With a master’s degree in education from Wheelock College, Hanley Denning worked in behalf of at-risk children in North Carolina. In August 1997, she went to Guatemala to learn Spanish. As she readied for return to the US after two years, a friend urged her, as a favor, to visit the slums adjacent to the Guatemala City garbage dump. The reality facing children at the dump was unlike anything she had ever seen. She knew she had to do something.
That week, Hanley sold her computer and her car and, using some money she had in savings, opened the doors of Safe Passage (known in Spanish as “Camino Seguro”) in December of 1999 by enrolling forty-six of Guatemala’s poorest children in school. These children couldn’t afford the books, school supplies, and enrollment fees required by the public school. This initial group received tutoring, a healthy snack, and the care and attention they so desperately needed. Another seventy children participated in a drop-in program when they weren’t working in the dump.
Over the next eight years, Hanley’s original program grew. The Educational Reinforcement Center (500 children participate from first grade through high school) found a new home in a safe and beautiful building further removed from the garbage dump, and an Early Childhood Center and Adult Literacy Program were established, thanks to the commitment and ambition of staff, community members, volunteers, and international supporters. On January 18, 2007, Hanley was killed in a tragic automobile accident in Guatemala. However, through her many supporters and dedicated Safe Passage staff and volunteers, her vision continues today, stronger than ever.
The Early-Childhood Education Program for two to six-year olds serves 90 children today. The Adult Literacy Program and the Social Entrepreneurship Program helps fathers and mothers learn skills for better family life, for better jobs, and for self-sufficiency. See: http://www.safepassage.org/history
Jessica Britt, who worked there for the last two years, now lives in Burlington, VT where she is organizing a 5K run as a fundraiser on May 5, 2013. See for more information https://www.membermission.org/jessica-britt/ and listen to Jessica Britt’s moving specifics of her work.