Escola Estrela do Mar (Starfish School)

[The following is an account of the Better World Books trip to Brazil to meet with one of our literacy partners: Worldfund.]

Once a man was walking along a beach. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Off in the distance he could see a person going back and forth between the surf’s edge and the beach. Back and forth this person went. As the man approached he could see that there were hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand as the result of the natural action of the tide.

The man was struck by the apparent futility of the task. There were far too many starfish. Many of them were sure to perish. As he approached, the person continued the task of picking up starfish one by one and throwing them into the surf.

He came up to the person and said, “You must be crazy. There are thousands of miles of beach covered with starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The person looked at the man. He then stooped down and picked up one more starfish and threw it back into the ocean. He turned back to the man and said, “It sure made a difference to that one!”

This is the story that inspired the name for David Leiners’ Starfish School (Escola Estrela do Mar for our Portuguese speaking friends) outside of Maceio Brazil. It also serves as the perfect metaphor for what is happening at this remarkable place. While it would be impossible to help every child in this area, the Starfish School sure is making a difference for every child that walks through the door.

Driving through the slums outside of Maceio you cannot help but be overwhelmed by the sheer poverty surrounding you–shacks stacked on top of one another like Legos on the hillside, grown men sitting on the railroad tracks and drinking beer at 1:00 on a Friday afternoon. We stop at what at first glance appears to be a beautiful and majestic bay, but upon further inspection we see that the water is so polluted that you wouldn’t dare dip a toe into the sewage infested water. As we drive back towards the school you wonder how anyone ever makes it out of such a sad place.

You wonder until you set foot inside the Starfish School. It’s a completely different world inside of these walls.  There are children laughing and playing and an overwhelming sense of hope and joy fills the air, something totally absent from the world outside.

David tells us stories of the children’s lives outside of school. One child’s father had sold every possession in their home to raise money for drugs, another child had recently come to school without a uniform because that was sold as well. After hearing these stories you truly develop an appreciation for what is taking place at this school. Not only is it a place of learning, but it serves as a sanctuary from the harsh realities of the day to day struggles of just living in a community like this one.

Students must meet several criteria to gain acceptance into the school. They must reside in the area and be from a low income family and home visits are made to confirm these factors. For children to gain admittance to the elementary levels an emphasis is placed on adaptability. This means they must be able to join the program without being a distraction or without slowing the progress of the existing students. There is no tuition to attend the school, however they do ask several things of the parents. They must show up at the school every few months and clean for several hours. They also require the parents to sign a contract, stating that they will be strong supporters of their child’s education.  Education cannot be a part time commitment.

Sure, the school is amazing, but why did we visit?  Well, it has been with the aid of our friends at Worldfund that this school has been able to thrive. The school was started in a small shack in 2005 and now resides in a beautiful building, walled in and protected from the crime outside. Starting with 27 students the school now has an enrollment of 90. The curriculum at the Starfish Schools aims to provide a complete education, with an emphasis on health and personal development.  They also serve nothing but nutritious meals at the school. During our visit I enjoyed what was far and away the tastiest and healthiest school lunch I’ve ever had.

In an area where 11,000 school-age children don’t have access to education, it’s inspiring to visit a place like Escola Estrela do Mar. These children are gaining invaluable tools that will hopefully help them break free from the poverty in which they currently reside. In the years to come, with the continued support of Worldfund, the Starfish School will be able to reach out to even more children, and make a difference in even more lives.


  1. Marco Severo says:

    I’ve been buying from for some time now and I’m a very satisfied costumer… and I’m from Brazil and didn’t know that Betterworld helped Brazil, also! That’s AWESOME! Congratulations, people! You guys are TERRIFIC! Keep up the WONDERFUL work!

  2. Margaret Rose says:

    I lived in the state of Alagoas Brazil in the 60’s. As a BetterWorld fan, I’m pleased to see this country represented in literacy efforts! Common folk deserve it! Cheers!

