‘’Literary institutions are founded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education’’ 

These words, spoken by Joseph McKeen, Bowdoin College’s first president, in his inaugural address in 1802, have shaped the Maine college’s students ever since. Hanley Denning was one such student. Following her graduation from Bowdoin in 1992, Hanley embarked on a career in serving those less fortunate. 

Though she passed away tragicially in 2007, her dream and dedication to the common good lives on in the community surrounding the Guatemala City garbage dump.  And, just like McKeen´s quote, Hanley´s motto of, ‘’we have work to do,’’ has inspired a constant stream of Bowdoin students and alumni since she founded Safe Passage in 1999. 

Bowdoin College has sent a group of students down to volunteer as part of their Alternative Spring Break program annually since 2003. This year, for the first time, the student Support Team was joined by a team of Bowdoin alumni ranging in class year from 1970 to 2006 and currently living across the country from Iowa to D.C! Members of both teams assisted in English classes, planned and implemented art activities in classrooms, assisted in the Early Childhood Education Center, and spent their last day with our oldest students at a water park on the beach.

In their downtime, the students and alumni shared several meals together and explored Guatemala.  As a recent alum myself, this week was particularly meaningful for me.  I first heard about Safe Passage because of my experience on Alternative Spring Break during my senior year at Bowdoin.   Facilitating a powerful Safe Passage experience for my fellow alumni and current students made everything come full circle for me.  

Here are excerpts from the reflections of some Bowdoin students and alumni following their trip:

“We tend to believe that by helping the poor, we are doing them a favor or something.  I think we should believe that  by helping support education, neighborhood development, and health in impoverished areas that we are in fact doing ourselves and everyone in the world a favor.  We are providing opportunity for a generation of bright, young people who will give new life to our literature, art, and music and will help save our world from war, disease, hatred, and poverty in the future.”  Maya Little '15

“The entire trip was an amazing learning experience but most importantly for me it was an

opportunity to be able to share with others the same goal of working towards the common good with a dedicated community of people. It was great to be able to help continue the work that the Safe Passage organization is already doing. One moment that comes to mind, however, is the day we all spent at the Escuelita. I was able to work with the pre-school kids who ranged in age from four to five years old. I remember this day in particular because the kids were so amazing and talented–they were all so eager to learn and I could tell they loved coming to school.  I believe that education leads to the path of success and it is important for the young kids growing up inadequate conditions to be able to foster that love of learning early on so that in the future they can continue to build on that and hopefully be able to improve their lives and their communities.  I was very inspired by being in the classrooms with the kids and their teachers because I saw a warm, dedicated community. Although they must deal with issues of poverty, etc they persevere and have smiles on their faces. This inspired me to continue to work here at home towards equity in education.”  -Cristina Guerrero '12

“I left for Guatemala, knowing the mission of Safe Passage only through words. Before the trip, I had read about how this organization provides education and care for children and their parents living in the poverty-stricken communities of the Guatemala City Garbage Dump. Being a volunteer at Safe Passage, however, not only allowed me to witness this mission being implemented firsthand, but truly taught me the necessity of supporting this organization. I was most moved by the  enthusiasm for learning that I saw in every child I worked with, despite their difficult living conditions.

“I came to Guatemala hoping to inspire these kids to commit to education, but I left, realizing that they were the ones who inspired me. To see these kids working hard, yet enjoying their studies left me cheering for each one of them and hoping that they may all achieve their highest potential and move beyond their present environment. That is why I am thankful that such a program as Safe Passage exists for these kids. This program truly provides them an opportunity to succeed and a chance for a better life. At the same time, I understand that unfortunately, no such organization exists for many children throughout the world.”  Taki Nakamura '14