Sometimes individuals ask with admiration, “how could Hanley Denning just sell her possessions on the spot and decide to start Safe Passage rather than returning home to her life in the United States?” Though it is something that few individuals could do, myself included, it is not hard to imagine why she made this decision—one that lead to a change in thousands of lives—after experiencing the municipal dump of Guatemala City.

I remember the first time that I was taken to a look-out point above the dump, which is tucked away in the heart of Guatemala City in a deep ravine, covering approximately 40 acres of land. Upon the sight of it, my nose burned with the acrid odor of garbage and methane and my heart sank deep within me. It is an impossible sight to describe in words; one could write page after page about it and it would not be a sufficient account.

Now, after having worked for Safe Passage since January, I have been to see this sight a dozen times while giving and accompanying tours. In the beginning, I imagined that after viewing this harsh reality so frequently, it would be something that I would eventually become accustomed to, but that has not turned out to be the case. Each time that I go to lookout over the place where the many of our children and their families have worked, I can see the spirit sinking from the eyes of the visiting volunteers I am with, as my own heart breaks alongside theirs. Despite how difficult it is, it is a reality existing here in our society that needs to be seen and known. Some individuals who go to view the dump call it both their best and worst experience during their time in Guatemala.

Although we volunteers at Safe Passage come every day to this frequently overlooked corner of the Capital City, and we have all seen the dump from the the top of the ravine in which it sits, we have only a glimpse of just how brutal the day-to-day life is for the hundreds of mothers and fathers working to scavenge recyclables and salvageable items from the wasteland below—where toxins, disease, landslides, and accidents make for hazardous working conditions. Next week, however, a special writeup in the Safe Passage blog will highlight accounts from several mothers who have worked in the dump. Their stories and perspectives will provide a far richer understanding of the situation that Safe Passage as an organization is working to overcome step-by-step.


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