Meeting of 4/16/15: ‘Safe Passage’ in Guatemala

Picture 3
Meeting at Quigley’s Restaurant
593 Columbia Turnpike
East Greenbush
April 16, 2015

Attending (13): Bill Dowd, April Dowd, Murray Forth, Pat Bailey, Jim Leyhane, Peter Brown, Debbie Brown, Stewart Wagner, Ray Hannan, Dick Drumm, Roberto Martinez, Debbie Rodriguez, Charlie Foote.

Guests (4): Rose Reed, Mindy and Will Whisenhunt, Elma DeFazio.


PROGRAM: The “Safe Passage” project


Mindy Whisenhut on site.
Mindy Whisenhut on site.

Pat Bailey introduced three guests from the “Safe Passage” project: Mindy Whisenhunt, a Spanish teacher from Niskayuna, her son Will, and Columbia High School student Rose Reed.

In July, they will be among 22 people from the Capital Region traveling to Guatemala as part of the Camino Seguro (Safe Passage) program — Mindy for the sixth time, Will for the third, Rose for the first.

Safe Passage stemmed from a visit in August 1997 by Hanley Denning, who had been teaching in North Carolina but wanted to learn Spanish to better communicate with her Spanish-speaking students. Upon arriving in Guatemala, she began volunteering with children and adults living in small towns near the city of Antigua.

She ended up staying for two years and, as she was about to return home, was taken to Guatemala City by a friend who showed her the slums in the capital city adjacent to an immense garbage dump. Many of the people were farmers who had come down from the hills to escape ongoing guerrilla warfare there. Lacking other skills, they began recycling everything they could from the dump as a way to make a living.

The changing scene at the dump over the years.
The changing scene at the dump over the years.
Will Whisenhunt working on early literacy education
Will Whisenhunt working on early literacy education.

What many families told Denning they wanted most was an education for their children as a way to improve their futures.

She sold all her possessions and, armed with $5,000 raised that way, established Camino Seguro in Guatemala City.

The program has grown to assist children and families who live in the area of the dump with educational support, medical supplies, nutritious meals, and career counseling. The program works with adults to teach reading and writing skills and develop alternative streams of income.

Rose Reed
Rose Reed

Today, Safe Passage holds a four-star rating, the highest, from Charity Navigator, America’s top  independent charity evaluator.

The local group — 17 students and five adults — our visitors will be part of will be working with elementary and middle school students during their nine-day July stay. They also will host a quinceanera for 19 young women. A  quinceanera is a festive, and sometimes lavish, celebration that introduces 15-year-old girls to womanhood, an important milestone in Latin culture. Because of the poverty in Guatemala, many girls have to forego this rite of passage. Safe Passage helps by purchasing dresses, shoes and other items.

Locally, the Safe Passage participants meet monthly for in-depth training,  especially important for first-timers.The upcoming trip requires $50,000 for such costs as security — which is key to safety — and local transportation, even though participants pay their own airfare, food and lodging costs. To date, $44,000 has  been raised.

Our guests were told that SRC will help at some level.


ANNOUNCEMENTS/BUSINESS


ROTARY HOME COOKING: President Bill Dowd announced that the final dinner in the series was a success, with 18 guests enjoying a meal at Roberto Martinez’s home prepared by professional chef Andrew Plummer. The event raised nearly $1,000 for the club treasury, with the expense of the evening underwritten by sponsors Roberto, Jim Leyhane, Bill, Carole Spencer and A.J. Amato.

SOCIAL EVENT: Five club members — Bill, Murray Forth, Terry Brewer, Debbie and Peter Brown — attended a social event for clubs from Areas 8 and 9 on Tuesday at the Fairways at Halfmoon. Thirteen clubs were represented, with 81 Rotarians and guests in attendance.

RYLA: Bill said he had sent an e-mail to coordinator Nick George concerning a different approach to soliciting enrollment in the 2015-16 Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) program. Because we had zero response from the five high schools in our service area — Columbia, Maple Hill, Rensselaer, Averill Park and Troy — for the 2014-15 program, Bill suggested that Nick contact them directly rather than having the club do it again. Hearing from the group that provides the training might be a stronger attraction for the schools. All schools received electronic copies of the RYLA brochure and a letter explaining the no-cost participation of schools, twice, for 2014-15. Bill’s letter provided Nick with names and contact information at each school. He said the club would again agree to underwrite the enrollment fees for up to four students from our service area.

DISTRICT CONFERENCE: District Governor-elect Milan Jackson has sent a reminder to all clubs that volunteers are needed for construction projects that are part of the conference in Schoharie County in May. Twenty professional contractors have volunteered to lead teams of Rotarians in doing painting, sheet rocking, etc. He noted that much damage remains from the flooding disaster in the county several years ago, and FEMA has been very slow to help. Details about the full conference and registration information are available on our website.

MIRACLE LEAGUE: The Capital District Miracle League has made its annual appeal for financial assistance. The organization, which serves young people with handicapping conditions enjoy a wide variety of sports, operates its facility in East Greenbush. Murray said his son Jeremy had participated as an athlete for a number of years until “aging out,” and that two others sons, Craig and Brian, participated as coaches. The club will continue financially assisting the league as it has done in the past.


NEXT MEETING: We are off for Thursday, April 23, but will resume meetings at Quigley’s at 6:15 p.m. Thursday, April 30. Len Leonidas has arranged for a representative of the Brain Injury Association of New York State to speak to us.


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