Newburgh Youth Leadership Summit and Enlightenment Expo

Remember those fifteen students who traveled to Quito, Ecuador, last year?  On May 19, they hosted the Newburgh Youth Leadership Summit and Enlightenment Expo, and it was amazing to see all of their efforts and planning pay off!  Who know what’s next for these young change-makers?

A special thank you to Juan-Carlos Piñeiro, whose undying dedication led him to our school every Tuesday morning at an inhuman hour, where he helped our kids prepare for being on stage.  He even emceed the event with Jason and Naisha, and we couldn’t have done this without him.

Huge gratitude to Shawn at Phan Media!  We love connecting with local talent:)

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Eight Days and Counting!

IMG_1718 3We had our final meeting yesterday to prepare for departure, and we are beyond excited!  Our final itinerary, courtesy of Kim White and Into the Wild, includes exploring Angkor Wat and the historic sites of Phnom Penh, three days of service at Little Angels in Siem Riep, and visiting the Apopo Hero Rats and Cambodian Living Arts!

This would not be possible without the support of our sponsors.  We have received donations from so many organizations and individuals, and although some are camera-shy, here is a partial list:

Thank you, everyone!  We will carry your generosity and kindness with us to Cambodia.

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Researching Grassroots work in Cambodia

As we began doing our research into grassroots organizations in Cambodia working to make positive social change, we came across two which we thought were important to share.  We are so excited for this trip and can’t wait to see some of these places first hand.

-Eliana and Juan

The Spitler School Foundation:

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In 2005, a man and woman by the name of Danny and Pam Spitler were just a couple of tourists. Sarin, their tour guide, showed them his home village, Ang Chagn Chass (a small village in Siem Reap). Danny and Pam noticed the lack of water and poor schooling these children were getting and decided to donate $400 to build a fresh water well. From that moment a partnership between Danny, Pam, and Sarin was formed. One well grew into two, and soon after was a rebuilding of the broken down school in the village. Five full years later, they founded and were the head of Spitler School Foundation and were responsible for “responsible for two full educational compounds in that village that provide daily learning, English lessons, computer training, and annual medical services to over 1,000 children every year.” Today the organization has a complete staff of locally trained teachers, and over 650 students from kindergarten through 6th grade. A source of pride for the whole community, it has given the students and their families hope for a bright future.
Cambodia’s Children Fund:

In 2003, Hollywood’s very own Scott Neeson traveled to Cambodia and noticed that thereScreen Shot 2018-03-03 at 9.05.22 AM.png were homeless children living in the “dumps” of Stung Meanchey. The only reason these kids were surviving was because they were picking out of the trash for scraps to eat. After returning home, Neeson couldn’t get the image of those kids out of his mind, so he sold his mansion, his yacht, and left the movie business all behind him. His life was now dedicated to the children he so desperately wanted to help.  Scott Neeson became Executive Director of the Cambodia Children’s Fund. He oversees about 1,800 students and 10,000 people every year. Because of him, he helped whole communities like Steung Meanchey by focusing on education, health care, nutrition and safe shelter.


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Best of the Hudson Valley Gift Basket Raffles

If you are looking for a way to support Newburgh Youth and you LOVE dining, shopping, sightseeing and meandering around either Newburgh or Beacon, we have an amazing opportunity for you to do both!  Our Best of Newburgh and Best of Beacon raffle baskets each have over $300 worth of local gift certificates to ensure that you can have weeks of fun while you try out new places and revisit your favorites.  Tickets are $10 each and 3 for $25.   Students will be selling the tickets at the Beacon Farmer’s Market or you can donate online here and put in the comment which of the two baskets you would like to be entered to win and we will email you to get an address to mail your tickets!  Thanks for your support!

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a short documentary about our time in Ecuador

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A Different Way of Being: Our Visit to Indigenous Village 235

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School Home and Abroad

by Cindy Vaquero and Kevin Rothman

One of the highlights so far has been our work with the children in the after school program at Casa Victoria. On the first day, we were excited and nervous for the local children to arrive. Although we talked amongst ourselves for months and heard from Mamalicia what the typical schedule is for the program, we still did not know exactly what to expect. How many kids would come? How old were they going to be? What do they like to do? These were all questions that lingered for us.

