Dear TDP Supporter,
We hope you are staying well and managing as best you can at this difficult time. At the Denan Project, we have been monitoring the Covid-19 situation at all our sites, as it is effecting our operations in different ways. Our first priority has been to provide emergency funds and assist the doctors and community staff in each of the locations in which we work in order to help prevent and/or minimize disruption as much as possible. Allow me to share with you a brief update with a bit more detail from each of our communities:
All schools are closed due to the virus in the Somali Regional State where we work. As of April 27, there have been no cases of the Covid-19 virus in the Denan area or in the Somali Regional State, but this is likely to change in the coming weeks. In preparation for the virus, we have furnished sterilization supplies, masks, and other Personal Protective Equipment for all our staff.
Unfortunately, the threat of the Covid virus is only in addition to other ongoing challenges for the region. Following the spring rains, there have been severe invasions of locusts in nearby areas; the closest about a 2 hour drive from Denan. We are carefully monitoring this situation, as an invasion of this sort could be devastating to Denan’s crops and food supply. In addition, with the spring rains there has been an increase in the number of pneumonia and typhoid fever cases seen in our hospital over the past month. We continue to need medications and medical supplies to meet our patients’ needs, which are only likely to grow in the coming months.
Our operations in Tariat and Erdenemandal continue unabated, although all the schools are closed because of the Covid-19 virus. There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in the hospitals we support, although they too believe it is only a matter of time before it arrives. The hospitals are open and treating patients while conducting a series of pandemic-related training for their staff. They have also prepared isolation facilities for people who have come in contact with someone who was infected with the virus. The hospitals are prepared with a stock of protective clothing and equipment, along with medicines and oxygen concentrators. The localbagh doctors are also visiting herder families to share information on washing hands, using masks properly, and to ask them to stay home. Without the support of The Denan Project, the local doctors would be unable to reach these remote herder encampments.
All schools in Peru, including the boarding school we established in Uratari, are closed. The Uratari Health Center is still treating people even though much of the area and country are closed off. So far there have been no Covid-19 cases in the High Andean villages where we are working. Like elsewhere, it is only a matter of time before cases occur, and we are doing what we can to ensure the health center has the supplies it needs. The introduction of the Covid-19 virus in these High Andean villages (as at any of the sites we serve) would be devastating because of the remoteness of the locations and the lack of infrastructure.
I would like to thank the incredible thoughtfulness and generosity of our donors and volunteers at this time. With your support, we will continue our efforts to support all our communities during this unprecedented pandemic. As always, it is often the poorest people who are the most vulnerable, and sadly, the most frequently forgotten. I thank you for keeping our communities in your thoughts and prayers as we all face this situation together, in all corners of the globe.
Stay safe and well,
THANK YOU. In 2019, your support of The Denan Project made a difference; you helped to change the world for the better, one community at a time. Because of your generosity, we have been able to enhance the quality of life of some of the poorest and most isolated people on our planet. Through improved medical care, education, agriculture, and water accessibility, as well as economic development through micro-loans, our projects made meaningful advances in 2019. The information below gives you an overview of some of the amazing work that has taken place at each of our project sites this past year.
We are incredibly proud of what we have achieved so far. Our ultimate goal is to help communities to become permanently self-sustainable. At each of our sites, we work closely with on-the- ground partners and with the support of the local communities to achieve long-term success. We remain committed to careful financial oversight and frugal planning, and we personally make regular site visits each year to ensure that every dollar is being stretched to its utmost. And importantly, because of the incredible generosity of several Members of our Board of Directors who cover our overhead costs, we promise that 100% of every dollar you donate will go directly to the people and communities we support.
Changing the world often seems like an impossible task. But we believe that when friends and neighbors come together, we can make a difference. We thank you for your past support and humbly ask you to consider The Denan Project in your 2019 charitable giving plans. Your gift will continue to bring real, positive change to some of the poorest people on our planet.
On Behalf of All Our Volunteers, With Deepest Gratitude,
Dick Young, President/Founder, The Denan Project
The strong reputation of our hospital, now with 34 rooms, continues to spread throughout the Ogaden region. This is both a blessing and a curse, as we now have more than 3,000 patient visits each month, stretching our resources to the limit. All medical care continues to be free, which is important in this poor area of the world. In March, we were honored to be awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the President of the Somali Regional State, “in recognition of commendable work and contribution for providing comprehensive primary health care services to the Denan community for the last 15 years.”
We are hoping to recommence our medical outreach program and have been promised additional support from the President, with whom we continue to meet on a regular basis.
Our micro-loan program continues to bring important economic benefits to the community. We have distributed 41 micro-loans to date, benefiting approximately 350 families, and all continued to be repaid in full. The impact of this economic development continues be seen in many ways: new kiosks in the market, tuk-tuk taxi services, a new hotel, and new construction in the town. It is heartening to watch the standard of living within this community improve.
Unfortunately, drought continues to be a problem in this corner of the world, and despite improved water supplies and agricultural planning, when rains do not come it is devastating to crops, animals, and the health of the local people. Last year, your generosity allowed us to provide an emergency food shipment to approximately 12,000 people, as well as to expand water distribution to outlying villages.
In 2019, we grew from our initial outreach in the small village of Uratari and now provide medical services to a number of other distant villages in the High Andes, including the communities of Pampahyulla, Pivil, Chonta, Churo, and Choquemarca. This allows us to bring medical and dental care to about 400 patients per month, often enabling the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses before they become life threatening.
In addition to health care, our focus on education continues. Working with local officials, we are enabling students from remote villages with their first opportunity to attend high school and are providing support for housing, meals and administrative staff for those who live too far to return home each day. For many of these students, this is their only chance for a higher education. We also work with high-school students through our Golden Condor Awards, which are given to the top three students in the equivalent of the 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. These awards consist of a certificate and $50 cash, a significant amount of money in this corner of the world, giving an economic incentive to stay in school to students and parents alike. In addition, our partial-scholarship student continues to excel in her advanced studies.
Our economic development programs are continuing nicely. Most of our micro-loans are given to women’s groups and focus on the raising of cuyes, a delicacy of the region. One of the benefits of the program is that it brings in much-needed currency as well as a source of protein to the people in the area. Other microloans focus on bee-keeping and the growing of quinoa. All current micro-loans are scheduled to be repaid in full and on time.
The two hospitals we support in the remote towns of Tariat and Erdenemandal currently serve approximately 40,000 patients a year. We also provide essential equipment to traveling doctors who use mobile medical tools. The combination of these two approaches is proving very effective, as it enables members of local communities, and those in distant herder settlements, to receive earlier diagnoses and receive critical treatments in their homes. This is particularly true for young people and herders in these remote villages who have not traditionally received regular medical checkups.
In 2019 we furnished dental facilities at both hospitals and also provided state-of-the-art surgical equipment and testing devices. We continue to support higher education for our medical staff and provided tuition fees for doctors to receive advanced degrees in Cardiology, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, Anesthesiology, and Dentistry. The dental student we supported in her studies has started working in the Tariat hospital as a dentist. The need for this support is clear; 97% of the children who have received dental checkups show dental problems. Our two hospitals are working together with schools to better educate students about dental health.
This past year your support enabled the construction of a heated garage for our hospital. Unbelievably, the medical staff used to have to spend nearly an hour de-icing the hospital’s ambulance when it was needed for a medical call, burning firewood to generate the necessary heat. Now, with a heated garage the vehicle is immediately available for emergency calls – undoubtedly a life-saving difference.
by Jean Shin, Board Member & Volunteer
‘You must experience the winter here,’ is what a local partner of The Denan Project (TDP) told me during my visit to Mongolia in July 2017. So, I thought I was being clever by picking September instead: not the tourist-friendly months of July and August, but safe enough from the harsh weather of its long winter. Well, let’s just say…I was only half right 😉
[This report was originally written during my visit to TDP’s project sites in Mongolia in mid-September 2018 in order to share the experiences with my fellow board members and other volunteers of TDP.]
Day 1: A Long Drive Across Frozen Mongolian Steppe
The long drive from the capital city Ulaanbaatar (UB as the locals call it) to Tariat started at 6AM, September 17. UB wasn’t fully awake yet — and neither was I. But I was looking forward to seeing the hospital staff in Tariat and Erdenemandal I met for the first time last year, and experience firsthand the progress they made past 14 months (and for the last 7 years since TDP’s arrival in Mongolia).
Just when I was about to reach my very limit and lean over to ask the driver about the cost of fixing the car’s suspension system, we entered Tariat. (Hooray!) Colorful roofs dotting the gray open field…gave me an instant relief — and made me smile.
Day 2: Promises Made, Promises Kept — and Renewed
Facing a compressed schedule for the day, we started early from our ger (yurt) camp and headed to the hospital to meet the staff and patients. Over a hot cup of kumquat tea (perfect for the cold morning!), the Head Doctor Dr. Gereltuya and her staff went over our regular metrics and new findings, such as how dental checkups revealed that 97% of the population have dental problems. They also shared their goals for the next 12 months. Among the topics we discussed, I was most impressed by how well the Tariat doctors are using the mobile examination tools we provided last year. They showed me medical reports generated from individual checkups. So far they provided baseline checkups for 900 people (measuring glucose, cholesterol, etc. for 18% of the total population), and are working to cover 60% of the total population (4,939) by the end of this year. This initiative will help them provide preventive cares, something that’s utterly lacking in many developing countries.
Another notable new initiative was their goal to become Brucellosis-free soum (district). Brucellosis is an infectious disease caused by a type of bacteria called Brucella that can spread from animals to humans, affecting many herder families. They’ve already examined 500 children ages 10–18, and treated 13 of them. Disseminating prevention information to herder families is a critical part of the initiative. As of now, there’s a vaccine for animals but not for humans. Every newborn animal will be vaccinated, and every animal will be tested but it’s up to the owner to put down the animals when they are infected.
Seeing how snow starts to fall in September, it was no surprise to Dick and I that the hospital is in need of a garage. But I was astonished to learn that they have to spend 40–60 mins just to de-ice the ambulance by burning firewood after receiving an emergency call. ‘Whaaat???’ was my response. That’s what they’ve been doing to cope with the winter temperatures that routinely dip below -40 ° (even -60 ° at some nights) without a garage. It was clear to Dick and I that we simply have to finance a heated garage for the hospital!
Out of the four medical centers that The Denan Project (TDP) is funding in some of the most impoverished parts of the world, namely Ethiopia, Peru and Mongolia, I must admit that our medical center in Uratari, Peru speaks to me the most. Perhaps it’s because I saw the community people building it themselves, brick by brick…perhaps…
In addition to the routine due-diligence activities, this time I had a special reason to be there. I wanted to work with the six high school students from The Pingry School (including three volunteers of TDP) who are visiting TDP sites as part of their leadership program organized by The World Leadership School.
[This report was originally written during my visit to TDP’s project sites in Peru in late June, 2018 in order to share the experience with my fellow board members and other volunteers at TDP.]
Day 0: A Country of Mountains, Jungle and Ocean
Soaking in the ocean air after a 17-hour journey from Munich to Lima. So began my third visit to this enchanting nation where you can climb the High Andes, turn to the Amazon rainforest, and touch the Pacific ocean.
By Miro Bergam, Ethan Malzberg, and Ketaki Tavan
In the Spring of 2017, we held our First Annual Charity Night for The Denan Project – a non-profit that supports isolated and impoverished communities around the world. As the student leaders of the Pingry Denan Project group, we had already organized a few other fundraising events like pizza sales and Dress Down Days. The Spring fundraiser, however, took our efforts to the next level. Rather than focusing just on fundraising, it expanded the attention to include education and awareness of the organization. We also decided to raise money for a particular goal – the funding of a water tanker in Denan, Ethiopia, greatly needed during a country-wide drought. We asked Dick Young, the President and Founder of The Denan Project (TDP), to be the keynote speaker, and an audience of over 100 attendees took time out of their Friday evenings to learn more about the charity and its mission. In the end, we raised more than $10,000 for the organization.
There was a second unexpected outcome of the event. Towards the end of the night, we were approached by Mr. Jewett, Pingry’s Director of Global Programs, who proposed a trip to one of TDP’s locations. The three of us had already been thinking about planning a trip related to the charity near the end of high school, but having Mr. Jewett to collaborate with, we were able to transform that idea into the first-ever student-driven Pingry Global Program. We led the charge in designing the curriculum and the accompanying itinerary for the trip, guided by Mr. Jewett’s knowledge of experiential education, and set in motion plans for a trip during the Summer of 2018.
Having been involved with The Denan Project for nearly three years, we set out with specific questions about nonprofit work that we knew we couldn’t find answers to in a classroom setting. We wanted to understand how organizations operated from the inside. Eventually, we decided that the purpose of the trip would be to conduct case studies of three NGOs in Peru, including TDP, through the lens of sustainability. Sustainability, as it applies to our research, is the ability of an NGO’s work to foster independence in a community; we hypothesized that, in an ideal world, a sustainable NGO could step away from the community in a finite period of time and the community would thrive on its own (as opposed to a charity pouring endless resources into a project).
Specifically, we compared and contrasted models for building sustainable communities, exploring the following questions:
- Is this work sustainable, and if not, how can it be improved?
- Does the work build independence or dependence in local communities?
- What are the impacts of international donations and/or volunteers in local communities?
- What roles do these NGOs assume in the structure of Peruvian society?
- How do factors such as tourism frequency and geography influence the approach and impact of an NGO?
- Who started these NGOs? Are the voices of Peruvians listened to?
We left for our trip in June of 2018. Sacred Valley Health (SVH), also known as Ayni Wasi in Quechua, was the first NGO we visited. Based in Ollantaytambo, SVH serves nearby high-altitude communities by giving health education to elected women called “Promotoras.” Promotoras are trained bimonthly in Ollantaytambo and serve as caregivers in their home communities. Promotoras are trained by “Docentes,” also women from local communities. By giving these jobs to local women, SVH helps set the communities on a path of success regardless of whether SVH is there in the future. SVH’s approach to sustainability relies on the training of Promotoras and Docentes so that they can depend on their own knowledge rather than that of SVH.
Awamaki, the second NGO we visited during the trip, helps register all-female weaving collectives as official businesses. Awamaki assists these collectives in determining the value of their weaving products and helps the women gain confidence in their selling strategies. In doing so, Awamaki hopes to preserve the weaving tradition in rural communities. By instilling confidence in the women and helping the cooperatives become officially recognized, these women are able to continue the tradition of their craft. Awamaki’s model of sustainability depends on women graduating its program and becoming autonomous in the weaving economy.
The Denan Project was the last NGO we visited. Its microloan program, through which TDP loans out cuy (small animals favored in the local diet) and bees to local people, teaches business skills and fiscal responsibility. Because of the nature and success of its microloans (the program has enjoyed a 100% success rate), TDP has never lost money on a transaction. The use of microloans, rather than simply pouring donations into the community, makes the exchange inherently sustainable. Additionally, the recipients of the loans themselves are the ones responsible for turning the loans into a business that stimulates the economy of their community. These skills and the businesses that result can outlast TDP itself.
The greatest finding we learned while investigating TDP’s project was that, oftentimes, sustainability must be compromised for greater change to be impacted. For example, the funding of TDP’s hospital would not be possible without large international donations, but these are rarely sustainable and ongoing sources of money. However, without such donations, TDP would be unable to offer medical care as a service. TDP’s practical outlook on sustainability allows the organization to efficiently provide an array of services; this perspective elucidated us to the limits of an exclusively sustainable approach.
In addition to the three NGOs, we visited sites across Peru including Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu. While sightseeing in these locations was highly enjoyable, the immersive nature of our trip made them equally academic. Witnessing the commodification and tourism of Machu Picchu served as a standing reminder of how tourism can shape the landscape for indigenous peoples — something we saw both do and undo the work of charities like Awamaki and Ayni Wasi. For example, tourism funds the work of Awamaki through workshops they run for visitors, while at the same time making their work more challenging by introducing cheaply made souvenirs that undercut the prices of traditional weavers. In this way, tourism is a double-edged sword.
The trip reached its climax when we visited the Congress of Peru in Lima on our final day. The group had the opportunity to meet with Congressman Wilbert Rozas, Secretary of Education Paloma Noceda, and President of the Congress Luis Galarreta. We discussed TDP’s planned construction of a boarding school in Uratari that would allow students from neighboring villages to attend classes. This meeting put to work all of the communication skills and NGO knowledge we had accrued during our two-week trip.
The work of the three NGOs we visited all involved unique ways of helping local communities. Each organization took their own approach to understand the specific circumstances within which they were operating and the local people’s needs. We saw that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be applied to nonprofit work. Whereas one charity may thrive off a tourist economy, such as Awamaki which sells woven goods to tourists, others must subsist in different ways, such as TDP which actively seeks out locations too remote for tourist engagement. Similarly, all charities had different relationships with governmental structures, with TDP relying on local officials to oversee the execution of their projects and Ayni Wasi having a location in Ollantaytambo that has to collaborate with the government-run health post.
Over the course of our trip we saw that charity work is not inherently perfect. An NGO’s model can only be sustainable with the understanding that the organization must adapt to the needs of and empower the local people. However, we believe that with this awareness, an effective and long-lasting impact can be made.
By Jean Shin, Board Member & Volunteer
Toilet paper? Check. Energy bars? Check. Cipro? Check. Email auto reply? Double check.
Packing light is something I already know how to do. But doing so with basic daily necessities, medicines, and clothing for multiple climates? Well, that turned out to be a rather distracting experience…at least that’s the only excuse I came up with while running for a long taxi line outside the Munich airport, trying to get back home to pick up my passport I forgot to pack. ‘There’s no way I’m missing the flight,’ I announced to the taxi driver. So it began on Jul. 5 – my first visit to The Denan Project (TDP) sites in Mongolia .
It’s not the mileage, it’s the connection.
After landing in Ulaanbaatar (the preferred spelling among locals) via Moscow and filling out a lost-luggage claim form, I was greeted with a news that Dick Young, the founder of our organization, was stuck in China and that his arrival time was unknown (something about his flight being cancelled, re-routed, reshuffled, etc.). Mongolia is not the farthest place I’ve ever traveled to, but definitely one of the places with the fewest direct connections.
Spending the eve of the Mongolian presidential election day in the heart of the capital city, I was trying to figure out why some of the street signs were still written in what-looks-like Russian Cyrillic. Right, the Soviet influence still remains in this country, sandwiched between Russia and China, trying to make their young market economy work.
Standing in front of a TEDx Ulaanbaatar poster against a backdrop of a new shiny building, I was reminded of my walks through Moscow and Shanghai…and some other cities in developing countries with similar shiny buildings in the making, Jakarta, Lima, Addis Ababa… ‘Let’s see how things outside the capital look,’ I murmured.
Economic and political participation of women.
Upon Dick’s arrival (about 30 hours after his departure in New York), the project team (including our local partners from Save The Children) met with the Mongolian Minister of Health Tsongtsetseg. Sitting across the table from the woman Minister and a room full of woman professionals at the same table, I couldn’t help but notice the stark difference from my visits to other TDP sites, especially compared to my meetings with an all-men group of elders in Denan, Ethiopia. As I walked back from the meeting – where the Minister awarded Dick with an honorary medal for TDP’s contribution to the wellbeing of people in the Arkangai province (about 700 km away from Ulaanbaatar) – I added this to my to-do list: google OECD’s report on women’s economic role and sustainable development. Read it again!
Nomadic living in urban ghettos—and in the Land of the Blue Sky.
Heading west from Ulaanbaatar, our 4×4 vehicle passed through some of the ‘ger districts,’ the Mongolian version of urban ghettoes surrounding the city center. Herders who fled the countryside, after having lost their livestock, were now stuck in the outskirts of the city with no running water, or proper sewage. Carrying all trappings of their nomadic lifestyle…but with no animals to herd, no fodder to harvest…
I was told that our drive should be smoother and faster than in previous years, at least for the first 1/3 of the journey, as more of the roads have been paved. ‘Hopefully not all the way,’ I murmured. I didn’t have to worry. The long stretch of paved roads, dotted with a few eateries and outhouses I didn’t dare to walk into, ended soon enough.
Then came something I’ve never seen before. Something I never had to describe before. A land of steppe and sky. Vast pastoral rolling grasslands…under a seemingly endless blue sky. I was beginning to get why Mongolians call their country the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky.
Low mountains started to dot the horizon…and I knew we were getting close to our destination Tariat, the second coldest place in Mongolia where winter temperatures routinely dip below -40 °C. Although my senses told me I was in an endless spread of temperate grasslands with grazing horses and yaks, I had heard enough about the harsh winters of the area to know that the July weather I was soaking in wouldn’t last much longer. In fact, that punishingly cold weather – in addition to the general lack of funds for heat and basic medical supplies – had a lot to do with why TDP came to Tariat in year 2011, and put a stop to the shortages that used to prevent the hospital from treating patients for 4 months a year.
Providing basic human services in developing countries.
So, how do you run a hospital without running water? The same question again. One of the first questions I asked myself while visiting our hospitals in Peru and Ethiopia. It’s a common problem that makes everything that much more difficult to handle – and those difficulties quickly add up. In fact, according to some stats, one-third of all hospitals in the developing world lack running water.
Beyond the glaring similarities across nations classified as developing countries, what I saw in Mongolia was distinctly different. In Denan, Ethiopia, our organization had to start from scratch (building the hospital from the ground up, trucking in water, etc.). In Uratari, Peru, the community rolled up their sleeves early on and built the hospital together brick by brick. In Tariat and Edenemandel in Mongolia, it became clear to me that it’s more about identifying the one last hurdle that prevented medical help from reaching the people in need.
What kind of last hurdles? Something I could only see by shadowing the doctors, meeting their patients, seeing the equipment and supplies they use, following the local doctors making house calls, etc.
Standing next to a young dentist, in front of a brand-new-but-never-used dental chair (a not-so-unique problem in many developing countries), I learned that with only USD1200 the dentist could get all dental supplies she needed for the next 4 months so that she could start taking care of her patients rather than waiting until January next year for the dental supplies, promised by the government, to arrive. In this case, that was the last hurdle. So, we resolved the issue then and there by allocating some of our leftover budget to the dental supplies.
Following a woman local doctor making a monthly visit to a herder’s family on a motorcycle, we learned that she ends up paying half of the motorcycle fuel costs out of her own pocket as the government’s fuel allowance covers only half of what she spends to cover the distance she has to travel every month. Having realized that the shortage is widespread and thinking that not every doctor would be able to make up the difference, Dick and I agreed to bring the issue to our board for next year’s budget.
Talking with a surgeon while shadowing doctors making rounds in Erdenemandal Hospital, Dick and I saw another hurdle we needed to address. The hospital has a surgeon who can perform a wide range of surgical operations, however the hospital has no anesthesiologist, limiting his scope to operations he can handle with partial anesthesia. Apparently there’s a nationwide shortage in anesthesiologists in Mongolia which makes it even harder for a remote hospital such as this one to recruit one. We left the hospital with a plan to provide extra incentives for a new anesthesiologist.
There lies the answer to the question I was asking while running back home to fetch my passport: so, what makes you think you will do more good by going there rather than simply donating that money? Why go there?
The answer? Because it matters. When the end goal is to get the care to the end recipient, we need to understand the entire flow. For many things, I prefer simpler answers. But what we’re trying to accomplish here requires understanding the complexity – and removing the barriers every step of the way. Besides, it’s in TDP’s DNA. We don’t just rely on secondhand reports. We go, inspect and improve.
Back in Munich, I find it easy to romanticize about the nomadic lifestyle I saw in Mongolia and to question the people who were abandoning their tradition and fleeing to the dismal life in urban ghettos. But ultimately, it’s their choice. And for those who decide to stay, I would like to think that they won’t be denied of the basic human care such as medical service. The children and adults who came to a neighboring ger and waited for their turn to see a visiting doctor…they are on my mind.
By Roberta Wool, Volunteer
Visiting the Navajo Nation in Chinle, Arizona, from the metropolitan East Coast feels like being deposited in an America that you know exists because of history texts or a National Geographic special. You are prepared for a landscape of astonishing beauty, but can’t quite comprehend the societal inequities that are so palpable.
I am so pleased to report, however, that The Denan Project, in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Family Spirit program, is having an impact in supporting young mothers living on the Navajo Nation.
My husband, Richard, and I arrived in Chinle on March 28 and were greeted by Program Manager Kristen Speakman, who introduced us to Family Spirit Senior Trainer Kendrea Jackson and trainers Brandy Bridgewater, Indian Health Service Public Health Nurse (PHN) and Family Spirit Program Coordinator for PHN department, and Delilah Yazzie, Indian Health Service Public Health Nursing Health Technician. They were in the initial phase of a training session with several nurses and one nutritionist who are going to be doing outreach with Navajo women. The training session involved learning to use the Family Spirit curriculum, which is very detailed and offers a specific set of goals for each visit. The training involved a lot of role-playing, which was useful in preparing the outreach workers for a variety of family situations that was grounded in a culturally appropriate manner.
On the second day we visited Tsaile, where we met, Indian Health Service Public Health Nursing Health Technician, Maureen Mitchell and joined her for a home visit to deliver a Family Spirit lesson to an enrolled family that was about to have their fourth child. In our pre-visit briefing, we learned that up to 40% of the families on the Navajo Nation do not have potable water in their homes. In addition the remoteness of the reservation results in challenges accessing fruits and vegetables. The lack of access to potable water and produce might be a contributing factor to high rates of gestational diabetes as well as Type 1 and 2.
Our time there was well spent. There were no paved roads on the way to the house, only muddy tracks. The family consisted of the parents and their three children. When we arrived in the afternoon, both parents were at home with their youngest daughter and we were warmly welcomed. We sat in as Maureen used the Family Spirit Curriculum to cover the lesson for that visit. The husband sat with his wife as she responded to Maureen’s questions and eagerly took in the information Maureen was offering. It was quite clear that the family valued the information conveyed and that they appreciated the one-to-one communication that is a hallmark of the program.
Family Spirit is an evidence based program designed and evaluated by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Their research shows their interventions have a long term positive impact on the children. Family Spirit children are less withdrawn, anxious, depressed—outcomes that point to a brighter future in school and life. Chinle Public Health Nursing Department is hoping to replicate these data outcomes and is tracking the impact it has on pregnant women and their children until the children are three years old. The Denan Project is making an important contribution to a program with proven results not just for the Navajo Nation, but for other ethnic minority groups as well. I felt proud that we had the opportunity to visit the Navajo Nation and are able to support the Family Spirit Project that is working in partnership with the Navajo people who have a rich and wise culture to strengthen their families and communities.
To support a happy, healthy future for children in Native communities around the country, visit jhu.caih.edu/giving.
By Alice Norwick, Volunteer
It was a long journey from my small town of Woodbury, CT to reach the small desert town of Denan, Ethiopia, almost half way around the globe. But as a Board Member of The Denan Project for nearly a decade, I’ve always wanted to visit our original project in Denan, to see first-hand the work that our organization has done for this community. This February that dream became a reality.
Just getting to Denan was a feat. After a 13-hour flight to Ethiopia’s capitol, Addis Ababa, we took another 3-hour flight to the small town of Gode. From there we drove for an hour on a new road across the desert, a chalky moonscape of dust, sand, rocks and low growth shrubs. Every so often we’d pass a few very small huts made of curved sticks with a covering of fabric from cut-up food aid sacks and nearby we might see a herd of goats and sheep with their young shepherds attending them.
