Friday, January 19, 2007

There's One More Star in the Heavens, and the Earth is Less Luminous

Hanley Denning, a young woman from Yarmouth, Maine, went to Antigua to learn Spanish. What she found there was the poverty and the pain of the families living on and around the Guatemala City Dump. Larger than several football fields, the dump was "home" to generations and Hanley knew she had to do something.

Her story could easily be a TV movie--as she told it to me my mouth kept dropping open at the sheer unlikeliness of it all--yet every scene would be true. She sold her car and her computer and began to try offering services to the children of the dump. A priest offered her an unused chapel at the edge of the dump and by herself Hanley began to clean it up. Some local kids started hanging out; then they started helping. The local drug dealers tried to run her out. She stayed. The vision grew.
That was in 1999. Today the organization she founded--Safe Passage/Camino Seguro--serves over 550 children. Each child receives assistance with homework and hands-on learning activities designed to reinforce basic primary school concepts; they also participate in a range of programs such as art, music, sports, English classes, and computer instruction.
Safe Passage also provides nutritional support, an on-site clinic, vocational training, and clubs for children and their mothers. And they have early intervention programs, adult literacy programs, and residential care for children coming from the most dangerous and unstable living situations. Volunteers come from around the world to be a part of this incredible program, all of which came into being because one woman knew she had to do something about the horror she saw in front of her.
When I interviewed Hanley for the radio show I briefly hosted in Portland, Maine, I left the studio knowing that I had been in the presence of a living saint. The fact that she would have been incredibly uncomfortable with that description was one of the reasons I felt so sure. Hanley was a living demonstration of the words of Edward Everett Hale: "I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I must not hesitate to do the something that I can."

Hanley died in a car accident yesterday, January 18th, 2007. If it's true that when a person dies a new star shines in the heavens, it is no less true that today the world is less luminous for this loss.

in Gassho,

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