At the time, she had been teaching in North Carolina after receiving her master’s degree in education from Wheelock College.
Hanley loved Guatemala. A one-year commitment became two years, but still, she never imagined she would stay. Just as she prepared to return to the United States in 1999, her good friend Regina Palacios asked her a favor: to accompany her on a trip to the slums by the Guatemala City garbage dump.
After she graduated from Bowdoin College in 1992, Hanley worked tirelessly on behalf of at-risk children. 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.
An early childhood center and adult literacy program were established, thanks to the commitment and ambition of staff, community members, donors, volunteers, and international supporters.
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 provides over 500 children and 100 parents with education, social services, and the chance to move beyond the poverty their families have faced for generations.
Hanley’s story reminds us of the power of one person’s vision to make a difference. The children in Safe Passage’s care remind us that there is much to hope for. View our timeline of events to see our progress since 1999.
Author and journalist Jacob Wheeler lives in Traverse City, Michigan, with his wife Sarah and children, Nina and Leo. He publishes the Glen Arbor Sun newspaper and teaches at Northwestern Michigan College.
Wheeler fell in love with the Central American nation while studying Spanish in Quetzaltenango in the Guatemalan highlands. His first book, Between Light and Shadow (University of Nebraska Press, 2011) covered Guatemala’s child adoption industry.
Wheeler’s reporting has won awards from Project Censored and the Michigan Press Association. A native of Denmark, he has filed stories from five continents, and his work has appeared in such publications as The Rotarian, Teaching Tolerance, Utne Reader, In These Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Detroit Free Press, and San Francisco Chronicle.
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