Today we celebrate the founder of Safe Passage, Hanley Denning, on her birthday. She opened the doors of Safe Passage (Camino Seguro) in December 1999. The hard reality of life in the Guatemala City garbage dump was unlike anything she had previously experienced in the United States. She felt a calling to do something.

Hanley enrolled 46 of Guatemala City’s poorest children in her new program. These children couldn’t afford the books, school supplies, and enrollment fees required by the public school system. Through Safe Passage, these children received tutoring, a healthy snack, and the care and attention they desperately needed. Another 70 children participated in a drop-in program when they weren’t working in the dump. On January 18, 2007, Hanley was killed in an automobile accident in Guatemala. Though her life was tragically cut short, her legacy lives on. Those she inspired continue to advance the mission she envisioned.

Today Safe Passage is a fully accredited school with over 500 students enrolled. 

An excerpt from author Jacob Wheeler’s book Angel of the Garbage Dump: How Hanley Denning Changed the World, One Child at a Time  “Hanley Denning has been gone for 16 years now. Camino Seguro, the educational reinforcement program she birthed in the abyss of the Guatemala City garbage dump has lived longer without her than it did with her. Her closest students, employees, volunteers and many of her supporters have moved on. But inspired by her and by their own experiences at the project, many have continued down the path of humanitarian assistance and nonprofit development work. The time they spent with Hanley—intense, jarring, scary, empowering, joyful, overwhelming, committed, tragic—forever changed them. This blonde-haired gringa from Maine tossed the stone. Her students and families, employees, volunteers and supporters are the waves that continue to ripple today. …

How does the school she launched in abyss of the garbage dump remember her today?
On a visit to Safe Passage five years ago—the date that would have been Hanley’s 48th birthday—students had created a poster featuring a woman with long blonde hair and large pink hearts on her green dress, standing atop a miniature globe. The words “Super Hanley” appeared at the top of the poster. A smaller poster in a classroom depicted Hanley as a flying superhero, her blonde hair falling down past her flying cape, paired with the words “Hanley es una heroina de la esperanza” (Hanley is a hero of hope). The words “Feliz Cumpleaños Hanley” appeared on a light blue brick wall, with paper cutouts underneath that were meant to depict balloons, clouds, and a colorful rainbow. Strings attached to the balloons carried a cutout of a single red backpack (Hanley’s backpack) with dozens of photos of Safe Passage’s founder taped to the wall. A message written in the balloons said “Gracias Hanley.”
To these hopeful and exuberant young students whose doors to education and opportunity now lay open, the founder of their school was as abstract as Wonder Woman. And yet they celebrated her.”
In celebration of Hanley’s birthday today we had students and volunteers write cards of appreciation. Here are some of the cards.

1 Comment

    • Gary A. Hofmeister
      March 11, 2023 at 11:10 pm

      I worked with Hanley at the God’s Child Project in Antigua in 1999 and often drove her around doing errands. It always struck me as strange to hear these words coming out of an attractive educated girl from Maine: “I can’t wait to get to the dump.” She was committed! If you have gone into the actual dump and seen the way people live at the lowest possible level, you can understand my amazement.

      I donated a few hundred to help her get started but luckily she was successful at finding deeper pockets to make the dream a long lasting reality. These days, there aren’t many true saints. She was one.

      Gary A. Hofmeister

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