Volunteering with the Navajos

Two weeks ago, I spent 10 days with 50 student volunteers from the College of Eastern Utah, Brigham Young University, and the University of Utah.  The students were accompanied by an assortment of professionals from Engineers Without Borders, the Bureau of Reclamation, and others with an interest in assisting Navajos living in extremely remote locations.  It was a very productive 10 days.  Among the many projects undertaken and/or completed were:

  • pruning 5 separate orchards around Navajo Mountain, several of which are historic
  • clearing a primitive road into an orchard of debris
  • painting the exterior of an elder’s home
  • making plans to install a culinary water system
  • installing 4 septic tank systems
  • replacing an elder’s hot water heater
  • making repairs to a potential hostel (to be used by future volunteers)
  • installing a demonstration grid-tie solar system
  • installing a real-time monitoring system on a futuristic home constructed by DesignBuildBluff (a local NGO)
  • working on rainwater harvesting units
  • starting installation of a solar groundwater pump
  • working on the construction of an elder’s home (insulation and drywall)
  • installing handicap fixtures in 5 homes in Westwater UT

CEU Student Volunteers Pruning an Orchard

Working on a Rainwater Harvesting Unit near Monument Valley in a Sandstorm

Working on a Real-time Monitoring System for a DesignBuildBluff Home

We also had a chance to inspect one of last Fall’s project, the renovation of a traditional Navajo hogan (for video footage of the renovation see:  http://www.youtube.com/user/rogerdhansen#p/a/u/0/58QsFxa1320).  After 5 months, the newly restored hogan looked very impressive.

Renovated Navajo Hogan @ Westwater UT

The volunteers appeared to have a great time and got a chance to mingle with Navajos living in isolated corners of southern Utah and northern Arizona.  Hopefully, the cross-cultural experience was good for both groups, particularly with Navajos assisting on most of the projects.

The amazing thing for me is the number of people who want to help, and their enthusiasm for the various projects.  I would very much like to see religious groups do more to be social agents (with no ulterior motives) just a desire to help.  But the help needs to be respectful of the Navajo culture and the Navajo Nation.  We need to assist them where they need help . . . but on their terms.

This entry was posted in Engineers Without Borders, Navajoland, Religion, Social Justice, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Volunteering with the Navajos

  1. The religious song The Blessingway describes the first hogan as being built by Coyote with help from beavers to be a house for First Man First Woman and Talking God. A supply of wooden cross-ties which could be laid horizontally to form walls of a larger taller home allowed the retention of the female hogan shape but with more interior room.Many cultural taboos are associated with the hogan and its use. Should a death occur in the structure the body is either buried in the hogan with the entry sealed to warn others away or the deceased is extracted through a hole knocked in the north side of the structure and it is abandoned and often burned.

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