Safe Passage Sponsor Stories: Meet Colleen

This article was written by Safe Passage sponsor, Colleen, about meeting her sponsor student for the first time.

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Our family lives on a dirt road in a small town in Maine. My husband and I are both busy professionals and we have three kids, the youngest now a freshman in college. Raising our children, we encouraged them to be attuned to the broader world around them. And, because we are a family that is able to access resources, we had the chance to travel with our kids and frequently called on international students at a nearby college to serve as babysitters when the kids were younger.

Living in Maine and working with high school and college students, Safe Passage was on the radar for me for many years. It was not until my daughter’s high school Spanish teacher put together an inaugural trip to Guatemala in 2014 that I had the opportunity for a first-hand experience with this wonderful program. As a chaperone on that trip, I had the chance to see the dedication of the staff and volunteers – and, of course, the very real need a program like this addresses in the lives of the families it serves.

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It’s easy to see the appeal of a program like Safe Passage: good work, thoughtfully done, in a place where you can see the difference the work is making.

And I thought I “got it” pretty well. I knew the work, understood the philosophy, appreciated the growth in the young people volunteering and the joy in the children they worked with.

But what you understand in your head and even feel in your heart goes to a whole new place when you have the opportunity to spend time with the child you sponsor, as I did just a few weeks ago on a return trip to Guatemala.

We’ve been sponsoring Areli for just under a year now. She turned 5 in January and Safe Passage had sent pictures and a bit of background information about her and her family. In her photo, Areli has a smile that was somehow both shy and impish. We knew she liked stickers, dolls and the color purple. We’d sent notes and little presents and put her picture on the fridge.

When I let Safe Passage know that I was coming in April to chaperone another trip, they immediately responded to let me know they’d help arrange for me to spend time with Areli. On the day that our Support Team was at the Escuelita, I had a chance to do just that.

First, they brought her in to meet with me during a brief window when things were pretty quiet (well, quiet by Escuelita standards). One of the teachers introduced us and translated. Areli was shy and polite but still definitely checking me out. Then, when she was on the playground a little while after that, she came over and tagged me and I was “it.” Later, when her class was involved in an activity, they brought Areli and me outside to sit on the swing so I could share a few presents that I brought for her. She opened the presents so carefully and smiled so broadly – I not only understood, but also felt what this program is all about.

At the end of the day, during the final recess, Areli made a bee-line for me as soon as her class came outside. This time, instead of running around, she simply took me by the hand and led me about.

At the age of five, thanks to Shannon’s wonderful work, Areli already speaks more English than I do Spanish. But it didn’t take long to realize that a common spoken language wasn’t really necessary.

It really does take a village to raise a child – and if that village is partly in Guatemala and partly in Maine, well that’s just fine.

—Colleen, Safe Passage sponsor

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