– By Sagar Doshi
He did not have an S on his chest, he did not have super speed, and he did not have a mask. He was not an inch over five feet, he was always found in a simple t-shirt and shorts, and he did not even have any hair to flip back. However, heroes are admirable for what they do, not what they look like they can do. Say hello to my hero: Shin Fujiyama.
This past winter break I took a service trip to Honduras with the University of Maryland, College Park and its chapter of Students Helping Honduras (SHH). It was my first ever service trip and I was excited to take advantage of the opportunity to give back to the global community. The week-long trip is something I will remember for the rest of my life. The people I met, the everyday struggle I discovered, and the innocence I witnessed will live with me for years to come. On the first day of the trip, the entire volunteer group was welcomed by Shin Fujiyama. When he began to tell us his story, my view on life was forever changed.
Shin is a philanthropist who founded Students Helping Honduras in 2007. According to SHH’s mission statement, the organization leads projects to build local schools “to mobilize students in a massive and focused effort to empower orphaned and at-risk children in Honduras to reach their full potential.” He visited Honduras on a service trip during his college years at The University of Mary Washington and fell in love with everything about the country. Upon graduating from college with a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and Pre-Medicine, Shin made a courageous step and decided he owed humanity his life. Although he had the opportunity to continue his studies at a premier medical school, he chose to go back to Honduras and create an organization entirely devoted to fostering social change. The people of Honduras had touched his heart, and Shin vowed to help a country overcome poverty. Shin started the first chapter of this non-profit organization at his college, The University of Mary Washington, but with immense difficulties. Fundraising was his first step and he took the simple plan of standing outside his cafeteria with a money jar. I will always remember the small amount Shin made that first day: $29.00.
Giving up was easy and frustration kicked in for Shin who did not have any fundraising ideas for the children of Honduras. Shin wanted to give millions to his project, but could not even start off with a couple hundred dollars. However, with his inner will and the assistance of some friends, Shin never lost hope. He believed the children of Honduras had the right to be educated. In the coming months, Shin organized a walkathon that raised over $100,000 and found a matching offer from a generous donor. SHH was up and running and many chapters gradually opened in colleges all over the east coast. Shin could not believe what he was witnessing. A mission that started off with $29.00 continues today with millions being fund raised all over the world for projects in Honduras.
After hearing this emotional story from Shin, I was curious to see how interactive Shin would be with all the volunteers throughout the trip. I truly believed that we would see him signing papers behind a desk and giving directions to the rest of the volunteers, just as any other highly respected service leader would. This was an individual that was recognized as a CNN Hero and was featured in a variety of world news outlets. However, to my surprise, Shin was at the work-site, lifting heavy materials alongside us and building the school too. During the week, he organized salsa lessons and led a martial arts class for all the volunteers to relax and learn about the culture of Honduras. I was astonished to see someone as highly regarded as Shin Fujiyama act as just another volunteer during the entirety of the trip. Shin truly appreciated every volunteer that came to Honduras to build a school and personally continued his trend of going above and beyond the call of duty when helping out.
However, Shin did not simply stop there in getting to know all the volunteers. Throughout the week and during all the activities, Shin attempted to speak to every volunteer about their experience so far on the trip. Shin not only wanted to know why someone came on the trip or what they hoped to gain from the trip, but actually cared about their input on how to improve SHH. I admire the effort Shin made to create a personal relationship with each volunteer because he made us feel important. He gave each one of us attention, even remembering that I was celebrating my birthday that week.
I chose to write about Shin Fujiyama because he took that extra step. After taking this week-long trip to Honduras, the worst part of the trip was waking up at home the following morning in the United States of America and realizing that my life was going to be back to normal. No more showering in cold water, no more eating rice and beans, and no more lifting cinder blocks. However, for those people I met in Honduras, their lives were the same that next morning. They were still going to live in poverty and not have the same opportunities that I have. Shin found the inner-strength to wake up and go back to make a difference. Although that week in Honduras was humbling, today I am back to my daily routine without any communication or updates from the people I met in Honduras. On the other hand, Shin started a movement and went back for those people. No matter how passionate some individuals are regarding service, there always seems to be a limitation on what one can do for society. Shin, with an opportunity to attend medical school and become a successful doctor in the future, still decided to give up everything he had for the people of Honduras. He not only learned the language, he also built relationships with local businesses and the government. Shin wished for SHH to reach its full potential and there was no looking back. He did what none of us on my trip could do, not even me. I strive every day to have the courage to go back and dedicate the rest of my life to those people. I saw the same innocence in the eyes of children that Shin did, I talked to the same grandfather about the everyday struggle that Shin did, and I believed in these people just as Shin did. However, I am still back in my comfortable DC office writing this post. Shin found that courage many of us strive to have and gave the rest of his life to those eyes, struggle, and people. He never gave up on his program, the people of Honduras, and most importantly, himself.
Although there was a sense of disappointment upon my return, my experience in Honduras has helped me grow, change, and work to make a difference in my community. Since my trip, I have acquired a leadership position at UMD’s chapter of SHH, joined UMD’s chapter of Net Impact, and was accepted to the Social Innovation Fellows Program at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. Additionally, I am currently following my career path in micro-finance, working as the National Social Media Leader for Oikocredit USA. Although we may not match up to the inner-will that Shin possesses, we all should still attempt to invest our efforts in something we care about. While there are people like Shin Fujiyama who make the biggest difference in this world, individually we all can reach our potential as well.
*Disclaimer: The views represented here are the opinions of the individual blog author and do not represent the views of Oikocredit USA.