When the students first arrive to Casa Victoria, they have an hour of free time. While IMG_6937many of them choose to play, others use the time to take care of their homework so they can participate in the planned activities for the second and third hour at Casa Victoria. We noticed a few young ladies that came inside and sat at a table in a quiet corner and took out their school work. We overheard them talking about how they did on their reading test and what they had for home work. Hearing this sparked our interest so we decided to join them at the table. When Cindy asked about their test, the girls all wanted to tell her their grades. This helped break the ice and opened the door for us to see more of their school work.

The first thing we noticed was that their home work involved copying worksheets and textbook pages exactly into their notebook – including pictures! img_2423-2.jpg When Cindy asked if this is a typical assignment, they all said that this is the normal routine for their learning. We were shocked to hear this. As a student, this has not been the learning experience for Cindy.  Although there are times when she is asked to answer questions from textbooks and on worksheets as well as copy definitions of words, she has never been asked to copy these items exactly.   Mr. Rothman could only think about how he, as an administrator, works very hard with teachers to move away from rote learning experiences in an effort to involve students in more authentic learning experiences. Both of us wondered what value the teachers of these young ladies thought there was in having them copy things directly into their notebook. We also thought about how students in the United States would react if asked to do this every day. Not very well, we thought.

On the second day, we again decided to help students with their school work during their free time. Cindy helped one of the young ladies, Johanna, study for a science test on circuits. Johanna was trying to read over her notes – keep in mind this is an exact replica


of the textbook. Cindy noticed that she was struggling to memorize the definitions for the test. This was an opportunity for Cindy to introduce flash cards, a tool she often uses to study to help her memorize definitions. Because this was totally new to Johanna, Cindyhad to show her step by step how to make the flashcards (cut from paper) and how to use them as a tool for studying. Johanna really appreciated the help and it really seemed to help her remember the information. The other exciting aspect was the fact that she was learning about circuits. We happened to bring with us, as part of our donation to Casa Victoria, Snap Circuits, which is a hands on way to learn about the same content that was going to be on her test.


We are happy that we were able to see a bit into the school life of the children here in IMG_7021Ecuador. We are also glad that Cindy was able to introduce a new tool for studying and that our donated items will provide authentic learning opportunities for the children at Casa Victoria. It helped us appreciate the school system we have in the United States and especially the learning opportunities at Excelsior Academy. This experience has also left us with a few lingering questions: What does a typical school day look like? Are the teachers strict? What resources are available for learning in school? Is there high school and how is it different from our school? 


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Exploring Quito


JAYSWAN: “Elise was so excited that it was her birthday!!!! To start off the day, all of us gathered in the dining room to surprise her with flowers and a song.”


The ten minute ride up the Teleferico not only offers a beautiful view of Quito, but also gives passengers time to reflect on their experiences as travelers.


Maribel: “After the ride up the Teleferico, we were able to get at least one picture that everyone is in to capture this happy moment.”


Cindy:  “It was a long way to go for us to go up Pinchacha, but some of us decided to go on a horseback ride even though we were exhausted.”

Aidan: “Running up a steep hill at 13,000 feet with friends was hard at first, but got easier as we adjusted to the altitude.”

Aboya: “The sweet taste of victory when we reached our goal of making farther up the mountain than anyone else in our group.”


Colton:  “All my years of hiking, and yet this is the most beautiful view I have ever seen.”


Taina: “Looking out into the city and seeing the beautiful things we were surrounded by made the hike all worth it. Sharing this view with some of my best friends was and will be an unforgettable moment.”


Iggy and Nestor taking horses for a ride at 12,000 feet!

Iggy:  “Even with how insignificant we seem when we are looking down at the city, we still plan to make an impact by sharing individual expertise with each other and the kids at Casa Victoria.  I was thinking about this as we all wrote on top of the mountain.”


Alejandro: “Inka burger reminded me of home and was delicious. The food truck court had all of the choices anyone could want.  There was one truck that had a signature dish from every latin American country.”


Lili: “Four meats in one burger! I’m surprised Colton finished it… and then went back for more wings.”


Elise:  “Here we are looking down admiring Guayasamin’s artwork from above in the Chapel of Man.  We could see a huge circle of red, which represents the suffering of man, specifically the Latin American people.”


Nestor: “Outside of the Guayasamin art museum by the pool, we  sent our love to our friends back home who couldn’t be in Ecuador with us.”


