By AARON RICHARDSON and PHIL WHITE
In an online contest called America’s Giving Challenge, Students Helping Honduras (SHH), won a $50,000 grant, and an additional $28,000 in donations. SHH plans to spend $10,000 to provide cleaner burning stoves for 300 people in Siete de Abril, an impoverished Honduran village.
The $68,000 leftover will go towards building a college endowment fund and transitional housing for the girls from the Copprome orphanage.
When the Giving Challenge contest began December 13, the SHH students were volunteering in Honduras for the winter service trip. Not knowing about the contest until they came back, SHH did not enter until January 26, a week before the contest ended on January 31.
Within one week, SHH managed to gain 1,786 votes, taking them from fifteenth to second place.
According to Erin Leach-Kemon in her February 1 article printed in The Free Lance-Star, SHH held Phonathons each day that week in an effort to raise money for the competition. Students used every outlet available to them to fundraise, including cell phones, e-mails, instant messaging, My Space, and Facebook. On the last day, students set up a table at the UMW Student Campus Center to collect final donations.
Justin Simeone, UMW senior and president of SHH, was hesitant at first to join the competition so late, nearly 500 votes behind, but was also very proud of the club’s recent accomplishments.
“What’s remarkable is that we entered the competition last Saturday, and we did so much in that small amount of time,” Simeone said.
Through the partial funding of a UMW Research Grant and a $1000 grant from The Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Foundation, economic students and Professor Shawn Humphrey visited Honduras recently, to interview 50 families at Siete de Abril.
Their research showed that the indoor air pollution produced from their wood stoves was causing major health problems.
Simeone said that the new stoves would be simply an updated version of the old design, with “less wood and less smoke.” The original cooking chamber was made by packed clay surrounding a square wooden box, with a cooking plate on the top. There were no chimneys for the collected smoke.
“The Economics class will continue to do research, and will now have the resources to do that,” Simeone said.
UMW junior Katie MacEwan, in her press release to the Free Lance Star, stated that SHH “also plans to establish a program for monitoring air quality in the homes after the new stoves are installed.”
Justin Simeone explained SHH’s attitude on contributing to economic development.
“SHH has continually embraced a novel approach to economic development. Rather than acting as planners who embrace a uniform solution, we attempt to act as searchers who respond effectively to the needs of the people in Honduras,” Simeone said. “It’s the idea of sustainability, on how to ensure long term change.”
With this theme of sustainability, SHH plans to set up a fund to send the girls who “graduate” from the Copprome Orphanage to college.
SHH CEO Shin Fujiyama commented on this new goal.
“Our goal this year is to raise [money] for a college endowment fund for the Copprome Girl’s Academy,” Fujiyama said.
Even with the orphanage improved, at the moment those leaving the orphanage are primarily young women who, with nowhere else to go, end up back on the street.
“The girls are so smart, but they were still falling flat, and we realized there was something missing,” Simeone said.
Ensuring the education of these girls through transitional housing and scholarship is the cause for this year’s Walkathon.
Fujiyama has worked with the organization since its inception at UMW, serving as the UMW branch’s leader until he graduated last spring.
While working on this plan, SHH is also deliberating with a past benefactor, the Sunshine Lady Foundation.
According to Fujiyama, the Sunshine Lady Foundation, which is run by Doris Buffett, the wife of billionaire Warren Buffett, has contributed enough money for SHH to operate in Honduras for one year.
“We hope to get the grant renewed,” Fujiyama said.
Simeone reflected the same anticipation.
“We hope to continue our relationship with the Sunshine Lady Foundation, particularly as we work to empower young women in Honduras,” Simeone said.
Students Helping Honduras sees the future of the country in the lives and efforts of individuals in the country. While community-wide efforts certainly make progress, SHH wants to ensure that it helps create a strong base of leadership to help Honduras push itself into the future.
“When you start sending leaders, that’s when you start changing communities,” Simeone said.
SHH had a very successful semester last fall, hosting a 3-on-3 soccer tournament appreciation event, which drew in twenty teams.
Additionally, SHH held several fundraisers both on and off campus, including a poker tournament co-hosted by the Latin Student Association, and several off-campus fundraisers, including “car washes, leaf-raking, and a pancake breakfast.” Every event was in preparation for SHH’s winter service trip.
This semester, SHH has several events planned. In addition to participating in the Spring Film Festival and coordinating with the Vagina Monologues to raise funds, SHH will be holding an SHH Summit at UVA on February 16 and an “Outdoors Week” on March 15-16.