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Safe Passage ( Camino Seguro)

February 18, 2015

Day 34, February 17, 2015

After a lovely breakfast at Mariane’s, our hotel, we caught a taxi which took us to ” Safe Passage”, ( and we had the most incredible experience during our 5 hour tour. The story behind this incredible place is so heart rendering. Safe Passage was founded in 1999 by Hanley Denning, a  U.S. teacher who travelled to Guatemala to learn Spanish, but could not ignore the children she saw picking through the trash in the municipal dump. Hanley sold everything she owned to start Safe Passage and worked tirelimage image image image imageessly to get kids into school and out of the dump. Sadly, Hanley tragically died in 2007, in a car accident with a chicken bus!! but her dream of breaking the cycle of poverty lives on, thanks to a global network of dedicated donors, sponsors and volunteers. The area around the Guatemala City garbage dump, where Safe Passage has 2 of its main sites, is also home to the city’s poorest residents. The living and working conditions are quite hazardous due to the squalid environment,the rough and dirty work of garbage picking, the extremely  high level of poverty, the crime and other behaviours that accompany such conditions. Martin was our guide, a nice young man who came over from England a few years ago to learn Spanish and do some volunteer work, left behind his high pressure job in Parliament, loves it so much he is still here 3 years later, now with a paying position. So many volunteers we talked to said the same thing..they came and don’t want to leave. I can see why and I think I would get hooked like that too..what a place! I had actually signed up to come last year for 5 weeks with my friend Katharina, from Germany, who I met when I volunteered in Nicaragua, but the 5 weeks she was coming did not work for me and I had to cancel. What they are accomplishing here is phenomenal!!!!!! We started the tour by being transported to a location looking down into the massive dump site and city garbage trucks were rolling in steadily and hundreds of people were ready…. as soon as the garbage was dumped they leaped onto it, looking to get the best items that might earn them some money and they are there from when the dump opens 6:00 am until when it closes at 6:00 pm.. even salvaging food scraps that are mixed in with all the filth and grime, including the soiled toilet paper that is not flushed but put into the garbage. The only rule is  no medical waste is to be deposited in the garbage. So this has been happening for years and the children of this city were doing it  and that is why Hanley felt she needed to do something. Good for Hanley, an angel on earth but sadly, now in heaven.  There was a huge fire in the dump in 2005 and lives were lost. Now there is a law that no children are allowed.  You must be 14 and over to pick. I believe our guide told us 900 truckloads daily of stinking toxic rubbish and the people here are doing this to earn some money to support their families and survive. The majority of the pickers are women, 80 percent single parents, and usually pick with no gloves on as they can root and pick better without them through the  broken pieces of glass and other dangerous materials. Working 12 hours a day might earn them 40  quetzales/ day, which is about $6.00 our money. We were not allowed to take pictures and the government does not want the world to know about this and reporters trying to get the true story out  to the world are thwarted in their efforts. However, Safe Passage is right in there, now providing schooling and social programs to help these families and actually I remember one story, where Martin told us about a women who had raised her 17 children on garbage picking and now at age 70 is signed up for the adult literacy program Safe Passage is offering. We were taken throughout the whole facility, seeing lives enriched in so many ways. Another unforgettable day and returning to our hotel we had so many thoughts to share about our day. For me, it feels so good to help and so bad not to😊


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  1. Maureen Nestor permalink

    Sounds like such poor conditions for the garbage pickers. How my heart goes out to them.

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