Maria Tulois-Kozak, A&S '15, is one of the most generous, caring and selfless people you will ever cyber-meet. Particularly through her participation in Students Helping Honduras, Tulois-Kozak has truly made a difference in the lives of children and families abroad and is inspiring her classmates on campus to do the same.
Tulois-Kozak is involved in a number of organizations on campus including the BC Chapter of Students Helping Honduras, the Office of International Students and The Supply. She also works with the Boston College Neighborhood Center where she teaches and tutors adult English classes in Brighton, Mass. Through BCNC, Tulois-Kozak has had the opportunity to work closely with a number of elementary school students and groups of international high school students in workshops.
Tulois-Kozak is particularly passionate, however, about her time spent with Students Helping Honduras.
In 2007 student Shin Fujiyama and his sister Cosmo created Students Helping Honduras, a 502 (c) 3 non-profit organization based in El Progreso with intentions to build 1000 schools in villages across Honduras. In addition to this construction, SHH runs a bilingual elementary school, two homes for orphaned and abandoned boys and girls, a college scholarship program and a village project called Villa Soleada where Tulois-Kozak has visited for the past three years.
“Through education, it is possible to reduce issues of violence and poverty throughout the world,” Tulois-Kozak said.
Honduras has the worst gang epidemic on the planet along with being the second poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. Tulois-Kozak and her fellow SHH members are willing to risk a lot to volunteer each winter break.
But why did Tulois-Kozak choose SHH instead of programs like Arrupe or Appa?
“While looking at international service trips that run directly through Boston College, I realized that none caught my attention in the same way as SHH,” Tulois-Kozak said. “What makes our trip unique from the others is that we are entirely student-led and have no technical Boston College backing. The only thing that actually ties us together is that we are all Boston College students.”
SHH takes care to avoid the all-too-familiar group of students taking a picture with a shovel and an impoverished child, intending to add some appeal to their Facebook pages. SHH addresses service as an ongoing process in which schools are built by a returning group of students and Honduran staff members year-round.
“I think that there is something different about this organization and its values,” Tulois-Kozak said. “I think it’s easy to go on an immersion or service trip and feel some sense of satisfaction from going outside your bubble, but I always have some reservations about what one learns on [other BC] trips.”
Tulois-Kozak not only participated, but also led the SHH group last year.
“I was hesitant at first because I had never considered myself a leader,” Tulois-Kozak said. “But SHH and the people I had met and continue to stay in contact with in Honduras were my real motivation. I realized pretty quickly how much work goes into being a leader and I will always be grateful for my co-leader, Mackenzie, and for the mentorship of my past leaders, Liz and Camila.”
Tulois-Kozak and her co-leader Mackenzie Donovan, A&S ’15, successfully established their group as an official chapter and even surpassed their fundraising goal. With the increase in support, the group was able to contribute to the initiation of a new school in Honduras and give an education to two elementary school students in Villa.
“A lot of our success is due to the people that we travel with because without them we would not have a Boston College Chapter,” Tulois-Kozak said. “I am lucky to have spent three years with a group of students who motivated me to be a better version of myself.”
Since SHH returns to the same village in Honduras for two weeks each year, the group has established real relationships with the people who live there. Each time they return, they see the same faces and communities that inspired them to volunteer in the first place.
“You will not change a child’s life by having a conversation with her – you might not change a child’s life by tutoring him for a year,” Tulois-Kozak said. “And that’s okay. You will help change a child’s life by going above and beyond to provide a community with a school and clean water.”
Tulois-Kozak has found her leadership experience to be both sobering and rewarding. She understands that the work she does is more important than the credit she receives and she hopes that her experience empowers other women to step up and lead organizations they are passionate about.
“I hope [my experience] makes others realize that they have the ability to lead in some aspect of their lives,” Tulois-Kozak said. “You don’t have to run a company or be the captain of a team to be a leader – there are less obvious ways that we can all be leaders.”