La Alianza, Guatemala
The girls of La Alianza are a true inspiration and true examples of resilience, love and hope. All of these girls have suffered varying degrees of abuse in their lives, some incredibly severe, many have been trafficked and several have babies as a result of that abuse (some as young as twelve). When we first visited La Alianza three years ago, their biggest concern was their future. The girls were so excited to have OSF provide a path to support themselves and their families and to finally have access to computers.
Last week’s visit was a culmination of that dream. Before we went to the computer lab, to thank us for what we have given them, the girls performed native songs and one soloist performed Ave Maria as beautiful as you have ever heard.
After much laughter and giggling for our magic show, balloons and singing, they couldn’t wait to take us to the computer room for the “special presentation”. They had prepared a full power-point presentation on all they have learned, all they are learning and all they planned to learn. They went on to tell us all the careers they wanted to pursue now that they are prepared (engineer, doctor, lawyer, soldier, psychiatrist, etc.). They are so excited that they are now going to get more English language training and we are bringing in a Life Skills program for them this year.
Merced Para Crecer, El Salvador
Merced Para Crecer works with children from the most vulnerable and threatened communities surrounding San Salvador. This is by far our most advanced program technologically and one that I would look to bring all that Silicon Valley has to offer to pilot in other programs. They teach not only basic computing and Microsoft Office, but have thriving programs in Robotics, programming, English, the Arts, Mandarin and other disciplines.
We are most proud of the Robotics program. We received three presentations while there: 1) One girl, about thirteen, had written her own basic gaming program based on the geography of El Salvador and was so proud of her program. 2) Ten boys who live on the side of the volcano, living in poverty and danger, showed us their Kinex abilities creating an entire airport as well as a moving ferris wheel. We were told that these boys were the ones who acted up the most, and were most at risk for joining gangs, until finding robotics. Now they are the most well behaved, not risking their chance to go to class.
However, the most impressive presentation was by the “Team Robotica”: a ten year old who suffers from bullying, an eleven year old and a thirteen year old. They only started learning robotics eighteen months. They entered the National Robotics Competition for the country of El Salvador last year against much older teenagers. They were the only team that did not have enough money for uniforms, so they spray-painted matching t-shirts they found at a secondhand shop. Teams were given one hour and thirty minutes to construct a robotic car and program the entire required moves of that constructed car.
Team Robotica finished their programming and construction of their project in twenty-one minutes and spent the rest of the time, while other teams looked on, practicing their presentation of their success. THEY WON and will represent El Salvador in the International Robotics in Costa Rica in November.
Cemetery Children: Last year, we met thirty children who had spent their entire lives living in the Cemetery in Las Colinas (literally one wall of their shanty homes is one of the crypts), about half an hour from our program. They begged to be included in the training program and we agreed to fund a bus to take them to the program for lessons in computing, robotics and English. On this visit, they showed off their skills in all disciplines. We almost lost it when one of the mothers confided that no child has left the cemetery to attend college, but she knows that this entire generation of children will with the gifts we have given them.
Whether victims of abuse, victims of trafficking, living in violence, or even living in a cemetery, the children of Orphaned Starfish continue to show us resilience beyond one’s imagination, hope beyond what should be expected and, most importantly a desire to make a better lives for themselves and their eventual families. To a one, they all are beyond appreciative for the tools and the opportunities that Orphaned Starfish has given them and all vow to “pay it forward’ and give back to their brothers and sisters when they reach their success.