By AMANDA LEMCO
Every Tuesday night, increasing numbers of Mary Washington students are filtering into Monroe Hall. They are literally multiplying. He may be difficult to spot through the growing crowds, but Shin Fujiyama is at the center of this movement–the movement for change in Honduras. And he’s got quite a team.
What exactly does Students Helping Honduras do? If you’ve been on campus or visited facebook recently, you may have noticed the letters “SHH” slowly creeping into publicity.
While, at a glance, this presence may seem invasive or tiresome, I encourage you to consider why so many other groups and establishments are willing to support SHH’s goal.
As you may know, last year’s Walkathon on behalf of Copprome, an orphanage in El Progreso, Honduras, prevented the establishment from closing and placing the inhabiting children back on the street.
What you may not have heard about is the ripple effect of our campus’ colossal fundraising effort.
Recently featured in a four-day front-page spread in The Free-Lance Star was a series of articles about our community’s continuing work in Honduras.
In the interest of saving space, I will happily refer you to the newspaper’s Web site, fredericksburg.com, where you can conduct a search with the keywords “Help for Honduras” to read each article and view photos of the trip.
You may be asking yourself what so many hands and so many dollars are doing in Honduras.
While volunteers and much-needed funding still contribute to Copprome, the children have recently become envious of their UMW friends’ time spent at a nearby village in El Progreso called Siete de Abril.
“Village” is a somewhat more glamorous term for “shantytown,” where 75 families, including roughly 250 children, live in deplorable conditions.
Their homes are fashioned mostly from tin, though they may be supported or enhanced by sticks, cardboard, or pieces of tarp.
The size of each home might compare to the average yard-side tool shed. The tin roofs are wearing thin, donning so many holes that families are rained on in their sleep, sitting on chairs or standing in corners to avoid the downpour during Honduras’ current rainy season.
In many instances, kids prefer to sleep on the dirt floor of the house underneath the single water-rotting mattress, if only to prevent a sure case of pneumonia. Needless to say, children who do get sick are not well enough to attend school.
Children who do not get an education, especially in Honduras, have very little hope for a prosperous future.
We, however, have hope. SHH is determined to raise enough funding to build a livable house for each and every family. It is also our goal to bring electricity to the village in the near future, as well as create an alternative to the parasite-infested drinking and bathing water and the unsanitary outhouses that the families currently use.
While we are making significant progress in Honduras and feel optimistic about the potential of our work, it is easy to become discouraged by acknowledging that El Progreso is merely one example of the universally devastating effects of poverty.
There are other orphans, other villages, other individuals in need. Even within our own boundaries are many families who need our help.
Why help Honduras?
Nine years ago, on the seventh of April—the date for which the village Siete de Abril was named–refugees left homeless by Hurricane Mitch began what would become nearly a decade of squatting on mountainous land off a main highway in El Progreso.
Many drive past the village, but none stop to enter, as the area is considered to be marginal and unsafe. The refugees did not receive any form of government aid, nor does the land technically belong to them. SHH is helping the villagers to legally claim the land and build more safe and permanent housing.
Not so long ago, our own country was affected by a natural disaster of similar magnitude. While the value of human life is equal in all parts of the globe, humanitarian outreach is not.
Because Hondurans could not rely on their own government to assist them during this crisis, outsiders are their only hope for relief.
It is for this reason that Siete de Abril appreciatively embraces our team of strangers, and that dozens of children at a time have been known to charge towards Shin, as if he were a rock star, whenever he sets foot in the village.
For these kids, our presence changes their entire future. The children of Siete de Abril currently attend Shin Fujiyama Elementary School, a one-room chicken-wire schoolhouse with a tin roof, whose blackboard and desks came directly from Fredericksburg.
Our outreach to the youth and their families is a preventative measure to ensure that no more children from the village end up in Copprome, which is not a rare case in El Progreso.
Even more importantly, supporting their safety and education impedes the regretfully common path of early drug use, prostitution, and unplanned pregnancy.
When such a large percentage of the Honduran population is under the age of fifteen, it is easy to see how an early, lasting change in the lives of these families can impact the eventual fate of their generation and, consequently, their country.
Before SHH arrived in El Progreso, there were no existing tire tracks in the dirt road of Siete de Abril, but we will continue to return until we meet our goal.
We have made a promise to Siete de Abril and to the 250 young faces that are waiting for us in the rain. We will return as many times as it takes for Carmen, her family, and every single one of her neighbors to have a decent home.
It is true that instead of swallowing typhoid and malaria pills by the numbers to travel to Central America, we could have spent a week at a local soup kitchen.
However, it is much too challenging to say “no” to the throngs of barefoot Fujiyama fans who clamber over the bus and smother us with gratitude every time we pull into the village.
Fujiyama fever is contagious, and there may be no antidote. Our campus is at high risk of infection this spring; side effects may include ardent and unexpected humanitarianism. Please don’t resist.
To help us reach our goal, please join SHH every Tuesday in Monroe lobby at 9 p.m. We also invite you to attend the Walkathon this April and all other events in cooperation with SHH.
We extend our infinite gratitude to the groups and individuals on campus who continue to show their incredible generosity and support. You are making an unforgettable impact in Honduras.
Amanda Lemco is a senior.