By: Liam Weaver, Major: Civil Engineering; Minor: Business, Class of 2016
Less than a thousand miles south of Tennessee, the small Republic of Honduras sees the highest homicide rate in the world: 90 in 100,000, or an estimated murder once every 88 minutes. Extreme poverty frequently inhibits opportunities for the common people to fight back for a better life. The children of this country often are left with only two options: find a way to escape to countries like the U.S. or find “security” through membership in one of the many violent drug-trafficking gangs. So … what are we supposed to do about it? Is it any of our business how the rest of the world works? Surely this is a tragedy of a magnitude inexorable by a few ordinary college students from the United States.
I share the vision of all the members of Students Helping Honduras (SHH) that, through education and youth empowerment, we can help end extreme poverty and violence in Honduras. I was so moved by my first experience in Honduras, that I returned to found SHH at University of Tennessee with the support of co-founder Melitta Markey and our faculty advisor and CHP Associate Director, Ms. Rebekah Page. SHH is a non-profit fueled by the passion of college students with a sense of intellectual curiosity, critical awareness, and social responsibility.
There are several key characteristics that set SHH apart from “do-good” organizations that receive criticism for being too busy patting themselves on the back only to realize that they are leaving the country with an unsustainable solution and many times worse-off than when they found it. SHH emphasizes sweat equity and sustainable development, not handouts. The majority of SHH staff are in-house Hondurans, and the organization works with local communities to build schools in poor regions across the country. Our goal is to build 1,000 schools in villages that lack safe access, funds, and resources to provide an education for their children.
“Just as I have, all UT students have the opportunity to make a difference and to broaden their perspective on life. I encourage other students to travel with SHH and learn from the Honduran people.”
Two and half years ago, SHH at UTK was a distant figment of my imagination. I spent many long hours at interest fairs, hosting meetings, organizing fundraisers, and trying to get the word out any way I could to the students of UT about the movement and mission of SHH. Because I knew my time here would go quickly, I focused on trying to recruit a team of new, young leaders that could carry on this organization as it continues to grow. Since its
So far, SHH has raised over $5,000 in its two and a half years of existence, and has sent 12 individual volunteers to aid in the construction of the Villa Soleada Boys Home and library, a tilapia pond, and currently the construction of a school in Los Castaños in partnership with the University of South Carolina. This is thanks to a passionate and determined team of officers lead by new president Anne Marie Lion. Just by sharing their stories and the passion they have for education, they were able to raise over $2000 in a single day .
Just as I have, all honors students have the opportunity to make a difference and to broaden their perspective on life. I encourage other students to travel with SHH and learn from the Honduran people. Hondurans are the brightest and most hard-working people anyone has ever met, and you would be inspired by the progress these future leaders make given their lack of resources. Education is something not to be taken for granted and I am reminded of that every day in working with this organization.
As an honors student, this international service experience can make one “Ready for the World” in the sense that I was able to face a serious problem in a foreign country and work with the community to go out and physically build a solution. In reflecting on my experience with SHH, I am empowered to apply the self-sustainability mindset of SHH to work to tackle other social and environmental challenges around the world. Shin Fujiyama, co-founder of SHH itself, leaves us with a final phrase of inspiration:
“When people say that young people like us can’t do anything, we have proven to them over and over that we can do anything that we dream of, and so can these kids in Honduras.”