Navajo Solar Lights Project - A Tribe of Rotarians
Note: The following was written by a Durango Daybreak Rotarian about a joint project with our club - The Navajo Solar Lights Project. All of the photographs are courtesy of McCarson Jones. Visit her website at http://www.redscarfshots.com/. Thanks to E-Club member Pat Crane for his work as our club chair for this project.
A Tribe of Rotarians
May 18, 2015
My name is McCarson Jones and I am a Rotarian. I am a woman. An artist. A sister, a daughter an aunt and a friend. I am human and I have been in search of my Tribe.
No, I don’t mean my tribal heritage or affiliation per say, but a group of individuals who value me, my contributions and who also allow me to serve. You see, I was born to serve this world. I feel deeply about humanitarian efforts and volunteering. Not only am I a photographer, but my past has led me to many moments of giving and serving to help others in need. I may not have the money that “philanthropists” do, but I believe that my efforts and my heart pay 10x over. I am wealthy in love, vision and readiness.
As a professional I have worked and volunteered globally. My desire to be a part of a community of people who are actively seeking ways to help others has weighed heavy on me. For some time now I have felt that I had a space to fill with love and commitment as well as gratitude for others. This past year I enrolled in the Rotary Daybreak Club of Durango: The Hands on Club. Many people have a misconception that Rotary is for people who are retired or business people wanting to help out in some way. My tribe allows for laughter, camaraderie, gatherings, cycling, community activism, non-profit giving and more. We honor each other and support each other and praise one another on a regular basis. It isn’t about EGO. Rotary is so not that. It’s about everything other than THAT.
Since my enrollment as a red badge member and now a blue badger, I have had the wonderful opportunities to see our club deliver gifts to Mexico, heard about the stories and watched the documentary of the solar light install in Nepal. I have been fortunate to be able to contributed to Red Ball Express, raising money for our local non profits, I’ve wrapped dictionaries for school aged children, been a part of a meal plan for a local young woman caring for her 3 younger siblings, and now installing solar lights on the Navajo Reservation.
The story below is a lengthy one for a blog, it’s more of a short story of reflections. Full of emotions, visuals, recognition, the feelings of being human and honoring another, cherishing family and respecting elders. The people and places that I experienced this past weekend surpasses anything I have ever done globally. I was with friends, and nurturing new ones.
If you are searching for “your” tribe, try Rotary. I guarantee that you will experience being a part of something beautiful and real.
It’s raining. Raining hard. The winds are blowing the car and the trees along the road from side to side. The sky is a dark gun metal grey and we are driving to the Navajo Reservation to work for the weekend. A last minute change of plans takes us out of Chaco Canyon and places us in the Counselor Chapter house. Rotarians are arriving and unpacking gear and other belongings. A few will be resting in their RV’s and others plan to collectively camp inside the house. We are grateful to be dry and free from mud.
Upon arrival I walk around the Chapter house. We are located right off 550 S and this building is where the tribal administration of Counselor meet on a monthly basis. I walk around and start reviewing allotment maps, viewing the checkerboard of the area and what territory is Dineh (the People) and what is open space vs., the states land. I introduce myself to Teddy. He is Navajo and walks with a cane and a huge smile. We station ourselves in front of a large map that is taller than me and we look at it like we are gazing at a piece of artwork hanging in a gallery. This map is made of paper, it’s worn and the colors are fading. It is an important map to Dineh. It is their homeland, their heritage and pain and suffering went along with developing this map.
Rotarians collect and dinner is served. We start the toasts to our hosts, our guides our tribe of people who have collected together to install solar lights in a canyon without power, running water and other amenities that every neighbor should have the opportunity to use.
Teddy, a childhood friend of Joe Williams, chooses to share why he has a cane, why he limps and what his life is like today. He shares a heartfelt and tearful story of injury, depression and alcoholism. He shares his conflict of doing right or wrong. Choosing thievery over sobriety. He tells the story of a delicious meal served and a morning changed. He smiles as he said hat he woke up a sober man and has been for 30 years.
My heart fills for him. I can see him as a young man trying to make a living for himself, attempting to work with his resources and make a life of what he has. He may have been dead for a few years due to alcoholism but today, Teddy is very much alive.
He mentions the changes that will happen for the people we serve tomorrow. An 80+ year old couple in the canyon who will have light for the first time. He mentions that tomorrow we will help change lives, a people’s outlook and the ability to see in to the night. We all take in his words and start to end our evening with anticipation of the next day. While we review our vocabulary words in Dineh, he assists us with our pronunciation. We are going to be able to greet our new friends tomorrow.
I wake up to the smell of fresh brewing coffee and sausage patties on the grill. I hear a few Rotarians scampering about and offering assistance to our camp cook/host Shari. The normal noise of people gathering and sharing thoughts on the day. People are eager to be informed of their install locations and make things happen. I gently unzipped my sleeping bag and noticed a tangerine sunrise coming through the windows of the Chapter house. Would we have sun today? The cracking of eggs, sausage grilling, with coffee cups filled, we all gathered for breakfast and paid attention to the review of our schedule, the caravan instructions and who our guides were going to be.
