, and learn more by clicking here!

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Great news from our English department!

Even though the students continue with virtual learning, we have taken advantage of this time to work with the teachers and have started a program to improve English language learning. Although all schools in Ecuador are required to teach English at every grade level, Ecuador ranks ninety third out of one hundred countries for English proficiency*. Speaking English will help our students if they want to work in tourism (where most people work in our area) or if they go on to College. In fact, research indicates that individuals from developing countries have a 25% increased earning power if they speak English**.

Mission Santa Maria has partnered with Vicky Aitken, a CELTA Trainer (a highly regarded, internationally recognized, qualification for teaching English as a foreign language). Originally from the United Kingdom, Vicky has been living in South America training ESL (English as a second language) teachers for over 10 years. She now lives just a few miles from the Mission School and has been a wonderful asset.

Vicky leads the 5 English teachers in a continuing professional development workshop at the Mission school.

Two months ago we hosted our first English Teacher Training Workshop. Vicky led the 5 English teachers at the Mission School in a professional development day, covering topics such as how to use songs and chants in the classroom, developing reading skills, and pronunciation awareness. There are generally no opportunities for continuing professional development for teachers in Ecuador, so it was an extremely rare and fruitful experience for our staff. Since then, Vicky has observed each English teacher during one of their virtual classes, and has provided one-to-one feedback reviewing their strengths as well as specific techniques or suggestions to improve English acquisition for students. This week, Vicky is leading another full day of workshops for the teachers. We have received extremely positive feedback from the English teachers, as well as from the students as they have noticed the positive change in their lessons as their teachers have been working with Vicky.

The teachers play a game to identify reading skills written on the dry-erase board to start off a workshop on reading planning.

Our focus to improve the English department at the Mission School is directly related to our overall mission to help impoverished, abused, and neglected Ecuadorian children receive high quality education with the goal of lifting them out of poverty through dignified, sustainable incomes.

We plan to expand our enhancements to the English department when the kids return to school in person. We hope to add to our English program by creating an after school program and finding volunteers to come teach in our school. Our goal is to continue improving the overall English education, which is a multi-year project, but one we believe will greatly help our students once they graduate.

Sara, an English teacher at the Mission School, prepares to teach her virtual class from her home.

*(2020). EF english proficiency index. Retrieved from https://www.ef.com/assetscdn/WIBIwq6RdJvcD9bc8RMd/legacy/__/~/media/centralefcom/epi/downloads/full-reports/v10/ef-epi-2020-english.pdf
**(2011). Research backs English as key to development. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2011/jul/05/research-backs-english-language-delotbiniere

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Missionary Spotlight: Tía Betty

Betty has been a missionary sister for 27 years. She spent her first few years serving in parishes before joining the Mission Home. She has dedicated her life to taking care of children for the past 25 years. Most recently, Betty has been in charge of a group of little girls, ages 2 to 12. She is known for her gentle care and astute wisdom. Recently one of the littlest girls under her care did not want to go to school or complete any of her school work. From years of experience working with traumatized youth, Betty recognized the behavior as a result of broken family ties and fragmented identity. She made a schedule with the little girl to spend specific time with her brother every day. Betty herself spent time every morning with her to talk about what she was excited for that day and to review her homework before going to school. In this purposeful but soft manner she has been able to reconnect the little girl to learning. 

Small but mighty! Betty with one of the little girls that has been at the Mission Home since she was 18 months old.

In addition to her labor of love caring for a group of little girls, Betty is also in charge of the Mission Home kitchen. She wakes at 4am each day to open and start preparing breakfast for the 100+ children, missionary sisters and volunteers that eat at the home. She then returns to her group of little girls before the school day begins to prepare them for the day. By 8am she is back in the kitchen preparing lunch. She spends the afternoon back and forth between the kitchen and her little girls, making sure that once they have returned from school they complete all their schoolwork, have time to play, and are showered before bed. After all her little ones are asleep, she ends the day back in the kitchen ensuring that everything is clean and ready for the next day, often not going to sleep until 11pm or 12 midnight. She is assiduous in every meal she prepares, and has brought the quality of the food to that of restaurant standard. Over the past few years, there have been times when money was short due to delayed government payments. Betty always managed to find creative and nutritious ways to feed the home, at one point making bread every single morning to ensure breakfast for the next day. On top of that, the bread she baked was often crafted into adorable child-friendly shapes and concoctions…snail shaped cinnamon rolls, flower shaped rolls with jelly centers, to name a few. 

