Smiles for Christ is hosting Latin Fest today to raise funds to support Apanje — a private, non-profit school for mentally disabled children and adults in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Smiles for Christ, founded in 2007, has been a major contributor to the building and growth of the school.
Apanje’s mission is to reintegrate their students into society, according to former Smiles for Christ president, senior Alicia Mejia, a native of Honduras. Mejia has participated in Smiles for Christ since she was recruited by a Walton Scholar to volunteer in high school. After seeing an alumna of her high school join the Walton Scholars and give back to the community, Mejia also wanted to get involved.
“Our goal is to make the school self-sustainable,” Mejia said. “We have seen how they help, what the school has done with those children is amazing.”
Mejia said Apanje started on the patio of a house which had only a long table and a kitchen to prepare spices the students would sell to sustain the school. She also said, because of the support from the Embassy of Japan, the school directors were able to buy the land where the school is located now, with the help of Smiles for Christ.
“When I started in Smiles for Christ my freshman year, I thought we were just giving the kids pencils and books, but after I went (on) the mission trip, I realized that our mission is way different,” junior Andres Rojas, president of Smiles for Christ, said. “That is why I got involved in Smiles for Christ — because we are changing the lives of the kids.”
Apanje now has an office for the director, a kitchen and three classrooms. The school teaches students how to read, write and do basic everyday activities by themselves, such as tying their shoes. Mejia said she has seen many students significantly improve over the years.
Every summer, Smiles for Christ organizes a mission trip to Honduras to help Apanje with any needs they have. During his trip last summer, Rojas said that Smiles for Christ helped to build a wall in the perimeter of the school for security purposes and painted the building.
Junior Fabiola Castellanos has been a member of Smiles for Christ since her freshman year. She said that, after going on a mission trip in 2016, she felt proud of Smiles for Christ and the purpose they serve.
“(The students) would get happy for you to visit them, you do not need to bring anything with you or give them anything,” Castellanos said. “The fact that you are spending time with them is enough. When we are there, we are always happy. The time we spend with them is seriously amazing. Every summer I look forward to this mission trip.”
The next Smiles for Christ fundraising event is Latin Fest. Rojas said all proceeds from the event will go towards the Apanje school and will be a great opportunity for students to have a global experience without leaving campus.
“The cool thing about the Latin Fest is that people from many countries come together to celebrate a culture and to show the best of their countries,” Rojas said. “You get to experience the culture in a very intense way. People can expect great food, music (and) cultural presentations.”
Latin Fest will take place today, from 3:30 to 6 p.m. in the McInteer Rotunda. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the door.