  3. I live in Curitiba, Brazil, and I already knew Better World helped schools here. But I was particularly pleased to see a familiar city name on the website’s home page.
    Congratulations on the initiative! Be sure that you’re certainly making a difference in the world! Each life you change is a giant achievement!

  4. David Leiner says:

    You guys are extremely generous- except with yourselves. Somehow you forgot to mention that you donated beautiful custom bookshelves for our library!

    Beyond this very useful gift, the time and sincere interest you showed to our students left them with a powerful lesson that others care about them and that your act of charity is one to be emulated.

    We cannot appropriately express in words our gratitude for BWB and Worldfund, but know that it is because of your combined help that many of our students have great hope.

    Thank you all very much and please come back soon!

  5. You people are wonderful…I recommend you to everybody! You have had books that I have given up looking for…
    Jams in Oz

  6. Ana Paula living in San Jose, CA says:

    I am so happy that I can buy books from your website, and, at the same time, help peoople from all over the world, including some areas in need in Brazil.
    Congrats on the great initiative, and for your wonderful customer service!!

  7. I’m also Brazilian and I was very proud to see that Better World Books support Brazilian initiatives. When I started buying at BWB I had absolutely no clue that you helped schools “down here” as well. Keep up the GREAT work, guys!

  8. Pedro Soares Lyra says:

    You’re all hearts! Im in love with BWB! ;D

  9. I am a entusiathic better world`s buyer! Can’t believe you guys reached Brazil!
    As a Brazillian, more than ever now, i feel like buying from here! Let’s spread culture troughout the world!

  10. The creator and Evangelist for this company is outstanding! Give him a raise!

  11. I have met David Leiner before. Escola Estrela do Mar is an amazing project directed by someone with a vision. Thank you so much for helping them!

  12. Pingback: Happy Holidays from Better World Books | Better World Books Blog

  13. Mary Ann Bangert says:

    I would like to donate a small amount of money to the Escola Estrela do Mar. My daughter wanted me to give a donation in lieu of a birthday gift.
    Please send me your address and to whom I can make out the check to.
    You’re doing a great job.
    Mary Ann Bangert

  14. Hey Mary Ann,

    That sounds like a sweet gift! You can find their contact info here

    Thanks for the kind words.


  15. Dear Mary Ann,

    tax deductible donations can be sent to:
    Friends of the Starfish School
    950 25th St., NW
    Suite #512-south
    Washington, DC 20037

    Please provide info for thanking your daughter and wish her a very happy birthday from us!

  16. Carolina Dias says:

    I´m a regular costumer here, and I´m from Brazil too, it was really nice to see a familiar name in the main page! I didn´t know BWB had literacy partners here!
    You are doing an amazing work, thank you for the great books and also helping our country with culture!

  17. John Schorsch MD says:

    You have concealed that in-spite of the goodness of the Starfish school is christian sponsored and evangelical..i.e. spreading you beliefs to innocent children who have no choice….propaganda

  18. Kim Asher (Australia) says:

    Does it matter if they are evangelising? I’m not religious myself, but having been to Brazil, religion (Christianity) is EVERYWHERE. eg: statues of the Virgin Mary up on the walls, staring down at check-out workers in supermarkets. The children are hardly going to notice (ie: be annoyed) and the society is unlikely to fall down because a few extra children get religious instruction.

  19. Dear John Schorsch,
    I beleive that you are confusing us with another school.
    I want to assure you that, from the day I began the Starfish School, our school has always been strictly secular. Religion does not enter our curiculum or our school day (except with a non-religious Christmas celebration). We believe that religion-especially as in the extreme, judgemental forms that are common here-is to be determined at home and taught there or in the church. You may write me if you have any further questions
    I have

  20. Thank you David, you are doing a fantastic job! I’m just so sorry that our Brazilian government is not… Congratulations to all involved on this!