Betty’s perseverance and love is epitomized in her dedication to her Catholic faith. She is committed to cultivating her spiritual well being and often speaks about how her life and work would be impossible without the support and calling from the Lord. Her schedule may seem daunting to just about anyone else, but to Betty it is her life mission and her absolute joy. She inspires us to care for every child and person in a more loving way, and to take on all of life’s daily tasks and responsibilities with patience, love, and commitment. We are so grateful for her life! 

In addition to all the care she shows to her group of little girls, Betty somehow finds time to love Regan as well!

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Back to School!

We are one month into the new school year in Ecuador. Here is what has been happening at the Mission:

We have over 250 students in our scholarship program at the Mission School this year. These families cannot afford the $25/month tuition to send their children to school. For the first time ever, we were also able to provide school supplies and books to ALL of our students in our scholarship program. We purchased, packed, and delivered the school supplies and books over the last several weeks. You can read more about the school supply distribution process in our last blog post.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, students returned to virtual learning this school year. Those that have internet access connect to classes throughout the day and complete their homework and testing using an online portal. Students without internet access are given weekly packets to guide their learning. The vice principal at the Mission School shared that many more students are able to connect to their virtual classes this year compared to last.

A few of our scholarship recipients in their home ‘classroom’. These siblings share the laptop to connect to their virtual classes at different times throughout the day.

The children at the Mission Home are in a far better situation than most, both with access to the internet, as well as access to the tutors we hired. The children are divided by age and grade level into groups of 5-12 students and spend all morning with their tutors. They connect to their virtual classes and receive supplemental lessons, as well as homework help and test preparation.

Our 10 university students are doing well! They continue to receive classes virtually but have all advanced on schedule so are that much closer to receiving their degrees. We also have 12 students in a preparation course for university. The course is helping them get ready for an entrance exam that they will take in August. If they receive scores high enough they will be able to enter a government sponsored university in the fall.

We hope the children return to in-person instruction at the Mission School soon! Vaccinations are under way and most of the teaching staff at the school has had the chance to be vaccinated already. Despite the many challenges of virtual learning, we are proud of our students, as well as the staff at the Mission School, for their perseverance and commitment to education. And most of all, we are grateful to all of you for supporting them!

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Starting the school year off right! Distributing supplies and books

As every parent and teacher knows, going back to school requires a lot of supplies! Historically, we have provided all of the necessary school supplies and school books to the children at the Mission Home, as well as to some of the most resource limited students in our scholarship program. We have always wanted to expand the program to include all of our students on scholarship, and this year we are happy to share that we were able to do so!

We spent the last two weeks preparing the supplies, and it sure was a process! It started with a 20 hour trip to Guayaquil, the large city that is 3 hours away from the Mission School. We were able to buy bulk quantities of school supplies at reduced prices. We then spent a morning dividing the school supplies into individual bags for each recipient. 

The last step was getting the supplies and the school books to the students. It would have been simpler to have the students pick up their supplies and books from the Mission School. Unfortunately, many of our students cannot afford the cost of transportation when they do not otherwise have to be at the school because of virtual learning. As a result, we had the privilege of delivering supplies and books to some of our most remote students. 

It was quite a process preparing our 250 scholarship students for the beginning of the school year. But they now have the books and supplies necessary for another year of learning! As we made the deliveries, many of the families shared their deep gratitude for helping their children start the school year off well. We pass this gratitude to all of you! 

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Thank you for helping us reach our goal!

Thanks to the generosity of so many of you, we reached our goal and raised $100,000 over the past 6 weeks in our Education Changes Everything Campaign! THANK YOU!

We will be using this money for scholarships for children from poor families, school supplies and books, and new school equipment. As the new school year starts in Ecuador, these children will be better educated because of your support.

Since we cannot thank you in person, we made this short video to share our gratitude.

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Jenny graduates as an Occupational Therapist!

We are so excited to share this video from Jenny in our final week of our Education Changes Everything Campaign.

There are 5 days left to help students like Jenny. All new or increased monthly donations will be matched for the next one year. We are so grateful for your generosity!

As you can see in this video, a university degree opens doors and permanently changes a young Ecuadorian’s life. Despite graduating in the midst of a global pandemic when job opportunities are scarce, Jenny will soon start working and earning 3 times the average salary in Ecuador. We are so proud of her accomplishments, and eternally grateful for all of the support from our donors that made this opportunity a reality for her.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

 

Moms, thank you for all you do for us and for the world!

 

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