Visit to Denan, February 2016

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By Jarret Schecter, Board Member & Volunteer

I’ve been to Denan many times since my first visit in April 2004, when we first talked about starting an organization to help people of the region. On this trip, like the ones before, I am once again jarred from my usual day-to-day automatic pilot. It’s a very beneficial experience on many levels. Automatic pilot, or automaticity, is not always a bad thing. It’s a way of putting order into life’s chaos. But in a negative sense, it reinforces inertia and detracts from mindfulness and gratitude. My trips to Denan remind me of this, each time.

Cognitively-speaking, when I am in Denan, I am more grateful for the gift of life that have I have been given. Moreover, I realize that there is reason (if acted upon) for much hope in the world, when you can see that so little can go so far. For example, for just a few dollars, a life can be saved with medicines, a rehydration tablet, emergency food supply or a doctor’s care. It is jarring to realize that my typical lunch back home of a slice of pizza and drink costs more then that.

Physiologically, life here also jars me in a very positive way from my usual unreflective habits. In the hundred plus degree-heat in desert conditions, I am hungry, thirsty, and without a shower for a couple of days, I feel tired and somewhat uncomfortable. However, the afternoon siestas with their beautiful rhythm put neuroses in their proper place, and watching the stars light up the night sky while sleeping on the ground in the open-air compound makes the trip all worthwhile. Later in the night, this lovely stillness is magnificently punctuated by animal sounds and a call to prayer that in its own contextual way, elegantly and thankfully ushers in a new day.

Awoken from automaticity my trips to Denan make me appreciate the real and the potential in life.

Visit to Navajo Reservation, Chinle, Arizona

By Richard Wool, Board Member & Volunteer

I recently took a trip to visit The Denan Project’s new venture with the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health on the Navajo Reservation in Chinle, Arizona. We are supporting the Center’s highly innovative Family Spirit program by providing training to tribal public health workers. In home visits, these professionals advise and counsel families, particularly new and expecting mothers, on a variety of subjects, including pre and post-natal care, parenting skills, avoiding pitfalls in child rearing, sound nutrition and diabetes prevention.  Along with fellow Board member Jarret Schecter, I observed two-days of the training program and left with the distinct impression that the “students” were highly motivated, had an excellent grasp of the curriculum and were anxious to start bringing what they have learned and practiced into the community. There is no doubt in my mind that TDP’s “investment” in this worthy program is going to pay meaningful dividends.

By Jarret Schecter, Vice President and Board Member

In December 2015, fellow Board member Richard Wool and I visited the Navajo Reservation in Chinle, Arizona and witnessed first-hand the training program for the expanded Family Spirit program, to which The Denan Project began contributing earlier this year. This is our organization’s first work within the United States, and I am very proud that our efforts are now also helping those within our own borders.

I knew, of course the statistics — 52% of the people are below the poverty line in the Chinle community on the Navajo nation in Northern Arizona. Being there in person, however, made me think more about the links between these statistics, related problems, and the people. Poverty has an ensnaring relationship with all kinds of other pernicious issues — higher than average rates of domestic violence, substance abuse, teen high school dropout rates, and poor health, such as diabetes.

Breaking the cycle of poverty needs to start at the earliest age possible. The Family Spirit program, which focuses on education and health for new mothers and their children, works preemptively through primary preventative education. The program thus helps to improve and enrich individual lives and families, saves in future health care expenses and provides gratifying work options to those who help others. In my view, the money The Denan Project invests today will go a very long way to preventing high and escalating future costs; both human and other.

Why Don’t I Want a Birthday Present?

By Renee Cayer, Volunteer

Since I was a child, I have been receiving birthday gifts from people I have never met, who live in a country I may never visit, yet who have given me something I will use for a lifetime. When I was nine, my mother read an article to me from the newspaper which described the non-profit organization, THE DENAN PROJECT. It was looking for donations to help run a medical clinic in a severely drought-ridden area of Ethiopia. It described how people had walked for up to ten days in order to get health care, at times burying their sick and starving children along the way. Medical aid there was virtually non-existent. Temperatures daily soared well above 110 degrees, which made for the most unbearable conditions in all of Africa.

As she was reading, I noticed a picture of a Denan girl next to the article. She looked about my age, which frightened me immensely. NOT ALL GIRLS ARE LIKE ME? Without letting her finish, I ran upstairs to my room and grabbed my allowance money I had been saving for an American Girl doll. I handed the money to my mother asking “Can you send this money to that organization? I do not need another doll. THEY NEED THE MONEY MORE THAN I DO.” From that moment it hit me that I could make a difference in peoples’ lives, a small difference, but still an incredible one.

When my friends would ask, “Renee, why don’t you want a birthday present? I thought you wanted clothes for an American Girl doll?!!” I would always respond with the simple answer: “Because children need medicine. For one hundred dollars the clinic stays open for one day.” Just knowing that my money is making a difference in peoples’ lives still makes me tear up to this day.

Why do I still collect money for Denan in lieu of birthday gifts? Simply, it gives me joy. Words cannot express the feeling I have when I send them hope. There is just something about that feeling that has become a part of me. It inspires me to do more, and drives me to ask how I can keep making a difference. The haunting image of the dying young girl with crusty eyes and flies on her face has stuck in my mind since I have been nine. I will never know for sure what impact my two thousand dollars has made, but even if I have changed the life of one child, it was money well spent. As most people see my donations as a gift to the people of Ethiopia, I see it as a birthday gift from them.