I am a grandmother paddling alone over 2,500 miles from Maine to Guatemala. Along the way I will be:
- telling the story of the children who live in the Guatemala City garbage dump community
- honoring their entrepreneurial mothers
- talking about the success of the Safe Passage model school and
- raising funds for additional grades for the school.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Thank you to all who helped me and Quick update

Dear Friend,
It was so good to meet you during the Kayak for Safe Passage Kids Expedition from Maine to Guatemala.  I am finally in Guatemala, and want to give you a quick update on the expedition.

I started kayaking on July 11 from Yarmouth, Maine.  The first 300 miles or so were in the open Atlantic, where the challenges were getting past headlands and surf beaches.  The high surf from hurricane Cristobal caused my first emergency landing, where a surfer and a biker helped me to get my kayak out of the crashing waves.  My next emergency landing was in Long Island Sound, where a local kayaker helped me to haul my kayak and gear.  Getting to Manhattan was another challenge, but locals showed me a little ditch I could use to avoid the rapids and whirlpools of Hell Gate.  I was happy to have a paddle escort as I left Manhattan with high winds and breaking waves.
Heading out of Manhattan, with a kayak escort
I was almost arrested by the military guards in Raritan Bay when I got a little too close to a long munitions pier.  The winds and currents were almost more than I could manage as I paddled through the marshes into Atlantic City.  In the Chesapeake Bay the NOAA marine forecast was a little off because their servers were hacked, and I had to make an emergency landing at the Cove Point LNG Terminal.  The Coast Guard were very helpful in contacting the  homeland security folks to let me through the secure area.

The challenges continued as I paddled down the coast, although there were also many days of calm conditions.  As I launched each day into unknown waters, it often felt like I was jumping off a cliff.  So many times I was ready to quit.   The only thing that kept me going was remembering the parents at Safe Passage, and their grit and determination in working towards a better life for the children.  I was facing the challenges of this expedition voluntarily, but they don't have a choice in facing their obstacles.  Yet the children and parents continue working hard with such optimism.  Safe Passage is providing hope and opportunity through education, and I enjoyed sharing the many success stories with you along the way in person and through the blog.

By early January I had kayaked over 1,500 miles.  In South Carolina I was forced to stop kayaking and have emergency spinal surgery.   The numbness, tingling and pain I had been experiencing even before I began the expedition, just kept getting worse.  I had already stopped four times along the way for diagnosis and treatment, but the true cause hadn't been identified.  My massively herniated cervical disc was removed and two vertebrae fused.  

In a neck brace after the surgery, texting and watching the ships in Charleston, SC.
The recovery timetable is long.  I will not be able to kayak again until September or October.  I wanted to just go home and hide under a rock and heal.  But  thinking of the perseverance of the Safe Passage children spurred me on.  The whole point of the expedition was to kayak the coast while stopping to share the stories of Safe Passage.  So my husband drove down to join me and we carried on.  I continued making presentations about Safe Passage, but  instead of sitting in the kayak, I was now traveling sitting under the kayak, as it rode on the roof of our car.

It was touch and go as to whether I would be cleared by the surgeon to do the sailing leg to Guatemala, but in the end I was able to join Bernie Horn on SV Polaris as he carried donated school supplies to Safe Passage.  
On the SV Polaris leaving Fort Lauderdale and heading to Guatemala

I was humbled that Bernie and the crew would give so much of their time to make this journey.  Our passage from Florida to Guatemala included a few challenges, such as when we lost the engines engines for nine hours because the water intakes had become clogged with sea garbage (seaweed, wood and plastic), and had to be taken apart and put back together with one jerry-rigged part.  But after five and an half days of motor sailing, we arrived in Guatemala.

While I have only paddled 66% of the 2,500 kayaking miles, we have reached over 95% of our fundraising goal, which will provide the funds to convert the third and fourth grades from after school programs to a full day school.  I want to thank all of the people along the way who have contributed so generously.  The children want to thank you as well!
The Safe Passage children say "Thank you!".
I am confident that we will exceed our fundraising goal by the time of our celebration with the Safe Passage children.  If you'd like to help us reach that goal, you can use the Give Now button on the website.

The question now is, what about the remaining 1,000 miles?  Many people say I have done enough.  I have kayaked over 1,500 miles and gotten myself, one way or another, to Guatemala.  But for me that does not adequately honor the perseverance of the Safe Passage children and parents.  So once I have recovered and am back in extreme kayaking shape, I will start where I left off in South Carolina, and finish those last 1,000 miles, to arrive in Guatemala by kayak.  Maybe I can raise the funds for sixth grade!

Thank you so much for your part in this expedition.  I have so enjoyed being hosted by Rotarians and others along the route.  I have always believed in the goodness of people.  This expedition has just reinforced that view, as you and so many others have so generously shared a little of your lives with me.  I will fondly remember you all.  Thank you!

Let me leave you with the words of Mirna, the mother from the garbage dump whose words of wisdom kept me going when the going got rough.

Mirna, one the Safe Passage mothers who inspired me.
Mirna asked me to share this message with the people I meet along the way.  She said that when she was young and supporting herself by scavenging in the dump she didn't even have any dreams.  She wasn't living, she was just surviving.  But now, thanks to Safe Passage, her children have dreams and the skills to achieve those dreams.  Her son wants to be an accountant and her daughter wants to be a veterinarian.  Mirna herself has studied a few hours a week for the last eight years, and she just passed sixth grade!  She is part of the jewerly making cooperative and no longer has to support her family by scavenging in the garbage dump, and is earning three to four times what she earned in the dump.  Mirna wants people to remember a quote that has served as her "true north".  She told me she can't remember who said it, but it goes like this: "If you believe you can do it, you can do it!"  What a role model she is for her children, and an inspiration for me!  If I believe I can Kayak from Maine to Guatemala to help Safe Passage, then with lots of help form you and others along the way, I will be able to do it.

Thank you again for your wonderful help along the way.  Muchas gracias!  Muy amable!  And to those of you in South Carolina and south, I'll see you again soon!


1 comment:

  1. We are proud of and inspired by your great courage, Dr. Deb! We never doubted you'd make it but were feeling you along the way too~
    Hugs from our corner of the world!