Field Report: It takes a village, sometimes even a continent. Education on the high Andes.

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.

Day 1: All Roads Lead to Anta

In order to get to any of the five villages on our agenda, we had to go through Anta, one of Cusco’s 13 provinces. In fact, the municipal office of Anta is our partner who’s been handling our local fund distribution so that we can save on money transfers from the US, and local transactions related to medical and micro-loan programs. So, our week-long agenda started out with going over the accounting records with the municipality of Anta.

Day 2: From the Ground Up

After another quick stop in Anta, we started the day with a meeting with the community in Churo. We huddled together and went over the details of a micro loan project the community wanted for raising cuys (guinea pigs which are a major source of dietary protein for the community people as well as a source of income). From Churo, we traveled farther to a neighboring village of Pampahuaylla.

As soon as we entered Pampahuaylla, I could see why this community is considered richer than Churo, our previous stop. A new elementary school, cheerful kids on the street and all others huddled around the only TV in the village to watch the Peruvian team playing in the World Cup 2018…it was lively!

This is where Elio (TDP’s first scholarship student who earned a college degree) came from. We visited Elio’s family and, over some meat and potato, shared our mutual pride in Elio’s success. With a mechanical engineering degree he earned, Elio was getting started to build his own business.

Day 3: Welcoming Pingry School Students to Uratari

Learning together with the volunteer students from the Pingry School was my main reason for the site visit this year. I was curious about the experiences the US high school students would have with the local communities, especially with the local students.

The visit started with a community-wide welcoming ceremony. Although I’ve experienced the warmth and hard labor the entire community puts into welcoming TDP volunteers before, I was deeply moved by the excitements and warm interactions between the students and the villagers.

Day 4: Breaking Potatoes Together

After my first overnight experience at the Uratari Medical Center (shared a room with the resident nurse), I joined the Pingry students to visit the neighboring village Choquemarca, the poorest community in the Limatambo district of the Anta province. We were joined by the TDP medical outreach team headed by Dr. Yair. Choquemarca’s biggest problem is the absence of a water supply. Facing this all-too-common issue across many small communities in developing countries, I was happy to hear that the community of Uratari was exploring ways to share their water with Choquemarca.

In between micro-loan program discussions and medical outreach visits, the team was treated with the local specialty of meat and potato, prepared and served in the way that only the originals can. (Right, potatoes are originally from Peru.)

Dr. Yair (right) examining a patient during TDP’s medical outreach in Choquemarca

Day 5: High Aptitude for Higher Education

As part of TDP’s support for school education, the Golden Condor awards (with cash incentives) are given to top three students in the 8th, 9th, 10th 11th and 12th grade students in Uratari. Our visiting students were joined by the entire community in the schoolyard for the award ceremony.

Day 6–7: TDP Goes to the Peruvian Congress

Discussing TDP’s proposal for building a boarding school with the President of the Peruvian Congress (center)

Back in Lima, a different topic was high on our agenda. Past few months, the TDP team has been working on a proposal to build a boarding school in Uratari (right next to the existing school, above). Our goals were: i) to give the children in neighboring remote villages a chance to get a higher education (there’s no high school in villages like Pampahuaylla we visited on Day 1, above); ii) to proactively reduce the possibility of the high school in Uratari having to shut down at some point in the future.

Our meeting with the Peruvian Congress was to get the support for the boarding school initiative — together with the Pingry School students. Thanks to Congressman Wilbert Rozas, who originally helped TDP select the project site in Uratari, we were able to meet with the Education Committee Chairwoman Paloma Noceda, and the President of the Peruvian Congress Luis Galarreta. After a series of discussions, the team was able to gain the support we were asking for — and walk away with the specific next steps!

Changes are coming…sometime too fast, sometimes not fast enough. I don’t know what changes I’ll see when I return to Uratari next time. Perhaps a shiny new boarding school. Perhaps another ambulance vehicle at the medical center. Perhaps…But I do know this much, the men, women and children of the community will gather around in a big circle and tell us all about it. The changes that happened. The changes they want to bring about.

__ Ends __

TDP’s Pingry High School Group Visits Peru and Studies Sustainable Community-Building Firsthand

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.



Excerpt from “Moments of Being”

By Barrie Brett

“I didn’t know what I would do, but I knew I had to do something.” Dick Young

Dick Young’s career as a film and television producer/director has spanned four decades. Over the years, he has been awarded many honors, including three Academy Award nominations for his documentaries and a National Emmy award for cinematography. Many of his sponsored projects for large multi-national corporations have been produced in his signature documentary style.

In the last few years, the majority of Dick’s work has been in producing humanitarian film and video projects for non-profit organizations. While working on one of these films, Dick met a group of people whose plight gave him a purpose that would change the shape of his career and his life.

