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UMW grad’s focus: ‘Pencils, not AK-47s’ in Honduras

Many children in Honduras have just two choices when it comes to gangs: join one or be killed by one.

But a University of Mary Washington graduate is giving youth in a village in northern Honduras a third option: job training and soccer.

“These kids need to be inside schools and not in gang hideouts,” said Shin Fujiyama by email. “They need to be holding pencils, not AK–47s. They need to be playing soccer, not robbing buses.”

Fujiyama started Students Helping Honduras in 2006 at UMW. The nonprofit has gone on to build a village called Villa Soleada, many schools, soccer fields, a girls home and more. The organization has helped about 10,000 children, Fujiyama said.

That includes 300 youth in a program targeted at getting children out of gangs. The organization gives those children job training, soccer equipment and mentorship.

But not every story is successful. One youth came for the soccer but refused to sign up for the gang rehabilitation program. Instead, he remained part of the gang. He was recently gunned down in his home, Fujiyama said.

Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, with 90.4 per 100,000 inhabitants. About three youth are killed each day in Honduras, according to The Covenant House Institute’s report on youth in the Latin American country.

Because of the violence, some youth choose a fourth way: to travel north to the United States and seek for refugee status.

About 63,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended at the Mexican border since October. More than three-quarters came from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Apprehended children have said that they are fleeing violence or poverty.

Spotsylvania County residents Herb and Dana Huser saw that poverty firsthand in 2008 when they went on a mission trip to El Hogar, an orphanage in Honduras.

At the orphanage, children received food, clothing, education and job training. The Husers attend Trinity Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, which sends money and volunteers to El Hogar.

“The whole idea is to educate these children so their future has a solid foundation,” Herb said. “The effort is widespread, but the need is just massive.”

A Latin American specialist who once lived in Argentina, Herb thought he knew what he was getting into when he signed up for the mission trip.

Still, the abject poverty shocked him.

He was not as surprised to later learn that many children from Honduras try to cross the border into America.

“They’re desperate people and anybody who’s been down there for even a day knows that,” Herb said.

The Rev. Rick Watt, pastor of Riverside First Church of God in Fredericksburg, saw the same poverty this summer when his church went on a mission trip to Honduras.

They built a home for a single mother with three children and met many families whose homes were simply tarps and pieces of wood.

Many church and civic groups go to Honduras to help, but the poverty and violence is so widespread that thousands still live in desperate situations, Fujiyama said.

“For many of them, the ‘dangerous’ journey north—sleeping on top of moving trains—is less dangerous than staying in Honduras,” he said.

Fujiyama hopes that Students Helping Honduras will continue to grow and offer children a chance for a future in their own country.

“If these kids feel safe and feel like they have opportunities here to make ends meet, they wouldn’t have to make the dangerous journey north,” he said.

Amy Umble: 540/735-1973




Two organizations with local ties are among the hundreds trying to help Honduran children escape poverty and violence.

  • El Hogar: The charity offers job training, education, feeding programs and more to children in Honduras. Learn more at elhog or call 781/729-7600.
  • Students Helping Honduras provides education, food, sports programs and job training to impoverished children. To help, visit ce or call 631/505-3744.