Paving the Way to Safe Passages
“We love working with Bennington, and we would love to have more students join us,” said Donnica Wingett of Safe Passage/Camino Seguro. “It says something when someone comes from so far away and looks our kids and moms in the eyes and says, ‘Hey, how are you? I care.’”
Safe Passage is a not-for-profit organization in Guatemala that helps children and families living in the community surrounding the Guatemala City garbage dump break out of poverty through education. This is where Huma Javeed ’21 spent her 2019 Field Work Term. Wingett, Director of Volunteers at Safe Passage, was her supervisor.
When Huma was searching for a place to work for her FWT, her Spanish teacher Sarah Harris suggested she look into Safe Passage.
“I wanted to do something in Latin America,” said Javeed, who went to high school in Costa Rica. “I really enjoyed the experience, and I wanted to do more work there.”
Javeed—who is studying Anthropology, Politics, and Spanish at Bennington—thought that working in Guatemala in a Spanish-immersive environment would be great for her Plan.
“I liked that Huma was motivated,” said Wingett. “She had thoughtful questions and was engaging. That takes the experience up a notch.”
Safe Passage was founded in 1999 by Hanley Denning, a teacher who went to Guatemala to study Spanish, fell in love with the country, and chose to dedicate her life to helping children and their families escape the slums. It provides a safe space for kids to be educated, to be social with other kids, and to learn about their own culture.
Javeed was among 23 other volunteers during her time in Guatemala.
“We have a variety of people who come, mostly from the US, but from other countries as well,” said Wingett. “They might be from Denmark, or Germany. That’s why Huma was exciting for us because she was our first volunteer from Pakistan. It pushes back the blinders to have people come and share different perspectives, languages, experiences, and interests.”
When Javeed arrived in Guatemala, she expressed an interest in public relations and development, which were a good fit with Safe Passage’s needs.
“The office in Guatemala is challenged with in-kind donations, activities, events, and sponsorship efforts,” said Wingett. “The sponsorship program is a big deal, and it is where we get a majority of our funding.”
Javeed was an assistant in the Public Relations/Development Office focused on supporting Safe Passage’s international sponsorship program. This included meeting with sponsors and facilitating communications between sponsors and students.
Before Javeed got settled into her role, though, Wingett wanted to be sure that she got an immersive experience in her time in Guatemala.
“We give the students a tour and introduce them to various programs,” said Wingett, who encourages volunteers to try new things. “We encouraged Huma to work in the classroom for the first week or so, so she could build connections and relationships.”
Javeed worked as a classroom assistant, helping teachers in whatever support role that was needed, including during recess and keeping kids on task in the classroom. She worked with students in first through tenth grades.
“I am not an advanced-level Spanish speaker,” said Javeed. “I have a basic knowledge, but I was living with locals who did not know English. It was very immersive.”
Wingett believed that putting Javeed in the classroom for a week would give her a clearer perspective about her work at Safe Passage in the development office.
“This enriched her understanding of the bigger picture,” said Wingett. “She has a face in mind when she is writing sponsorship letters, she can make things more personal.”
“It was overwhelming for me at first,” said Javeed. “I felt like I was coming from such a privileged position, visiting the garbage dump and seeing mothers picking through the trash to find things they could fix and sell. It was eye-opening.”
Javeed lived in Antigua, a small city an hour’s ride to the Safe Passage office in Guatemala City. She spent her time with other volunteers who were from Guatemala.
“They always tried to make me comfortable,” said Javeed. “I practiced my Spanish with them. I wish I had more time to spend with them.”
“Living independently in another country, even if only for five weeks, presents a variety of challenges unlike those presented in one's home country,” said Wingett. “Huma chose to embrace this opportunity, actively exploring and challenging herself…ultimately in efforts to improve our global society.”
Javeed looks at her FWT experience with Safe Passage as a rewarding experience. She knows firsthand the lack of bilateral relations that exist between South Asian countries like Pakistan and Central America, and she wants to do something about it.
“After Bennington, I want to focus on building relations between developing South Asian countries and developing Latin American countries,” said Javeed.
“Huma was dedicated to doing her part to contribute to our efforts to promote positive change together with this community,” said Wingett. “The rest of the team really missed her when she was gone. If she would like to come back, we are right here waiting for her.”
By Richard Brownell, Development Writer