Students Helping Honduras is a national organization with a branch at Lawrence High School that works every year to fundraise for the development of schools in Honduras.
Unlike other fundraising clubs, representatives from SHH travel to Honduras every summer and actively work to make their fundraising efforts materialize as foundations for educational opportunities. Every year, students from Lawrence High do just that.
SHH is a national nonprofit organization that was founded in 2007 by college student Shin Fujiyama after he was inspired by a service trip in Honduras. Since then, the organization has opened branches in various schools and colleges, and branch members conducts regular projects in Honduran villages to help build schools and, overall, the foundation for education.
The SHH branch at Lawrence High School started in 2013, after town resident and then-Lawrence Middle School Spanish teacher Alyssa Katz participated in a building project in Honduras in 2012. Two rising juniors, Matthew McCormack and Dara Levinsky, expressed interest in going, too. The three of them went back in the summer of 2013 and opened the Lawrence chapter of SHH that fall.
Around 10-15 students from the Lawrence High School branch participate in the summer programs, but over 100 students are part of the club, which works on fundraising throughout the year. The students always have a table at Lawrence Community Day, Franklin Fall Fest and Back to School Night. They raise money through local restaurants, pie sales, T-shirts and wine (or punch, for the kids) and paint nights.
Since 2013, the Lawrence branch has collected over $30,000 for school projects. A large portion of this, approximately $25,000, came in 2016 for the Jorge Fidel Duron Middle School in Esfuerzo de Jesus, a rural northern Honduran town. Katz said the donation was enough to fund the construction of a three-room schoolhouse, painted red in honor of the Cardinals. On-site, there is also a plaque honoring LHS and the 17 students who helped build the school.
Even for a non-profit organization, SHH is uniquely transparent in its fundraising. For example, Katz said they know that $1 funds about one cinderblock, and it takes, in part, around 3,000 cinderblocks to construct each school.
“So we can actually see where our money is going,” she said. “We also get pictures and videos of both the work in progress and the finished schools. We even get to break ground for the schools that we’re fundraising. Overall, we’re making that personal connection and we get to see the fruits of our labor.”
This year, the club’s goal is to finish raising money for Jose Trinidad, a school that 15 Lawrence students and two teachers help construct in July. They will also continue to fundraise towards a scholarship for Honduran students to continue their education past sixth grade.
For the first two years, McCormack and Levinsky served as co-presidents of the club. This year, the club has three committees.
Three seniors on the public relations committee—Kelsey Guzman, Natasha Kalwachwala and Sarah Marion—shared their perspective on their club experience. All three of them heard about the club through Katz, but joined for different reasons.
Guzman joined because of her Guatemalan heritage. “Honduras is right next to Guatemala, and I wanted to learn more about the region overall,” she said. “I thought that if I went to one country, it’ll help me be more educated and less ignorant about what’s happening in other countries in Central America.”
Marion and Kalwachwala became interested directly because of Katz, their Spanish teacher.
The unique focus of SHH sometimes has been an obstacle for the club. “We often get questioned as to why Honduras, why are we helping people in other countries, why not our own community,” Katz said. “That, and the fact that Honduras has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous and violent countries, is one of the bigger challenges.”
However, the students believe that the SHH mission attracts more members that it deters. “We’re not fundraising money for something that we don’t control like surgeries,” Guzman said. “The club makes the money and builds schools down there itself. It’s both a volunteer trip and the idea that you can make a difference even when you’re at home.”
Kalwachwala adds that the experience is “really about the community members, the Honduran workers, even the children that help out. We really are living with them. Then, when we come back, our main job is really raising awareness and money for them. I think that’s really what sets us apart, because we know that we’re the sidekicks and we get to live with people, and it’s just the best experience ever.”
After the year of fundraising, some students choose to participate in the summer trip to Honduras. To pay for the trip, students often start personal fundraisers or apply for outside scholarships. They can even earn on discounts for the trip through SHH if they fundraise a certain amount.
‘It’s usually like a negative cyle, but these elders wanted to change what’s going on in their country.’
In Honduras, the students interact with the village communities and learn about their lifestyle. Despite the conditions, Guzman was impressed by the importance the village adults placed on education.
“There were over a hundred kids in the community, and the local adults really want them to go to school,” she said. “Even if the older generations didn’t have the opportunity, they want it for the ones growing up, and I think that’s something that is shocking. It’s usually like a negative cycle, but these elders wanted to change what’s going on in their country.”
Kalwachwala also experienced first-hand the resilience of the Hondurans.
“I’ve been to India several times and seen poverty, but I’ve never seen it like this, and I’ve never seen people struggling so hard to get out of it,” she said. “While we were there, we learned about the gang-related activities, and I really saw what people were trying to get away from. I don’t ever think I’ve been exposed to that, so the club really opened my eyes to a different part of the world.”
The trips are not all work. During the evenings, students get an opportunity to interact with Honduran culture. Marion recalled one evening where they learned how to do the salsa and merengue.
“I just thought that it was really cool that we got to connect with the Hondurans and people from different schools, and it was a really great bonding experience,” she said.
Marion was also surprised with the welcoming nature of the villagers. “The families opened their homes for us and let us join them for lunch making baleadas (a local dish),” she said. “It was so cool seeing how they make them, because they don’t have stoves like we do, they just have to be resourceful. They were so open to inviting complete strangers into their house for lunch, plus getting to practice my Spanish with them was really awesome.”
Overall, the trips leave a lasting impact on the villages, especially the village students who can now continue pursuing their education.
However, the experience often defines the perspectives and goals of the student volunteers. For example, Marion had considered becoming a teacher, and her views were solidified by the trip.
Guzman hopes to become an Air Force lawyer or immigration lawyer, and her experience with SHH helped her realize that she wants to help “everyone to get to that path to what they want to be, whether it’s a doctor, or a teacher, or anything.”
Other students completely changed their life goals as a result of the trip. “I have a student who was pretty set on going into a career in accounting,” Katz said.
However, her first trip to Honduras changed her whole outlook and perspective on what she wanted to do and where she wanted to go in life. After having built the schools and working with the kids, she realized the kind of impact she can have on young lives and decided to become a teacher.”
The current seniors all hope to see the SHH organization expand in every way. Kalwachwala believes that SHH can even expand within Lawrence itself. Her brother attends the Lawrenceville School, and she would like to see a branch of the club open there.
The impact of the SHH club on both the students and the Hondurans shows in a interesting way: their smiles, said Katz.
“A parent’s friend had mentioned that she’d never seen the son smile the way he did when we was down in Honduras and interacting with the people down there,” she said.
“Everyone’s smile is different there, which sounds so weird, but it’s so amazing to see everyone for once not worrying about our own problems,” Kalwachwala said. “We’re completely with the people of Honduras and working on their problems, so it’s really refreshing and it’s nice to take a step back, and I can’t wait to go back.”