Part of our mission here at Heart to Heart International is to broaden access to healthcare for those in need, here in the US and around the globe. Currently, we have a team comprised of Heart to Heart staff and representatives from Welch Allyn, a HHI global partner, in Guatemala accessing those needs and exploring ways to broaden that healthcare access by joining with local, in-country partners.
Here now, Ginny Stehle, Heart to Heart’s Corporate Relations Director, with some thoughts and photos from the ongoing assessment trip.
From Antigua, Guatemala
June 4, 2012
Ginny: Today we are working with an organization named Camino Seguro. We began our day in their Antigua office, where we watched a short but powerful video and prepared for the day ahead. We then drove to Guatemala City to began our tour at the public cemetery which provided an overlook of the city garbage dump, one mile below where we stood.
We watched a parade of trucks enter the chasm from the left, dumping their contents on the floor beneath us. Backhoes moved the heaps of trash around, and many people, who looked like ants, scavenged the piles of trash, loading items into large bags on their backs. Vultures circle overhead. Our guide, Leigh Ellen told us that this dump supports the local zone economy and employs about 3000 people who buy annual permits to do their work. They walk 1 mile to get to the dumping area from the entrance to the grounds, and they have to carry their treasures out via the same route. They earn approximately $3 per day for their labors. Today, only those 14 and older can enter the dump. Before a huge methane fire in 2007, children were allowed to scavenge there as well as the adults.
We made our way to Camino Seguro’s main school, which has morning and afternoon programs for younger and older children. We stopped in the cafeteria to have a hot lunch of stir fry beef, vegetables and rice with the children. The meals are nutritionally balanced and clean, purified water is offered at every meal to encourage the children to stay away from sodas and sugary drinks. This is an after/before school program intended to keep the kids off the streets and supplement the local public school education. The programs cover a lot: teaching the kids skill to carry into life, as well as providing nutrition, hygiene, healthcare, mental health, artistic expression and lots of positive role models. Amazing programs!! Amazing people.
A young American woman named Hanley Denning founded the program to get the children out of the dump. Her vision was to give them someplace safe to go, to raise their self esteem, give them love, nutrition, education, and so much more to enrich their lives and show them a way out of this life.
The name Camino Seguro means Safe Passage, the way out. Denning died in an auto accident in 2007, but the program has carried on and expanded with dedicated staff and volunteers. The current Executive Director knew Hanley, came as a volunteer and got hooked. His wife now heads the educational curriculum. Hanley’s spirit is evident everywhere. It is amazing what this young woman started out with, and where it is today. It’s nothing short of miraculous.
The program started with 40 children in a small church building in 1999, and now has more than 600 children in the program between ages of 4 and 18 and three facilities in the areas surrounding the dump in Guatemala City. The children’s families are also part of the program, and benefit by its services. What has grown in this place is just amazing!!
Our Heart to Heart & Welch Allyn team toured and learned quite a lot today. We met the Executive Director, the Physician and Nurse, delivered some new donated Welch Allyn medical equipment for their clinic, listened to what they needed in their clinics, and participated in a health education class with the 4th grade students. Today’s lesson was about not smoking. It was great fun to interact with the children.
Tomorrow we’ll return to the same location and get to work as volunteers. It should be interesting!