SHIN FUJIYAMA Founder of Students Helping Honduras INTERVIEW

December 20, 2020 8:02 PM

Japanese-American philanthropist Shin Fujiyama co-founded Students Helping Honduras with his sister Cosmo Fujiyama. They first visited Honduras in the summer of 2004 while they were college students. In Honduras, they befriended the locals in a village. After Shin and Cosmo witnessed the jarring conditions that the villagers lived in, the two university students vowed to help them. After their trip to Honduras, the siblings founded Students Helping Honduras (SHH) at each of their respective universities. What started as walkathons and fundraisers has now grown to become a registered nonprofit organisation that builds schools and homes in Honduras. To date, SHH membership consists of more than 7,000 members. Chapters are typically located on college campuses and in high schools.

 

-Interview-

1. How was life in Honduras? How did you adapt to the quality of life there?

Life in Honduras is simple. Many people grow their own food, wash their clothes by hand, and get water from a well. After living here for 13 years, the “new” quickly becomes the normal. The only way to adapt to a new situation is by living it. There is only so much you can learn from reading about something or watching videos.

2. Have you considered relocating to Honduras permanently?

Yes, I’ve been here for 13 years and plan to live here more. I’ve watched many of the kids at our children’s home grow up, and I look forward to watching them move onto high school and college.

3. How are the students coping in Honduras?

The students in Honduras are struggling with economic hardship and a lack of adequate healthcare services. Most schools have gone virtual, but internet and technology access are not universal in Honduras. The government has issued a strict lockdown, so most children in Honduras have not left their homes or neighborhoods for the last six months. 

4. Do you face a language barrier?

When I was first in Honduras, I spoke very little Spanish. I had no idea what people were saying to me. I studied hard and had countless conversations to improve my language skills. Now I’m one of the only Japanese-Americans in the world who speaks Spanish with a Honduran accent.

5. You're building schools and housing. Have you thought of building community centers or even sending members of SHH to teach/counsel the students there in a further attempt to keep them away from the gang epidemic?

Yes, we run the Villa Soleada Bilingual School, where we work with 300 children. We provide them with counseling to minimize the risk of them joining a gang. Members of SHH teach English at our school for one to two years. 

6. Did COVID-19 hinder your plans? If so, to what extent?

Yes, one of our Honduran staff members passed away due to COVID-19. Almost everyone here at the children’s home got the disease, but we are all recovering right now. When we lost 90% of our revenue stream back in March, I thought our organization was over. We changed strategies and survived. We started a new monthly giving program called the Tigers Club, where people can sponsor a classroom at the Villa Soleada Bilingual School. That program has become a lifeline.

7. You were the only American left in Honduras during the pandemic, and you mentioned the poor quality of healthcare. Is targeting healthcare one of your goals for the future?

We hope to open a clinic here at Villa Soleada in the future. Our goal is to focus on preventative healthcare, as too many people here suffer from lifestyle-related illnesses, such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.

8. Have you thought of branching out to other countries in Central America?

No. I plan on focusing our work only in Honduras.

9. Do you have an end goal with SHH?

We are hoping to turn the 0% high school graduation rate at Villa Soleada into a 100% graduation rate within one generation.  Our first set of graduates will graduate in two years. We also hope to build 1,000 schools in Honduras. We are currently building the 56th school out of 1,000. Sometimes, I feel like  we’re almost there. Other days, I feel like we are so far away from our goal. 

10. How do you see SHH expanding in the future?

There is so much work that needs to be done. I’m currently writing a book about SHH. Hopefully, we can raise more awareness about our work by promoting the book once it comes out.

 

Students Helping Honduras Website  

>>PLEASE CLICK HERE<<

Students Helping Honduras YouTube  

>>PLEASE CLICK HERE<<

Shin Fujiyama Instagram

>>PLEASE CLICK HERE<<

 

WRITTEN BY ZANNA SHAPIRO 

COPYWRITING BY BRIANNA DI MONDA

EDITED BY KAREN YABUTA  

 

 

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