Anna Marie Klein=Christie, a South Portland resident, and director of international development for Safe Passage, a nonprofit school in Guatemala, participated in the organization’s virtual 5K event in 2020 and plans to do so again Sept. 10-19 of this year. File photo

SOUTH PORTLAND — After a successful virtual 5K event last year, Safe Passage, a nonprofit based in Guatemala and Maine, is hoping to connect people from different countries again in 2021.

Safe Passage, a school based in Guatemala City, is looking to raise $35,000 through a virtual 5K event Sept. 10-19, said Anna Marie Klein-Christie, director of international development and South Portland resident. Last year, the event raised $30,000, a record amount.

Due to COVID-19, the traditional 5K style was altered to allow communities from anywhere in the world to participate, choosing to run or even exercise in a different way, she said. The event encourages participants to be creative.

“It was such a success,” Klein-Christie said. “We were able to engage with people all around, and when I say that, I mean across this country and in Germany and France, Guatemala, and we had some folks from Canada as well. It was just so much fun to do this. People were so energized by it that we felt we had to do it again.”

This year, participants from half a dozen countries, the U.S. and Maine have already signed up, said Jennifer Wilson, annual fund and communications manager for Safe Passage.

The organization opened in 1999, according to Safe Passage’s website. As a pre-K through ninth grade school, Safe Passage provides education, healthcare and nutrition programs to over 500 children.

Since March of 2020, on-site school has been closed for Guatemalan students, Klein-Christie said. Safe Passage has been distributing food and homework through biweekly pickups.

“Our kids have not been on-site for school for over a year, which is the longest in the world,” she said. “It’s been terrible. So they’ve really suffered in that way, and that’s why it has been such a priority to include homework assignments in these food disbursements, so we can keep their education going, keep our fundamental support services available to the kids. We have telemedicine going because they don’t have access to a school nurse. Because school is not in session, the older kids are parenting or teaching the younger kids because, just like in the U.S., parents need to work.”

The virtual 5K funds will benefit the middle school STEM program, Klein-Christie said. Although they can’t be in school, the students are still engaged in their work.

Currently, the Delta variant is on the rise in Guatemala, she said.

“They were behind us in terms of timing and so their wave hit a couple of months after what came to the U.S.,” Klein-Christie said. “Now they’re getting the Delta variant, and I think we’re all just really scared about that.”

Keeping the staff in Guatemala connected has been important, she said. Last year, the virtual event brought people together at a crucial time.

“Everyone is feeling tired and down,” Klein-Christie said. “The pandemic has continued to be so hard on people, and to have a chance to be with community and celebrate what’s good about each other, what’s good about Safe Passage, and that we’re a family, that was really lovely, and I think it will be lovely this year.”

People are encouraged to look into Safe Passage at safepassage.org, she said. There, they can also register for the 5K event.

“We strongly recommend going to the website because then they can reach the staff easily,” Klein-Christie said. “We would be so happy to come to talk to folks, either by Zoom — we do presentations to com groups all the time. We’d be happy to connect folks in the us to staff in Guatemala as well. Then you can ask questions directly to folks on the ground, which is really special and unique.”

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