Saturday, March 10, 2007


I’m feeling haunted. Last night the Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine, was packed, all 1900 seats filled. When I got there an hour early, they were already turning people away.

What was the attraction? An unlikely combo: A hell-hole in a pit in Guatemala City filled with mountains of rotting, stomach-wrenching garbage; tiny tots picking food from this garbage; a 36-year-old Maine woman named Hanley Denning who, in 1999, sold all her possessions to open a rescue center for the kids; an Academy-Award nominated film about all this; and, finally, the sudden mind-wailing death of Hanley in a car crash in January.

The life of the “Angel of the Dump” snuffed out in an instant by a truck that lost its brakes and slammed in to her car.

Here’s what’s eerie: before her death, Hanley went to the budget director of Safe Passage (her organization) and said, “If anything should happen to me, I want Safe Passage to keep on going. Will you make sure it does?”

To start Safe Passage Hanley sold her computer and her car for $5000. With this she kept the organization going for a year. Then she bagan drawing in volunteers and money like the sun draws worshippers. Now the SP annual budget is 1.6 million. Last night at the end of the program I talked to one of Hanley’s volunteers, a fifty-something guy. “How’d she inspire people?” I asked.

“She’d just say, ‘Do you think you could do that?’ And I’d think to myself, ‘For you, Hanley – anything!’”

The Dump is a deep, open sore in the middle of Guatemala City. It’s so big it’s divided into zones, and it’s filled with thousands of tons of garbage riding in on trucks every day from all over the country. Sometimes kids are buried in the garbage and never found again – not even their bodies or clothing. The methane is so bad that cancer’s rampant among dump residents. A few years ago the entire dump caught fire and burned for days.

But before this, the granddaughter of Ub Iwerks, one of the two men other than Walt Disney who started the Disney Corp., went down to Guatemala to make a film about the gorgeous Guatemala countryside. Once there, however, Leslie Iwerks, like Hanley Denning, got lured to the dump. And like Hanley, once she'd seen it, she couldn't leave. She knew she had to make her film about the people trapped there. Leslie's Academy-Award-nominated film debuted last night in Merrill Auditorium.

I got to talk to Leslie afterwards, too. I asked her if she'd ever gotten used to the stench of the dump while down in it filming. She said she never quite did entirely.

It’s astounding to think that one 36-year-old woman living right around the corner from me in Yarmouth, Maine, could do what Hanley Denning did. The church she borrowed to work and live in was next to the dump and infested with roaches, flies, and other vermin, all of which Hanley had to clean up herself. And I’ve heard through the grapevine that at first the dump people -- who included drug addicts and criminals -- didn’t accept her. They smeared feces all over the walls of her church.

I suspect Hanley was The Goddess come just long enough to clean up one of the worst sores on the surface of Her earth. And after She got things going, it was time to head for home again.

Go HERE to read more about the event last night. Go HERE for more about Hanley Denning. Go HERE for more on Safe Passage. HERE is the Safe Passage website.

1 comment:

Morgaine said...

Goddess bless her - you may be right. Isn't it awesome what one woman with a vision can do? What if we all had that kind of commitment to something positive? I wish I did.