By Noriella Santos, edited by Jim Luce.
New York, N.Y. “I want to be a lawyer. I want to give a voice to my brothers and sisters here at the orphanage who have no voice. I love them all.” Said an abandoned girl living in an orphanage in the Dominican Republic told the team from the Orphaned Starfish Foundation (OSF).
If you are an orphan in Latin America, the Caribbean or Africa, the odds are overwhelming that you will spend your childhood and teenager years living in an institution.
The odds are also overwhelming that when you leave that orphanage or home, within a year, you will become homeless, addicted to drugs, a gang member, a prostitute or any one of a number of horrible outcomes due to lack of education and job training.
The Orphaned Starfish Foundation (OSF), founded in 2001, is dedicated to breaking the cycles of poverty and abuse through education and job training.
The Foundation develops and maintains computer centers in the orphanages or homes where the children live and study, providing education to all the children and skills training in Microsoft Office, the Internet and other skills necessary to find employment when these children have to leave their institution upon reaching eighteen years of age.
The Foundation was started by “recovering” investment banker Andrew Stein who, while specializing in financing large infrastructure projects and high end hotels worldwide, always found time to spend with orphans and at-risk youth in each of the countries he visited for business.
An amateur magician and balloon animal maker, Andy required all country managers for Chase Manhattan Bank, and then West LB, to find an orphanage or home to visit during business trips to pitch bank products. He would entertain the children, help with homework, and just showed that he cared for them.
Eleven years ago, while working in Santiago Chile, the nuns told Andy of the plight of the orphaned girls in Santiago, Chile. “We have a problem,” The girls that turned eighteen had to leave the orphanage. Life on the streets: drugs, prostitution, homelessness, etc., was their likely fate.
“Can we do something to protect these beautiful flowers,” the nuns asked. Andy promised to help. He returned to New York and, within three months, he set up a 501(c) 3 organization, raised money from friends and family, and built the first computer vocational training center for about 35 orphaned girls. Orphaned Starfish was born.
The Foundation’s name is drawn from the American anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural science writer Loren Eiseley’s famous parable about the power of one person to make a difference:
A wise man is walking on the beach. One day he spots a young man at the shore, reaching down and throwing small objects into the ocean. “What are you doing?” the wise man asks. “Throwing starfish into the ocean,” the young man answers.
“Why?” says the wise man. “The tide is going out, if I don’t throw them in, they will die.” “But there are miles and miles of beach, and starfish the whole distance, the wise man says. You can’t possibly make a difference,” says the wise man.
“It makes a difference,” the young man says, bending down to throw another starfish into the water, “for that one.”
The Foundation now has developed and supports twenty programs in ten countries: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Colombia and Ethiopia. The foundation has over 4,200 orphans, disadvantaged and at-risk children through education, job training, scholarships, and internships.
The Foundation is funded primarily through its annual Gala in New York City. This year’s annual gala will be held October 19 at Cipriani Wall Street. They will honor seven children who have excelled in the OSF programs with a four-day trip to N.Y.C. culminating in their giving speeches at the annual gala describing how Orphaned Starfish has changed their lives. The details of the gala and how to support Orphaned Starfish can be found on their website.
The best measure of success of Orphaned Starfish may have come from a recent statement by one of the girls on a recent visit to her orphanage: “When I grow up, I want to be a nurse. I was abused as a small child, as were many of my sisters, and I want to heal them. I know I have to study hard and use your computers, but I love them. There are not enough words to thank you for what you are doing for me and my family.”
The Orphaned Starfish Foundation
527 Third Avenue Suite #204
New York, N.Y. 10016
To attend the October 19, 2012 Annual Gala (and you should!) register on-line or call (347) 909-2137. Kids’ lives can be changed.