Poverty is a serious issue that impacts many aspects of society. I have been involved in many meaningful volunteer experiences that are linked to issues with poverty, but the most significant one was traveling to Arizona and working with the Navajo Nation. After hearing a radio broadcast about the economic conditions that Navajo people are living with, in particular the impact of unemployment on men as well as the desperate living conditions, my mother and I committed to assisting a group with building a community center in Arizona.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
A majority of the Navajo are without running water or electricity because the government provides limited permits to dig wells or run electricity to the reservation. The radio station broadcasting the information partnered with a group, World Servants, to build a community center since the organization could not dig wells or bring electricity to the reservation due to the issue with permits. World Servants’ mission was to create a place that the Navajo people could use for various outreach purposes. One purpose is to provide a place for men to interact with other men in order to problem-solve or obtain advice regarding employment, livestock, and crops. Another purpose for building the facility is to provide a place of recreation for young people, offering them the opportunity to channel their energy in positive outlets such as boxing lessons and music instruction, and learning new crafts and skills.
The radio station formed a group of 30 people ranging in ages from eleven to seventy-four all from the Southeast United States. One of the members of our group was an older woman who was returning to work on the building for the second year. She had a visual disability, but we worked together as a team to accomplish many small tasks such as organizing tools, distributing lunches, and painting. Everyone in the group performed manual labor in a very hot climate, prepared food for crew members, and assisted with a child care program for Navajo children whose parents were assisting with the project. Throughout the week, our force grew as additional Navajo came to assist. I developed a close relationship with a young Navajo woman who was a few years older. We often held conversations about the struggles of being a teenager although we came from distinctly different backgrounds. One evening she prepared traditional Navajo bread and taught me how to make it, sharing with me more about her culture and beliefs.
The radio station has sponsored this event for several years and the work has been ongoing. Our goal for the week was to complete the foundation and to finish the floor. In addition to building the floor, we painted the outside of a house for one of the nearby Navajo families. The experience of working with the Navajo opened my eyes to the startling levels of poverty that exists in our country as well as the challenges Native Americans face on a daily basis.
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