By Ashley Jacoby
The major problem for girls like Maria Suyapa Reyes who live at an orphanage is that once they graduate from high school, they often do not have the resources to survive on their own.
Though the boys are sent to vocational schools so they can learn a trade and find work, often the girls are left to work in brothels, live in poverty, become single mothers, or end up in other bad situations.
Shin Fujiyama, ’07 alumnus of the University of Mary Washington, realized just how terrible this situation was for these girls, and decided that he was going to work hard to change that.
“We have to do more than just temporary shelter,” Fujiyama said. “They are trying to survive one day at a time.”
Fujiyama first traveled to Honduras his junior year, and was blown away by the abject poverty that affected the children when he visited the Copprome orphanage in El Progreso, Honduras. That first trip to Honduras has permanently left him with a life-changing impression.
Fujiyama has since founded the campus organization Students Helping Honduras (SHH), a charity-based group, which helps the girls from the Copprome orphanage. The club’s mission is to work with college students to mobilize different campuses in helping children in Honduras with their education through high school, and now on to college.
The club at the beginning was unique to UMW, but now there are 15 different chapters all over the East coast. The next step is to eventually expand to the West.
When Fujiyama first traveled to Honduras, he met 60 kids, including Reyes. Reyes, known more fondly as Yapa, had been living at the orphanage in Copprome for 15 years and had only traveled to a few different cities in Honduras prior to becoming involved with SHH.
Not only has Fujiyama dedicated his time to helping these girls, he has opened his house to girls from the orphanage who have no other place to go, and need shelter.
“The girls have to leave after they are done with high school, and they have no credits, no assets, no home, and no experience living on their own,” Fujiyama said. “They are basically left to fend for themselves financially and physically.”
Reyes’ story is one that might not have happened were it not for the help of Fujiyama, SHH, and the students who have volunteered their time, traveling to Honduras to help these orphans.
A 2-year student in UNITEC college, Reyes was awarded one of only two scholarships available from UNITEC, Honduras’ most prolific university. Reyes wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to catch a bus to take her to school each day, where she is studying international relations.
According to Fujiyama, Reyes has inspired the other girls at the orphanage and they now “all want to be like Yapa, she is a personal hero.”
Reyes is taking time off to travel with Fujiyama to speak about SHH, their mission, and the need for people to become aware of the girls who need money to go to college. This is the first time Reyes has been out of Honduras and her first time in the United States. She has visited San Diego, New York, and has been all over the state of Virginia. Soon, she will travel to the northeast region.
Highlights in Reyes’ travels, she said, included Times Square, the touch screen monitor at Sheetz, and Chinatown in New York. She also visited Seaworld.
“Shamu was her favorite,” Fujiyama said.
Fujiyama and Reyes have been all over the country to spread the message about Copprome and the girls at Siete de Abril through fund-raising events, civic organizations, and rotary clubs.
The general response has been a very positive one.
“Mary Washington is putting a stop to the stigma of orphan girls in Honduras not needing to go to college,” Fujiyama said. “We want to be able to send each of them to school.”
Next weekend, SHH is hosting its annual Walkathon to raise money for the girls who have graduated from the Copprome orphanage, and the organization expects people from all over the country to participate.
Fujiyama and Reyes have spoken to many that are eager to help, and many more that have been very influenced by their mission. Doris Buffett, founder of the Sunshine Lady Foundation, has provided a lot of help for SHH. This year, Buffett will donate a $50,000 challenge grant if SHH can raise over $65,000 through fund-raising efforts.
It costs $1000 per year for a public university in Honduras. SHH is working to set up an endowment fund that will last forever to send the girls from Siete de Abril to college.
Through this endowment fund, SHH hopes to break the cycle of young women being displaced and instead, assuring them the chance to go to college.
“It is amazing how Mary Washington has banded together,” Fujiyama said. “There is 100% support here to help the girls from Copprome.”
Fujiyama said that the Walkathon is the “one time in the whole year that everyone comes together for the same cause: Copprome.”
It was a one-year process for Reyes to earn her visa so that she could make this trip. Reyes said that she is on a mission to help her friends from the Copprome orphanage to go to college, friends with whom she has shared everything, even shoes toothbrushes, and clothes while at the orphanage. She said she wants them to have the same experiences that she is having right now.
Many are glad to hear that Reyes is visiting UMW, and because of SHH’s involvement in Honduras, she has seen many friendly faces.
“I’m so happy to be here and to visit my friends.”
Fujiyama often expresses his pride for Reyes as a strong, goal-oriented individual.
“Yapa works so hard, she never stops,” Fujiyama said. “She’s never going to stop until she achieves her goal. They are one big family, fighting together against all odds.”
By Ashley Jacoby