When a group of sophomore girls from Greely High School in Cumberland returns from spring break this month, they won’t just come back with a tan.
They’ll have a new perspective on the world.
As many groups from Maine have done before, the nine students and three of their mothers are spending a week in Guatemala City with local schoolchildren whose parents work at the nearby garbage dump scouring for recyclable materials to sell.
The trips are arranged through Safe Passage, a nonprofit organization founded by a Greely graduate that offers educational and social service programs to hundreds of children and parents living in poverty in Guatemala City.
“I’m sure each girl will take something away from this experience, and I’m positive they each will grow because of it,” said Andrea Maker, the leader of the trip and the mother of 15-year-old Caroline Maker, who gathered the members of the group.
The first groups who traveled to Guatemala to volunteer for the program were friends of the late founder, Hanley Denning, who were interested in and inspired by her work, said Dave Holman, spokesman for the Yarmouth-based nonprofit.
He said the service trips became more formal in 2004 – the same year Andrea Maker and her oldest daughter, Elena, first traveled to Guatemala with a group from their church.
Since then, Elena Maker, now 23, has dedicated herself to underprivileged children. She has returned to Safe Passage several times and is currently a Fulbright scholar teaching English in Colombia.
“It just launched her life,” her mother said.
That first year, fewer than 20 groups, called support teams, made the trip and their purpose wasn’t well defined, which means they often provided more distraction than enrichment for the children, Holman said.
Last year, 33 support teams arrived in Safe Passage classrooms with specific projects, which have ranged from science experiments to lacrosse lessons.
Holman said about a quarter of the groups come from Maine and most often are organized through high schools, colleges and civic groups.
He said more than 10 percent of participants become volunteers at Safe Passage, as Elena Maker did, and that about 25 percent of the organization’s annual revenue comes from people who were on a support team.
For several institutions, the trip is a tradition.
Falmouth High School students travel to Safe Passage twice a year and, most recently, did in January. Bowdoin College, Denning’s alma mater, has a group of students and a group of alumni that go every year. Teams from Poland and Cheverus high schools and First Parish Congregational Church in Yarmouth have trips planned in the next few months.
The Greely group left Saturday.
With them, they brought a scrapbook about themselves, created in their high school Spanish class, and planned to work with the children to create a scrapbook about their lives in Guatemala to bring back to Maine.
“We’re kind of doing a cultural exchange,” Caroline Maker said.
Caroline decided she wanted to get a support team together after she and her mother went to Guatemala City last year to visit her sister, who had returned to work at Safe Passage for six months.
“It’s a really good vibe there,” said Caroline, who enjoyed the energy of the children and thought it would be fun to go back with her friends.
Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: