By Leah Boucher, Contributing Writer 

A group of children from Guatemala City participate in Safe Passage, an organization providing educational opportunities for children in need. (Photo Courtesy of Samuel Carignan)

A group of children from Guatemala City participate in Safe Passage, an organization providing educational opportunities for children in need. (Photo Courtesy of Samuel Carignan)

Twelve people from the Farmington community are in the process of organizing a volunteer trip to Guatemala City during February break through Safe Passage, a non-profit organization empowering Guatemalan children with educational opportunities.

UMF junior and treasurer of the Farmington Rotaract Club, Bryce Neal, said the trip is being organized by this club in connection with Safe Passage, an organization started in Yarmouth, Maine. Safe Passage aims to educate children living in the Guatemala City dump, one of the largest landfills in Central America. “We’ll be helping Safe Passage teach classes composed of children ranging from pre-school age to late adolescence, and we’ll also be helping teach English to the children,” said Neal.

This educational aspect is one of the reasons the Rotaract Club chose to open up the trip to people who are not members of the club, especially education majors. “We chose to not only accept Rotaract members and UMF students on the team, but high schoolers from Mt. Blue and community members as well,” said Neal. “We really wanted this opportunity to be community inclusive.”

Samuel Carignan, a junior majoring in elementary education, is one UMF student participating in this volunteer trip who took advantage of the open invitation. “When I found out this trip to Guatemala was opened up to students here on campus and members of the Farmington community, I jumped at the opportunity to go,” said Carignan, “as an education major, receiving the chance to teach children in another country is an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

This is not the first time the Farmington Rotaract Club has traveled to Guatemala City with Safe Passage. Steven Al Feather, a Farmington Rotarian, has been on this trip six times and will go again in February. Feather said the trip is absolutely worth the time and sacrifice. “One of the greatest aspects of the trip is not only teaching the children but learning from them. Every year I go, I learn something new about the culture and share some of myself with the kids while they tell me a little bit about themselves,” he said.

With February slowly approaching, Neal is hopeful that by being persistent and getting the word out for upcoming fundraisers, the group can meet their fundraising goal of $12,000. “It costs approximately $1,300 per person to go on the trip,” said Neal, “but we have raised $1,000 in the past week.” Upcoming fundraisers the club are planning include raffling off a tv in October, hosting a spaghetti dinner at the Homestead this winter, and even running a fundraiser with another non-profit organization that works in Guatemala, called Mayan Hands.

Students journeying to Guatemala do not have to speak fluent Spanish, but they are encouraged to learn the basic greetings and conversation starters of the language. One of Carignan’s biggest fears is this language barrier. “I’m a little worried that I won’t be able to adequately communicate with the children,” he said, “but we do get to spend some time teaching the children English, which can help both me and the students get out of our comfort zones.”