Addison:  “The Virgin of Quito is a landmark that lets people know which direction they are facing wherever they are in the city.”


Gabby: “The beautiful view of Quito from the restaurant that we visited, Pim’s, reminded me of the stars at night.”


Brendin:  “We finally got to see the Virgin of Quito up close, after seeing it in the distance from Casa Victoria, and everywhere else we visited in the city.”


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En Espanol, por favor!


Being outside the United States, especially in a country where people primarily speak a different language, poses many difficulties. Simple situations can easily become a hassle. Buying food, telling a taxi where to go and talking to children, become much more difficult when you don’t speak the same language. However, to make it through day to day life and make sure we’re teaching the kids to the best of our abilities, these obstacles must be overcome.

When walking through the streets of Quito and working with the children of Casa Victoria, we are constantly reminded of the language barrier. All around signs hang, written in Spanish, as children play throughout the street. Street vendors sell their wares shouting them out in Spanish. All of this makes it nearly impossible to interact without some knowledge of the language.


The author, Brendin, teaching snap circuitry

As facilitators we feel it is our responsibility to make sure our students get the most out of each lesson. However, this goal comes with many challenges. There is a unique challenge for the few who grew up in a Hispanic household, hearing Spanish but never learning to fluently speak it themselves. Knowing limited Spanish often puts them in a situation where they can understand what a person is saying but be unable to formulate a proper reply. This is especially frustrating when a student asks for help and the facilitator knows what they want but can’t tell them what to do. A similar frustration also arises when you know the translation for a word but don’t know the word associations or grammar needed to properly use it. This endeavor is magnified for those who know very little to no Spanish. Not only can they not respond to the children, but more often than not, they don’t even understand what a student is saying. Despite this, as a facilitator, communication is vital and this gap must be crossed.

IMG_9473To compensate for a lack of fluent Spanish a few facilitators have made use of a more universal language. This language primarily consists of body language and tone of voice. No matter what part of the world you’re from or what language you speak, some signs mean the same thing to everyone. When someone is angry their posture or tone typically gives it away; the same for when someone’s happy. Through laughter and a common appreciation of music people can bond without ever saying a word. Knowing this, we try to accurately depict our emotions though such messages. That way even when we don’t know what to say the students can still 


understand what we mean. I personally took to simple hand gestures and my basic understanding of Spanish numbers to teach my students how to use the snap circuits. Since all the pieces were labeled, I was able to communicate most of my lesson without a vast understanding of Spanish. Then through smiles and high-fives I was able to cheer on my students as they completed their tasks. Many facilitators have also made an active effort to learn more Spanish, taking opportunities like buying things at a local store to practice what they’ve learned. We are all enjoying pushing ourselves to learn more over the next five days so that we can make the most our of our last day with kids at Casa Victoria.

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Adapting to Communal Living

While some people might not be used to living close to each other, some people are.

Communal living can be hard for those who prefer to be alone. Introverts have a difficult time being around many people for too long. Some even feeling physically drained or sick after awhile. Many need time alone to unwind and process the day’s events. Being used to a lot of alone time might make it uncomfortable to be living with 20 people.

On the other hand, for someone who has a very open and extroverted personality, it’s easy to live in close proximity with people.   Knowing these students for all these years really helps with homesickness. Living with people who you spent 3 years with made it easy to feel at home.  Although obvious challenges in communal living will occur, we have the mindset ready to overcome anything. The family-relationship we all share as a group has strengthened our willingness to interact, allowing us to grow.  One of the definite pros of communal living is the teamwork skills we are all learning.  Living here at Casa Victoria, and having some students help Alicia and Dan with the cooking and cleaning, makes us feel included and helps us with different family values.  All chores in our living space have been done as a team, allowing us to strengthen our communication and leadership skills, preparing us for our student-led impact projects upon our return.

IMG_2238Here we have Nestor doing some cooking for all 21 of us on our first day in Casa Victoria.  He says ” given this great opportunity and everything that comes with it, I wouldn’t be satisfied if I wasn’t able to pitch in.”

We are all grateful to be here and to be able to do everything we can to help Dan and Alicia with their amazing foundation.  We can’t wait for the days to follow with the kids and also to experience more moments with these students while living together.

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