Story posted May 28, 2009
Bowdoin alumnae and alumni spanning the Class of '76 to the Class of '07 spent the last week of March together for a week of service at Safe Passage, an organization founded by Hanley Denning '92, and dedicated to helping Guatemala's poorest children, whose families work in the Guatemala City garbage dump, break the cycle of poverty through education. They came for different reasons, from a desire to honor their friend Hanley's memory, to understand the causes and consequences of poverty in this region, to finally meet a sponsor child whom they'd only known through cards and letters or to contribute further in a country where they had lived and volunteered previously. Lazos Fuertes (Strong Ties), the name of the hotel in Antigua that houses Safe Passage support teams and whose profits go to the organization, aptly describes the connections that this diverse group developed during their week together.
On their arrival at the hotel the first day each alum received a welcome postcard from a current Bowdoin student who had worked at Safe Passage two weeks earlier on an Alternative Spring Break trip. The immediate sense of community among the alums expanded throughout the week of working and playing with the children, learning about Guatemala and Safe Passage, recalling memories of Hanley and reflecting together on service to the common good. Through the week the group also united in swapping tales about their Bowdoin experiences, sharing their professional experience in law, education, finance, government and medicine and, for the more intrepid, running together early in the morning, which prepared them well for hiking an active volcano later in the week.
As they assisted with English lessons, carried out art projects with a couple of different classes, and helped at the nursery, the group helped nurture both the families' hopes of a bright future and the deep affection that all at Safe Passage feel for the place that their beloved angel Hanley studied. In the process the alums also learned about how the larger Bowdoin family has advanced the organization's mission of combating poverty through education. They met with the women in the highly successful Women's Literacy program that Sarah Mountcastle '05 started, and spoke with the director of the lacrosse program developed by Bob Stuart '77, which teaches children leadership skills through sports, and has inspired the creation of lacrosse teams across Guatemala.
As part of an art project building birdhouses with the children, each member of the group brought a gift of nature from their home, but they also each contributed other gifts. Two members of the group, Nancy Bride '92 and Steve Martel '92, close friends and classmates of Hanley at Bowdoin, offered the rest a more intimate understanding of Safe Passage's founder. Dave Sciarretta '93, who had spent much of his year as a Watson fellow in Guatemala, provided insight into the country's troubled past and present. Ken Hollis '76 gave welcomed financial advice in the Safe Passage office, and assisted in coaching the children's Saturday lacrosse club. Lucie Garnett '94 delighted and transformed a previously chaotic class by teaching them a new song, which they're still singing! Catherine Powell '84 brightened the life of her sponsor child with a long-anticipated visit, and Katinka Podmaniczky '06 sponsored a toddler named Winston whom she connected with during the group's morning at the day care center. Dylan Brix '07, helped others communicate in Spanish, and happily endured being climbed on daily by a bunch of adoring children.
Ken summed up the group's sentiments about the week of service when he observed, "One can only really appreciate the marvelous legacy of Hanley Denning by participating in the ongoing good work of the program she founded. It will return more back to you than what you invest."
Participants included Nancy Bride '92, Dylan Brix '07, Ken Hollis '76, Lucie Garnett '94, Steve Martel '92, Katinka Podmaniczky '06, Catherine Powell '84, Dave Sciarretta '93, Alumni Relations' Liz Mengesha '06 and McKeen Center's Janice Jaffe
"The group of alums attending this trip affirmed for me the great gift of a Bowdoin education: the facility for reflection, critical thought, selfless hard work, and of course enjoying life. Our graduation years spanned the 1970s through the 2000s, yet we shared a common purpose; within hours of meeting we acted as long-time friends. The opportunity to volunteer at Safe Passage (a transformational program founded by Bowdoin grad Hanley Denning) in the slums of Guatemala City epitomizes Bowdoin’s commitment to the Common Good."
— Dave Sciarretta '93