One morning, I happened to walk by Dick Young’s edit session while he was supervising and producing a video project. The visuals and story on the monitor were so compelling that I stood outside the door transfixed. The video project documented lives turned around as rural famers in remote African villages were given a chance at a new livelihood. I interviewed Dick a short time later; his ‘helping hand’ moment will touch your heart.

(Note from The Denan Project: Since this book’s publication in 2009, The Denan Project has grown substantially. Today we work with communities in five different locations: Denan, Ethiopia; Ouadaradouo, Burkina Faso; Tariat, Mongolia; Uratari, Peru; and the Navajo Nation in Arizona, USA. Since our founding in 2004, we have provided free medical care to more than 400,000 people around the world. All of this work stems from Dick’s initial commitment to “do something to help.”)

The Denan Project: A Helping Hand

Dick Young’s Story

After I graduated from high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

Instead of heading off to college like many of my friends, I ended up serving in the Air Force for three years. There, I was placed in a division that made training films. I went out with various commercial crews, and also volunteered to direct military crews to produce a monthly newsreel seen by everyone in the Air Force. It was on-the-job training for the film industry.

After my three years, I was able to land a freelance job with Life Magazine. Traveling around the world with the Life reporters, I was responsible for sound. Every once in a while I would be asked to shoot a newsreel, even though at that point I barely knew the front of a camera from the back. When that happened, I would run to the nearest equipment rental store and ask them to show me how to load and shoot.

Then, I was asked to shoot and edit a film about paper making. Again, I’d been asked to do a job that was totally new to me, a job at which I had no experience whatsoever. I’d never edited anything before, and I had to learn as I went along. Apparently I did okay, because the publisher of Life Magazine asked if I would help to put together a film chronicling his career, to accompany the announcement of his retirement. The film was well-received, and I was put under contract with the idea of helping to start a film/television division where the famous Life photographers could work, since we knew that Life Magazine would soon be closing its doors.

Two years later, I decided to strike out on my own. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to make films and videos for major corporations and non-profit entities, including various United Nations organizations, the Ford Foundation, IBM, Exxon, Motorola, Mercedes Benz and the Chrysler Corporation. It’s humbling to think that in the past forty years my work has been seen by people in over one hundred countries.

Several years ago, I became involved with charitable organizations that produce films and television shows documenting world humanitarian issues, including poverty, health crises, sanitation issues and hunger. While traveling on assignment for Heifer International, I learned firsthand of the problems caused by drought and famine in the Horn of Africa.

In the course of that assignment, I decided to take a few days off and do some filming of my own. I thought I might produce a little piece about what I saw. Although there were several areas I could have selected, I chose Denan, Ethiopia. I don’t think, looking back, that this was simply by chance.

My crew and I were devastated by what we saw there. Several thousand men, women and children had come to this particular area, hoping to find shelter and fresh water, but there was none. People were sick and dying all around us. They had walked for miles and miles, watching friends and family members die of starvation, dehydration, and illness along the way. For weeks, they’d had barely enough food and water to keep themselves alive.

We were shooting with tears running down our faces. My sound man was sobbing aloud. It was so hard to stand by, just watching and filming, while people suffered in these appalling conditions.
When it was time for us to leave, the district administrator came up to me, and said seven words that changed my life forever. He said: “Please do something to help my people.”

I didn’t know what I could do, but I knew I had to do something.

I put together a video from the footage, and showed it to various friends. Again, I wasn’t sure of the goal: maybe just to raise some money, or hire a doctor for a year. Soon, there were eight of us collecting donations. Sometimes those donations were only $100, sometimes $500. Then, one day, a friend gave us $15,000, and I knew we were on our way.

The eight of us knew that we had to keep our goals reasonable. We couldn’t solve the world hunger crisis by ourselves, but we could try to offer some medical care to the people of Denan. And that’s what we did, opening a two-room facility in an abandoned building.

Now, only a few years later, we’re operating a twenty nine room hospital with a paid, caring staff of over thirty people. We have a lab for sophisticated tests, a pre-natal care center, and vaccination and medical outreach programs. We also sponsor agricultural and cottage industry programs, and we’re building a water pipeline. Best of all, we have served over forty-five thousand Ethiopians so far, and none of them have had to pay a cent. Thousands of people come to us from across the desert, sometimes walking over a hundred miles with little food and water through areas where there are no roads. The area around Denan is prone to drought and famine, and there are dangerous rebel insurgencies, but at least we have been able to provide a safe haven for those who need medical help.

When I heard the Denan district administrator say “Please do something to help my people,” my life changed. I have a new focus. If I had never heard that plea, I probably would have made a small film about the effects of drought on the displaced people of Ethiopia; maybe I would have taken it to a film festival. But those words, spoken in that moment, were a miracle to me, and they inspired in me a drive to make a difference to the people of Denan and to people around the world. Ever since that moment, my life and future are dedicated to the Denan Project.