Roberta and Richard Wool Visit to the Navajo Reservation: Spring, 2017

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.

Chinle, Arizona

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.