One night, after eating at a Burger King in Honduras, Shin Fujiyama returned to Copprome, the orphanage where he was staying and working as a volunteer. As he walked into the building, he threw his Burger King bag into a trash can at the entrance.
"Some of the kids went to the trash and took the bag out, and they began eating the leftover bun that was in the bag," said Fujiyama. "They shared the two French fries that were in there and gave most of it to the smallest kids. These kids have bigger hearts than I do, and that day really opened my eyes to the level of poverty."
Since 2005, Shin Fujiyama has been spending his summer, winter and spring breaks a little differently than most of his friends. Rather than taking trips and beach vacations, Fujiyama has been traveling to Honduras to help the children of Copprome orphanage.
Fujiyama, 22, graduated from McLean High School in 2002 and is now a senior at the University of Mary Washington in Fredricksburg. During his 2005 spring break, Fujiyama traveled to Honduras with a philanthropist and a social worker. It was his second trip to Honduras, but it was the first time that Fujiyama visited the Copprome orphanage.
"I had been to four orphanages in Honduras to volunteer, but Copprome is the poorest one and does not have much international help like the others," said Fujiyama. "So I told myself, ‘Why not help the poorest?’ It may be more difficult to lift them up, but I wanted to give it a try. I also felt like I was needed and relied upon even though I am only a college kid."
After that trip, Fujiyama dedicated himself to raising money for Copprome. He spent the summer of 2005 living in Copprome and working as an activities coordinator, during which time he raised funds to take five children to the hospital for treatment of illnesses.
"Omar, a 4-year-old could not walk, so I bought him the necessary leg braces," said Fujiyama. "Marvin, a 14-year-old boy who collects trash for a living had a throbbing toothache for two months, so I took him to his first visit to the dentist. Too many children in Honduras cannot even afford the most simple treatments."
THAT SUMMER, he also raised money to plant a vegetable garden and build an underground pipe system with running water in Siete de Abril, a village where, according to Fujiyama, "the word poverty is not enough to describe its condition." When Fujiyama later learned that the water in the pipe system was not sanitary, he decided to spend his 2006 spring break taking an intensive engineering course on water purification at Clean Water University in Mississippi. He plans to install a water purification system in Siete De Abril this summer.
Fujiyama also made a documentary film on Copprome, which won "Film of the Festival" at the University of Mary Washington Film Festival. He has collected thousands of dollars in donations, and also donated a large chunk of his own scholarship money to the cause. As a result, he has been able to provide the orphanage with a computer lab, clothes, food, utensils and medicine. In December of 2005, Fujiyama gave the orphanage 45 school uniforms, 200 backpacks, 106 pairs of shoes, and enough supplies to keep the children in school for the entire year. He also gave out nearly 1,000 Christmas gifts to children in two local villages and two orphanages, including Copprome.
"For many of them, it was their first gift ever," said Fujiyama. "It was so great to see the kids so happy. It took months to prepare this Christmas project and hours of wrapping."
DESPITE ALL OF HIS EFFORTS, Copprome is in trouble. Declining donations coupled with the orphanage's expensive monthly land payments have resulted in the closure of Copprome's sister orphanage La Flecha. The 15 displaced girls from La Flecha are currently sleeping on the floor of an already full room in Copprome.
"I am extremely worried that Copprome may be next to close its doors," said Fujiyama. "If this happens, the orphanage's 70 children will be forced back on to the streets where prostitution, drugs, gangs and hunger await them."
In February of 2006, Fujiyama and his 20-year-old sister Cosmo — a graduate of McLean High School and a student at the College of William and Mary — formed a non-profit organization called Students Helping Honduras. Cosmo Fujiyama did most of the paperwork as Shin was in Honduras at the time. In addition, McLean resident Greg Stanton, a long-time friend and a Professor of Human Rights at the University of Mary Washington acted as the group's lawyer free of charge. In March, "a miracle occurred," says Fujiyama.
Doris Buffett, sister of billionaire Warren Buffet and founder of the Sunshine Lady Foundation, awarded Students Helping Honduras a challenge grant. Buffett told Fujiyama that if his group could raise $33,333 by April 23, she would triple that amount, creating a grand total of $100,000 for Copprome.
The Sunshine Foundation sponsors philanthropy courses at four universities, and Buffett first met Fujiyama after meeting with one such class at the University of Mary Washington.
"He came up to me and you know, he was just shining," said Buffett. "It's rare to run into a young person with that much passion and a real eagerness to help."
After watching Fujiyama's documentary film on Copprome, Buffett immediately offered him the challenge grant.
"Shin is an unusual fellow, and he really has the makeup to be a philanthropist which is what I am looking for," said Buffett. "He is young and he has a lot of energy."
To meet the challenge, Students Helping Honduras will hold a Walk-A-Thon on the University of Mary Washington campus on April 23 to raise money to save Copprome. Fujiyama knows it will be difficult, be he is convinced it can be done, particularly since he was able to raise $10,000 on his own in the past year.
"If successful in meeting this goal, we can make all of Copprome's dreams come true, including paying for the land, expanding the facilities and beginning sustainable projects," said Fujiyama.
IN THE PAST few weeks, Shin and Cosmo Fujiyama have been coordinating "Copprome Orphanage Solidarity Weeks" at their respective universities. They have organized fund-raisers and awareness campaigns to get their campuses involved in the Students Helping Honduras cause. Cosmo Fujiyama says that the mission of Students Helping Honduras is a reflection of the beliefs of both her and her brother.
"We believe we can make a sustainable difference, and we also believe that students are the best to mobilize... and can make tremendous differences in the world so long as those opportunities exist," she said. "Shin and I are a bridge, bringing together communities, tolerance, understanding, cooperation and opportunities for people in the U.S. and Central America."
Shin Fujiyama plans to become a doctor in order to provide third-world countries with much needed medical care.
"I would like to open up an orphanage one day and a free clinic of some sort for the poor — Honduras or anywhere that they need help," said Fujiyama.
Both he and his sister say that the orphans of Copprome have forever changed the course of their life.
"For Shin and I, this is a life-long commitment that we have signed on to," said Cosmo.
Her brother concurs and says that "the children of Copprome have helped me more than I have helped them."
"They have changed my life forever, and have touched me deeply," he said. "They are so humble and compassionate and loving. It has made me realize that people like me from a middle class family in the U.S. have so many things that people in other parts of the world don't. I would like to spend my life helping people who have gone through so much suffering."