  21. Susan Elgar says:

    Almost 20 years ago I lived in Brazil and travelled quite a bit there. At the time I thought that access to education (which was/is not available to so many children)would make such a difference. I dreamt of setting up something like Escola Estrela do Mar and tried unsuccessfully to make enough money myself to do something toward it. I fairly recently came to the conclusion that the best way I can help make a contribution is to become a teacher myself. I am doing a primary (elementary) school teaching degree now and got the betterworld book address from a forum on my uni’s site. I still dream of getting back to Brazil to work with the kids…when I get through the degree I’ll be back!
    Am inspired by the school and the betterbooks goals.

  22. I’m from Brazil as well, and i’ve been to Maceió once, so I’ve seen these poor conditions. You guys certainly are making a difference. Hope I can visit Escola Estrela do Mar one day.

  23. CLAUDIO LOPES says:

    John Schorsch MD – April 28, 2009
    “..i.e. spreading you beliefs to innocent children who have no choice….propaganda
    Hi, Mr. Schorsch.
    Sorry to say it, but, you are dead wrong. I am a Brazilian myself and can say that poor innocent children in Brazil have a lot of choice, for instance: drug addiction, crime, prostituition, violence and so on.
    Thank God, they are being presented to other choice: Jesus Christ’s ethic, what is not a bad ideia. Don’t you think so?
    Claudio Lopes

  24. How can I be a volunteer to help with you?

  25. Raquel
    please contact me at, or call Claudia or I at the school (55) (82) 3314 2752

  26. This article made me happy and sad at the same time. I am so happy to know that you guys support literacy efforts in Brazil! …and yet I am saddened at the poverty in Maceio. Thankyou guys very much for making a difference. 🙂

  27. Stella Cowell says:

    How do I register with I tried and get shunted out each time?

  28. Marcus Lira says:

    @Cláudio Lopes
    “Thank God, they are being presented to other choice: Jesus Christ’s ethic, what is not a bad ideia. Don’t you think so?”

    Not really. This religious debate notwithstanding, David Leiner has already stated that it is a secular school, and kick-ass one at that. Let’s not waste our time debating something that clearly does not belong here.

    Keep up the good work, guys! 🙂

  29. And here all this time I though I was just being selfish about finding an awesome book site. I had no idea about how much they really do. Thanks for just making this world a little bit brighter where ever you can. Whether it be in the eyes of an impoverished child or in those of an older gal who found a book she hadn’t read since she was a child herself.

  30. I am from Brazil and visited Maceio sometimes. The poverty is big and the government is weak. The most of the problems you saw there are due to corruption that, in Alagoas (the State where Maceio is the Capitol), is huge. Unfortunately is like this, but I am really happy that are people like you helping. If there is something that I can do to help you guys, just tell me.
    Thank you.

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  32. Hi i am really in awe of the works you guys are doing to help the less fortunate kids and this is THE BEST book site that i have seen, selling book and helping the less fortunate!

  33. Luana,

    If you would like to help, please contact me and we can find a way. (please write Better World as the subject)
    Thank you!!

  34. I am from Brazil and acts of kindness such as this one do make my heart smile, so thank you for all you do 🙂 Warm regards, Cris

  35. Perhaps there are some kind Soroptimists in Curitiba who might adopt the school as a club service project.

  36. In a world of so many doom and gloom stories to make us all feel jaded and overwhelmed, like there’s nothing we can do, what a breath of fresh air. Thanks *so much* for your inspiring work.

  37. Thierry Waltrich Augusto says:

    I am from Joinville – Santa Catarina, and had no idea that BetterWorldBooks helped Brazil… Corruption is indeed the cause of all the poverty in Brazil. We are not a poor country. We have the money, but it goes to the wrong people. It’s good to see that you guys care about those poor children. Thanks!

  38. Valeria Rezende da Silva says:

    I`m Brazilian and I like to hear about projects like this one in Maceio. There a lot of them around Brazil and they really make a difference. People that can dedicate their lives to the others, believing that education and opportunities can change lives. I`m a volunteer in a school like Estrela do Mar and I know what I`m talking about. It`s not easy to get funds to maintain a school with so many children. Congratulations and thanks to Better World Books.

  39. Magda Maria Fagundes says:

    Contem comigo!

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