Our History

Hanley Denning wanted to speak her students’ language

Hanley went to Guatemala in 1997 to study Spanish. As soon as she arrived in Guatemala, she began volunteering with children and adults living in small towns near Antigua.

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.

Safe Passage
Safe Passage
That same week she sold her computer. She sold her car. She emptied out her savings account. And she opened the doors of Safe Passage (Camino Seguro) in December 1999.

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.

Over the next eight years, Hanley’s program grew

The educational reinforcement program found a new home in a safe and beautiful building further removed from the garbage 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.

Safe Passage

Safe Passage continues to bring hope

Safe Passage is a refuge for children facing difficult situations marked by extreme poverty, neglect, and abuse. Safe Passage is a gateway out of poverty.

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.

Safe Passage in Print

Angel of the Garbage Dump—How Hanley Denning Changed the World, One Child at a Time

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 RotarianTeaching ToleranceUtne ReaderIn These Times, the Christian Science MonitorDetroit Free Press, and San Francisco Chronicle.

Join Our Community

When you make a donation, join a Support Team, set organize an event or volunteer in Guatemala, you help a top rated charity empower people and change lives in one of the poorest places on earth.


Join our Recurring Giving Program

Join our recurring giving program and help us maintain consistent support for our students.

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Your gift gives hope, education, and opportunity to our students and their families

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Join a Support Team in Guatemala

Spend one week of service learning at our program in Guatemala

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Contribute your time and experience in our U.S. office or program site in Guatemala

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Contact Us

We invite you to visit our U.S. office in New Gloucester, Maine and our program site in Guatemala City.


6a. Avenida 11-95 Zona 7
Colonia Landivar, Ciudad de Guatemala

8am - 5pm (GMT)

TEL (502) 2440-4388



49 Farm View Dr
Raymond Hall, Suite 302
New Gloucester, ME 04260

9am - 5pm (EST)

TEL (207) 846-1188
FAX (207) 926-8244