How It All Began

Our Start in Ethiopia

The Denan Project was founded in 2004 by filmmaker Dick Young. After traveling to Ethiopia to film a documentary, he visited a camp for refugees and internally displaced persons located in the Ogaden region, a remote area in the southeastern part of the country.  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. (The video here by our founder Dick Young tells this story.)

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.

More than a decade later, that tiny clinic is now a 34‐room hospital with a staff of nearly 40 people and a 10-room operating theatre is currently under construction. Our hospital remains the only free acute medical care facility in the Ogaden region, home to six million people. As of September 2018 the hospital had treated more than 300,000 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.

After more than a decade in Denan, our organization’s support has led to a number of positive changes in this community. Improvements in water supplies, agricultural planning and economic development have all changed the small town for the better. A stronger economy, supported by the local entrepreneurs funded by our micro-loan program, has translated into marketplaces that offer a larger number of goods for sale, as well as an overall improved infrastructure. A government-built paved road has also added to the town’s recovery. The photos below show the local village houses when we first arrived, and then again about 12 years later. The use of tin to replace straw thatch roofs in many of the homes is just one illustration pointing to an improved standard of living.

denan project before


denan project after


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, and this work has further expanded to include several other nearby towns. In 2011, we set up a project in the remote town of Tariat, Mongolia, partnering with Save The Children, Japan. In 2016 we expanded that program to include an additional hospital in the town of Erdenemandal.

Watch this video by our founder Dick Young to see how it all began: