Our Start in Ethiopia
The Denan Project was founded in 2004 by filmmaker Dick Young after he traveled to a camp for refugees and internally displaced persons located in the Ogaden region of remote southeastern Ethiopia to film a documentary. Arriving in the camp adjoining the village, Young learned that some 7,000 people had been displaced from their homes by civil war, disease, and drought. New people were arriving daily – sometimes as many as 200 a day – having traveled great distances and in desperate need of food, water, and medical care. Tragically, they found almost nothing in the way of medical care and very little food and water when they arrived. The camp was in a precarious situation, with people dying daily.
When Young returned to his home to Woodbury, Connecticut – a town whose population is not much bigger than that of Denan – he could not forget what had seen. He gathered a group of friends and neighbors and talked to them about the desperate plight of the refugees. The group formed The Denan Project, with the shared dream of saving lives and giving hope to the people of Denan. It set itself a goal that it thought was modest and achievable – to raise $30,000 to set up a small, free clinic, to buy medicine for one year, and to hire an Ethiopian doctor.
The volunteers began to raise money by having gatherings in their homes and by speaking to local organizations. By April 2004, the group had raised enough money to open its tiny Denan clinic in an abandoned, rundown building. By mid‐day of the first day of the clinic’s opening, hundreds of villagers were already waiting to be treated.
Today, that tiny clinic is a 29‐room hospital with a staff of nearly 40 people, and is the only free acute medical care facility in the Ogaden region, home to six million people. As of June, 2016 the hospital had treated more than 240,000 people, all for free. With the success of the hospital, The Denan Project expanded work in Ethiopia, providing potable water, emergency food aid, and training in drought agriculture; equipping and upgrading the local school; and instituting a micro-loan program to support local economic development and self-sufficiency.
With a goal of replicating our success in Ethiopia, The Denan Project opened a free medical clinic in Ouadaradouo, Burkina Faso in 2009 (now run under separate management). In 2010 we further expanded our operations by building a free health center in Uratari, Peru, a tiny town in the Andean highlands. In 2011, we set up a project in the remote village of Tariat, Mongolia, partnering with Save The Children, Japan. And in the fall of 2015, we started our first project in the United States – partnering with The Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health – in the Navajo Nation in Chinle Arizona.