The Denan Health Center is a compound on the outskirts, separate from the small village of Denan and within walking distance of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp that has existed since the major drought and famine of 2000. All the beds were filled with overnight patients. These were some of the lucky ones, those who had gotten to the hospital and were now receiving quality care, always for free thanks to The Denan Project’s support.
Some of the images of the people that I saw during my trip will remain with me always. While accompanying a doctor on his rounds one morning, we came upon a mother holding a small child’s hand and caressing his head. He looked to be about 4 years old. But when we asked his age, the doctor told us to our shock that he was 10 years old, and suffering from acute malnutrition. His mother had brought him all the way across the desert by donkey cart from their village of Harerey, some 250 kilometers away. With IV feeds and the special “Plumpy’Nut” food supplement developed specially to combat African malnutrition, he had a chance of survival. His case, sadly, was all too common and I saw many other children who looked far too thin, or young for their age. The Denan Project has done so much good in this area, but there is so much more that could still be done, so many more children and people to help.
The poverty is evident everywhere, especially in the clothes the children wear — dusty, some torn t-shirts, flip-flop shoes worn thin. One little girl had only a skirt, settled around her neck like a poncho. The women and children spend hours each day walking to the dried up river bed to fetch water from the deep wells that have been dug in the sand there. The young teenagers use strong rope with a bucket to bring up the water. The women, with many children in tow, carry the plastic, gallon water containers back to their homes. If they’re fortunate, they’ll have a donkey to help them carry the containers. The water is not free of bacteria and many get sick from drinking it but there is no other choice. In the few short weeks since our visit, the wells in the dry riverbed have completely dried up and now the only source of potable water for the area is our watertanker. We are grateful that recent repairs have put our tanker in working condition, but we worry that it will soon not meet the needs of the community.
Our hospital in Denan is like an oasis in this land of poverty and high temperatures. It was very, very hot! Patients come for health care and receive loving attention. They receive two meals a day and are given vitamins. There is also a learning center that gives information on nutrition and good health habits. We encourage the women to come to the clinic to give birth and also for pre-natal care. In fact, we just received an award from the government recognizing the excellence of our program to encourage women to give birth at our medical facility rather than at home. One woman we saw had been on the way to the hospital but did not make it in time — she gave birth in the bush and unfortunately the placenta did not come out. She was taken by donkey to our hospital to save her life and remove the placenta. Happily, she was resting well with her infant beside her.
In addition to our medical outreach, The Denan Project also provides micro-loans to various groups in Denan. While we were there, we met with all the micro-loan groups and were pleased to hear they were all doing very well and on schedule to re-pay their loans. Most of them have shoats (sheep and goats). One of the women’s groups is also buying and selling fabric and doing well with it.
At the end of our visit we met all the staff together. Some told us that because of their steady jobs at the hospital and their profits from their micro-loan group, they have been able to upgrade their homes, sometimes gaining even a slightly bigger house or the ability to put up a tin roof. Their neighbors, who are beginning to see their success, in turn want to better their own lives, and this is starting to create more ambition in some of the townspeople as well. It was so gratifying to see how The Denan Health Center is empowering people to do more for a better life for themselves and their country-men!
My time in Denan made me thankful for the gifts I’ve been given and my life in the USA where I can turn on a faucet and have clean water, a warm (or cool) home, food in my refrigerator/pantry and quality health care. I’m also grateful that I’m able to share my good fortune and help people across the globe, through The Denan Project organization, to make their lives better as well. I hope perhaps that those of you reading this might also be inspired to support this organization, which, with your help, could do even more to help those in real need.
Note: since the time of this visit, conditions in Denan have indeed become more dire, with the drought that has been affecting other regions in the country creating real problems for the area’s food and water supply. We are monitoring this situation carefully and talking daily with our on-the-ground partners. It is likely that The Denan Project may need to step in with emergency funding in the not-too-distant future.
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.
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.