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Kayaking for Justice

“I’m authorized to shoot you,” the gun-toting man told Deborah Walters ’73 when she unintentionally kayaked into a security zone near Sandy Hook, N.J. 


It required some negotiation before he escorted the retired neuroscience professor ashore. 

The incident occurred partway through a 2014–16 extended fundraising trip in which Walters kayaked 2,500 miles from Maine to Florida with a boatlift to Guatemala. She ultimately raised $425,000 for Safe Passage, a Rotary International-sponsored organization that helps to feed, educate, and provide health care for Guatemala City garbage-dump-dwelling families. Her journey was inspired by the persistence of these guajeros, or recyclers, who come from all over the country to scavenge. 

Growing up a few miles from the Appalachian Trail in rural Virginia, Walters was Quaker-schooled at Swarthmore and Guilford before earning a Ph.D. at England’s Birmingham University. She finished her academic career as provost at Unity College in Maine.

In November 2015, Walters received recognition for her work in Guatemala as one of six Rotary Women of Action at a United Nations conference. She is happy to report parallel success at Safe Passage—as Guatemalans gradually replace Americans on the board, literacy and sustainable job levels have soared for the guajeros.