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UCB DECAL Fall '11

2011 UCB Winter Break Trip - Jan. 8 - Jan. 14, 2011 PDF Print E-mail

When: Saturday, January 8 - Friday, January 14, 2011

Where: Navajo Nation, AZ  (Tuba City, AZ and Window Rock, AZ)

Special thanks to Selena An for writing this report!

In January 2011, forty-two UC Berkeley students, most of whom had never stepped foot on Native American reservation, traveled to the Navajo Reservation in Arizona on a service trip. About half of the group spent their time in Tuba City while the other half went to Window Rock, the seat of government for the Navajo Nation.

We at Window Rock split into groups to work on projects throughout Window Rock and the surrounding area. At the Rio Puerco Youth Center, located in a poor neighborhood plagued by gang violence, we focused on finishing the inside of the building, from nailing doorframes to painting, from building cabinets to stone cutting for the fireplace. We also helped clear the snow and loosen the top dirt layer of the backyard in preparation for pouring concrete to make a porch. Interior decorating and furniture assembly and rearrangement also took place at the youth center sponsored by the Navajo government.

It had snowed shortly before our arrival, though during our stay the weather was mostly clear. Shoveling snow was a theme for our work at the Good Shepherd Mission Greenhouse and at the Boys and Girls Club. Driveways, garden beds with microclimates, and basketball courts were cleared. At the Good Shepherd Mission, we also dug up about ten inches of dirt and leveled the bed for a collection of tropical plants that will be used for horticultural therapy and rehabilitation.

While handyman jobs were a large part of our work, learning about the reservation and the Navajo people was just as an important part of our experiences there. We tutored some elementary- and middle-school children at the Boys and Girls Club and helped them with their homework in English and math. We also played a modified version of dodgeball with them, an intensely competitive game with a lot of running. Some of us also became substitute teachers for 3- and 4-year-olds at the Hilltop Christian School, a private Christian school housing pre-K through 8th grade students, on the day of the Navajo Nation’s presidential inauguration. While the half-day substitution was extremely exhausting (kids have endless energy!), many of us connected with the children and in the process learned about the educational infrastructure on the reservation from other teachers. The lack of access to and resources for higher education on the reservation prompted a group of us to return to the school the next day to give a presentation to 6th through 8th graders and answer questions about college and college preparation.

In the evenings, we were fortunate enough to be visited by locals who shared their experiences with us. John Van Eyk of the Rez Refuge Ministries, the organization building the Rio Puerco Youth Center, spent time telling us about his relocation to Navajoland and his growing connections with the people and the culture. Ryan Battles, an accomplished lawyer from Navajo practicing in Window Rock, taught us about the Navajo culture, beliefs, and history. Gina Nez, a nurse at the hospital, showed us the traditional art of rug weaving and provided a narrative of her childhood and adolescence on the reservation. Grandma Mitzi was generous enough to help us cook up a storm of traditional Navajo dishes that included sweet Navajo tamales, frybread, blue corn pancakes, and mutton stew.

We also had leisure time in between work shifts. We hiked at Window Rock, the rock for which the capital is named, and Canyon de Chelly, a national monument containing sites sacred to the Navajo people and Anasazi ruins. The weather became warm and clear towards the middle of the week, and we took the opportunity to wander around the impromptu flea market near the downtown region of Window Rock.

At the end of the week, as we sat around a circle sipping Navajo tea sharing laughs and a few tears, our memories and comfort level with each other spoke volumes about the total immersive experience. And, as is appropriate for a group of college students who survived a week of making lunch and dinner for ourselves, we indulged our appetites at an Indian buffet in Flagstaff on our way back to California.

Many of us plan to be back in the future; the question is not if but when the next trip will be. We hope you will join us in this humbling experience, in learning about the beautiful Navajo culture and customs, and in empowering these resilient people.

We’d very strongly recommend to join our Facebook group, “Project Pueblo,” and to become a member of Project Pueblo today (it’s free and only takes a minute or two!) by clicking on our Membership Form.  This is the best way to stay tuned for updates!

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