A Safe Passage To Guatemala

COURTESY SAFE PASSAGE - Dr. Deborah Walters, shortly after she left Maine on her 2,500-mile kayaking journey to Guatemala.COURTESY SAFE PASSAGE - Dr. Deborah Walters treats one of the children from the Guatemala City garbage dump. Dr. Walters became aware of the plight of families living in the dump when she visited Guatemala for the first time nine years ago.

Late yesterday, August 14, a lone kayak arrived at Plymouth Yacht Club from Duxbury. The kayaker, Deborah K. Walters, did not start her kayaking adventure in Duxbury, nor will she finish in Plymouth. The final destination of the 63-year-old grandmother from Troy, Maine, is actually more than two thousand miles farther south. Dr. Walters is kayaking from Maine to Guatemala in an effort to raise awareness and funds to aid poverty-stricken children in Guatemala City. The entire trip is about 2,500 miles.

Dr. Walters began her journey on July 14, an excursion that she expects will take her a year or more to complete. The purpose of her sojourn south is to raise money for Safe Passage, a nonprofit organization that assists the children of families living in Guatemala City’s garbage dump. Her goal is to raise $150,000, and to date she has raised a little more than $57,000.

Dr. Walters will be spending part of the weekend as a guest of Elizabeth A. Griffin, a mental health therapist and counselor from Gray Gables. Dr. Griffin picked up Dr. Walters at Plymouth Yacht Club yesterday.

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“This is an awesome project, with people coming together to try and make a difference in these kids’ lives,” Dr. Griffin, a member of the Rotary Club of Bourne-Sandwich, said.

Dr. Griffin said that Dr. Walters is kayaking approximately 15 miles a day. She was scheduled to arrive at the Sandwich Marina this morning, August 15, but forecasts of 10- to 15 mile-per-hour winds coming from the west led her to decide to stop in Plymouth yesterday, Dr. Walters said.

Dr. Griffin said that Dr. Walters plans to be in the area for a couple of days. During her time here, Dr. Griffin intends to hold a reception at her home so local Rotarians can meet Dr. Walters “to support her in this undertaking.”

A graduate of Bourne High School, Dr. Griffin attended Bridgewater State College where she earned a degree in sociology with the intention of working with troubled and at-risk youth. At the age of 23, however, her father suggested that she try her hand at a business career. With her dad as a partner, they opened Elizabeth’s Clothing, a women’s store, on Main Street in Buzzards Bay.

Three years after the store opened, Dr. Griffin’s father died. She kept the store open for another 11 years before eventually selling the business and pursuing her life’s passion, mental health counseling.

She earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Lesley University in Cambridge and her certificate in advanced graduate studies in education training from Bridgewater State. Currently, she has a private practice in Falmouth and also works as a student mental health counselor at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School.

Dr. Griffin said that she was contacted by a member of the Weymouth Rotary Club who asked if she would be willing to host Dr. Walters during a leg of her journey south. She said she believes she was contacted because of her own fundraising efforts at UCT, raising money for Safe Passage.

“They’re a great organization, people making a difference on a local, national and international level,” Dr. Griffin said of the Rotary Club.

She said that when Dr. Walters pulled up to the shore in Plymouth, it was their first meeting. Before that, the two had only exchanged e-mails, in which her guest had suggested when she might arrive and expressed thanks for Dr. Griffin’s hospitality.

“She’s very appreciative of people who are willing to host her as she travels through,” Dr. Griffin said.

At the Safe Passage website, Dr. Walters’s biography said that she became involved with the organization after she traveled to Guatemala City for the first time and visited the garbage dump there nine years ago. She said that she met parents who support their families by scavenging through the discards and heard from mothers who wanted their children to become educated and attain a better life.

Along her route Dr. Walters will be stopping and speaking to Rotary clubs and others to share the stories of the grit and perseverance of the children and families living in the poverty of Guatemala City.

A retired cognitive scientist, Dr. Walters has previously completed solo kayak expeditions in the Arctic, Nova Scotia, Maine, Florida and Mexico.

“This is not a macho, me-against-the-sea challenge,” she wrote on the website, adding that she is paddling cautiously and safely. Her inspiration comes from the grit of the poverty-stricken children and the families of Guatemala City.

“Ordinary people can do extraordinary things with determination and persistence,” she wrote.

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