Last Saturday morning’s Charter Day ceremonies were ripe with reflection on the College’s impressive past and its boundless future. When senior Cosmo Fujiyama was awarded the James Monroe Prize for Civic Leadership, she greeted the audience with fresh-faced enthusiasm and aplomb, encapsulating in her attitude spirit of our impressive student body.
p. Cosmo’s acceptance speech, which challenged listeners to “build your own bridge” to make the world a better place, offered a small glimpse into the resolve, compassion and unflinching optimism with which this community leader composes and informs her actions. This week’s ‘That Girl’ talks about her work in Honduras and with Teach for America.
**What is Students Helping Honduras?**
p. My brother and I run this together. It began when the two of us ended up in Honduras at the same time because of different international service trips. Shin found this orphanage, basically, that was in tremendous debt. They basically told him, “We might shut down in the next year if we don’t have enough money.” So Shin worked there for the whole summer, sort of figuring out what the deal was, the frankness of that.
p. We ended up going to Honduras together. I was doing another internship in Nicaragua, so I took a bus over and met up with him and we just fell in love with the children, the cause there. We agreed that it was a really horrible possibility, if this orphanage were to close. Hence we devised a walk-a-thon plan — a movement to raise money quickly — so that the orphanage could be sustained and helped.
p. Students Helping Honduras came about because we needed to streamline our work. We not only help the orphanage, but other children in Honduras when we find communities that we build relationships with and see how we can best help. We have a communications site on our website StudentsHelpingHonduras.org.
p. **What sort of service trips has SHH run?**
p. The very first [group] my brother took down was a Mary Washington team in December 2005. They focused a lot on short-term projects, on spending time with the children of the village, and doing things there. The next one, in May, we had students right after the walk-a-thon go and do work on the orphanage and in the community, so that was tailored to the events of the walk-a-thon and spreading the great news.
p. In the most recent one we began helping with the construction of the educational center they’re building adjacent to the orphanage. It’s supposed to be a supplemental center to help the kids gain the most needed and necessary fundamental tools to get them back into the public school system. They all go to public schools, but they’re behind because of their illiteracy prior to getting into school. So they’re behind in their classrooms, and the center is supposed to be a safety net to build them back up, to supplement the work that they’re doing in the public schools. Our money will support that and fund the teachers that come and help.
p. **Did you get interested in service before college?**
p. In high school, we served in very micro levels, Key Club and stuff. I credit everything I’ve done to this tiny seed, to something called international service trips. I went on one my freshman year and I think that malleability that you have as a younger person — as a freshman — when you don’t yet know what you want to do with your life, seeing that sense of life in a completely different definition, different level, rocked me, transformed me. And since then, the questions became even greater: you can go for one week and serve, but how can you do more?
p. That’s how it led me to where I am, where it’s been a building process of all these different events, whether it was going on a trip to Nicaragua with Global Village Project first, leading a trip next, going to Peru to learn Spanish because I knew I couldn’t communicate with the people I wanted to help and gain a sense of fluency, and then incorporating my academic interests in women’s rights issues and going to intern in Nicaragua for that, then going to see Shin in Honduras, where we bused over and met up with each other and said “Well, how can we take all this knowledge and our understanding of what service is and do something on our own, from the bottom up?”
p. **Tell me about Teach for America.**
p. I think it is a really pragmatic post-grad opportunity for a post-grad idealist like me. I say that because it’s going to be one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I really believe that the opportunities to do other things are there. Why not go to Honduras for a year and push through with this social enterprise that I want to do? However, I also know this is the time in my life when I need to absorb as much as I can, and TFA is this multi-thousand-person corporation that’s doing awesome work. It’s a very practical skill, to be in the classroom learning and teaching and getting that opportunity to work with young people and shape their lives directly every day with no breaks — to me, that’s an adrenaline rush.