February 28, 2020
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Maine grandmother kayaking Guatemala to raise money for charity

Ann Charlton | York County Coast Star
Ann Charlton | York County Coast Star
Deb Walters is kayaking from Maine to Guatemala, raising awareness and donations for Safe Passage, a charity that helps children in Guatemala.

WELLS, Maine — The Wells Rotary Club had the opportunity to listen to the story of one woman’s inspiring journey as she kayaks 2,500 miles from Maine to Guatemala in an effort to raise awareness and donation for a Maine-based nonprofit called Safe Passage.

Deb Walters, a 63-year-old retired scientist and grandmother, was the guest speaker at the Wells Rotary Club on July 21 and had only a few minutes to speak before she had to leave to continue on her journey. Walters said that seven years ago she thought of the idea of kayaking from Maine to Guatemala to raise funds for Safe Passage, an organization she learned about after meeting its late founder, Hanley Denning, on a trip to Guatemala with her Rotary Club from Unity in 2005. Safe Passage aims to help children and families living in Guatemala City, according to its website.

After two solid years of planning, Walters began her trek from Yarmouth on July 11. She hopes to complete her journey in May of 2015.

Walters spoke to fellow Rotarians on Monday about what she has experienced during her many trips to visit the families living in slums near a dump in Guatemala over the past nine years.

“I smelled the swirling, choking dust and saw the vultures overhead,” Walters said.

Walters said she asked mothers there what they wished most for their children. The women told her they hoped their children could go to school.

Walters said she has seen many success stories that have inspired her. She spoke of a 73-year-old grandmother who earns her living scavenging in the dump, but went to school to learn to read so she could teach her grandchildren. The woman has since written a book.

Other success stories Walters noted include a group of women who began a business of making jewelry by rolling tiny beads out of recycled paper. They now own their own business, called Creamos LLC, and no longer have to earn their living at the dump.

According to Walters, the overall graduation rate from high school in Guatemala is only 10 percent, while children who attend the Safe Passage school have a 40 percent graduation rate. Walters said that people with a high school diploma have an earning potential five times greater than those who do not graduate.

The Safe Passage school currently has classes for preschool through second grade, and Walters hopes that her kayaking journey will raise enough money to add third- and fourth-grade classes.

Walters has completed several other solo kayaking expeditions, including some in the Arctic. Some of her trips have been affected by hurricanes and other severe weather conditions.

“You have to have respect for the sea,” she said.

The children from Safe Passage were worried that Walters would be lonely on her trip, so they sent her a rubber duck to keep her company. Walters has named it Patito Amistoso and keeps it close to her heart in a pocket on her kayaking jacket.

Walters has had a lot of help planning her journey, with 46 corporate sponsors. Her kayak is custom made, and she is testing several products for L.L. Bean. Walters has many sponsor logos on the kayak and jokes that she thinks it looks like a Nascar race car.

Her kayak is decked out with all of the newest electronic gadgets, including a GPS from Delorme that tracks where she is every 10 minutes. People can watch her journey by going to safepassage.org, opening “Kayak for Safe Passage” and clicking on the “Where’s Deb?” box.

Walters also has a video camera mounted to her kayak and is blogging about her journey.

Walters said that she is funding all of her trip expenses herself so that any money raised through her journey will go directly to Safe Passage.

Anyone who would like to donate or learn more about Walters’ 2,500 mile journey can visit Kayak for Safe Passage Kids page on the Safe Passage website.

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