A Letter from Jessie Strauss, Returning Teams Volunteer
The comics last week showed the kids in “Red & Rover,” “ Sally Forth,” “ Peanuts,” and “Stone Soup” all bemoaning their first day of school Having just returned from Safe Passage in Guatemala, my thought for these fictional kids, and all American kids, is, “You don’t know how good you’ve got it!”
My team and I returned from a volunteer trip to Safe Passage a month ago. Safe Passage is the education reinforcement program that works with kids who live on the Guatemala City Garbage Dump property. The kids are able to attend school because Safe Passage provides the required uniforms, books, and notebooks.
It’s great to see the kids enjoying reading!
We had a very full week. The first day our main contact took us to a spot overlooking the dump—the largest dump in all of Central America. There have been several changes to the laws about the dump since I volunteered at Safe Passage seven years ago. One very important change: Children are no longer allowed to be in the dump. In the past, children helped their parents collect items they could sell, and very young children were carried on their mothers’ backs while the mothers scavenged. .
The dump is still a terrible place to work. Garbage scavengers occupy a very low place on the social scale and are subject to all sorts of diseases.
During my 2002 and 2004 volunteer experiences with Safe Passage, I was dismayed at some disorganized aspects of the organization. But no longer! As in the past, the children go to public school for a half day and receive help with homework at Safe Passage during the other half of the day. But in addition, at Safe Passage the kids are studying English; many parents are learning to read; the families get medical and dental services; children can participate in sports programs; and little ones attend preschool. Safe Passage now enrolls 550 children! The women have started a thriving jewelry making co-op that brings in more income for them than gathering salable items at the dump.
Almost all of the staff are Guatemalans, but the programs could not run without the dedicated volunteers. About 50 volunteers stay any where from six weeks to several years. During the one week we volunteered, we helped teach English, played with the pre-schoolers, and taught clowning-type activities to the Juegos Ludicos Club.
Loosely translated, Juegos Ludicos means “Silly Games.” The club was a good fit for us. We called our team “Los Payasos” (the Clowns), and we taught magic, fancy jump rope, juggling and other activities to the kids in the club.
At the Ludi Club, I showed the kids how to make several magic props and taught them to do tricks with the props. Below, I’m explaining how to change three ropes of different lengths into three ropes of the same length. It’s magic!
Safe Passage truly is accomplishing its stated mission: to empower children by creating opportunities and by fostering dignity through the power of education. I want to assure those of you who donated to Safe passage that your gifts are being spent well!
You can learn more about this amazing organization at https://www.safepassage.org/.