We reviewed our tool kits, received information on the installations and who would be inside and outside team members. Once we were informed, I excused myself, put on several top layers, put my arms through my favorite jean jacket, put on some cozy socks and my tennis shoes. I grabbed my raincoat and my warm hat before loading up. We climbed in to our vehicles and the rain clouds smothered that warm sun that was fighting for exposure an hour earlier. We were in for a wet day.
Our caravan turned off the main road and was immediately greeted by the snotty slick red mud that would be our honorary Rotary member of the day. The spit of the mud sprayed out from each truck at least 2 feet. Over and over again we pass the
Road sign of 16. A metal sign with what looks like a black heart (actually an arrow head) and a number 16 inside. We come to a fork in the road, we go left.
Random rocks, sage brush, lonely junipers, and solitary pinons are scattered across the land. Quiet and isolated, you can feel the heritage in the sandstone cliffs, you can hear the ancestors calling across the valley and in the wind they whisper of the loyalty to the land. Stories of past alcohol, saved by the spirit, love of family and waking up sober, echo through my head. I listen to the wind shield wipers go across the glass.
I see Coors light cans, juice and milk boxes scattered about drainage ditches. The occasional rubber tires stare at our caravan as we make our way down the road. Another road sign passed. I see it coming and know what it will look like. This road sign has a story. The black heart present and 16 placed inside but full of bullet holes. A story of love, estrangement, land and pain as well as frustration and precision. The squishing of the potholes continue. A faded cross leading to the Living Spring Church greets me on the right. Horses are speckled white and brown and they stand tall against the wild foliage.
We stop at a location and Joe tells us the story of Heart Rock. It was a refuge for the Navajo’s escaping the Ute’s control. Corn fields and Din-neh perished. The Navajo ran to to the rock and hid inside. The Utes were unaware of the inside qualities of the rock and discontinued their search because the Navajo were no where to be found. We see down the cliff that there was an unfortunate turn and a burned vehicle rested below the trees.
The four person team that I was a part of (Pat, Brad, Linda and myself), arrived at our first install. Greeted by two elders, a young man and young woman with a 3 year old. All members present, other than the young man, live in the 650 sq ft. home. The home is decorated with photos that are framed and hung on the walls. There are ribbons for awards placed on the dresser and wire baskets holding a container of coffee-mate and a jar of pepperoncini. The furniture is weathered, 3 small twin beds are located in one room for the family and the bathroom is a small space with laundry and other soaps.
I immediately connect with the child. I show him the lights and offer him the chance to hold the light. Educating him on the fact that it is not “hot”, I wanted him to be confident in using it. The install started outside with the panel and the conduit to enter the home. Linda and I placed the junction box to the families liking and we then constructed the inside plan for light. Linda and I giggle about something and then I heard the 3 year old giggle in response. Then it was a good 30 minutes of laughing and smiling. I asked permission to take a photo of Matthew, the 3 year old. I am allowed and I offer my camera to him so he could take an image of his grandmother. He gets the hang of it and he enjoyed looking in the camera at what he had done.
Our second install was on the same property but at the young man’s house. He physically built the small home for himself. He was happy to have lights installed and was looking forward to our arrival. He is a recent high school graduate and he seemed very eager to finish out his home and study via the lights.
The weather grunted and growled at us and we looked at our watches and realized it was probably our stomachs. We were approaching our last install for our team and thought to take a break during the rain before we headed over to the other home.
At lunch, we were granted a surprise that we would be the team installing the most elder of the installs today. Originally, when I saw the list of people receiving solar lights I saw an 80+ couple who were listed. I wanted so terribly to meet them and work on their house and my prayer was answered. After lunch we would head over to the largest home to install their lights. This family doesn’t speak anything other than Dineh. Our guide would be very important for the success in this install. We followed Joe over to the home and waited outside until we were permitted to enter, evaluate the install and have the family tell us where they would like the lights.
In front of the home was a historical Hogan, made of mud and sticks and rocks. A historical site like none other. There was an outhouse a short distance away and six dogs curled up beside the house trying to stay dry and calm, and out of the wicked wind.
We walk over the threshold of the home and are shown where they would like the lights and at what height. This is a very quiet home. Aged with artifacts, family ancestry, paintings from years past, weavings and stuffed animals. The kitchen holds potatoes and fly swatters. The human sized stuffed animal dog watched us as we navigated around determining the location of the lights in the kitchen. Staring at these soot covered walls and reviewing what was important to them was
a treat and a glimpse in to this elder couples lifetime together.
The rooms hosted cots for beds. Some with linens, some without. Furnishings were aged and the upholstery was shredding. Papers of the people where scattered about waiting for their turn to be burned with the firewood. During this install I had an overwhelming desire to sit with the grand mother to start her memoir. To understand her path and her journey. To hear her strength, to feel her pain and to watch her smile over and over again. The storm outside was getting stronger and stronger and the natural light was ceasing. The daughter turned on the light from the install and held it like an ice cream cone. She smiled her smile and laughed. We are allowed a photograph. I make it very quick. It was a very sacred moment for me. I say thank you grandmother in Dineh. She nods her head in approval and I want to weep at her graciousness. We leave the home and climb back in to the trucks. I sit for a moment and look at my soot covered hands with appreciation. My mind is occupied with beautiful visuals of gratitude, joy and peace. My eyes fill with tears.
To say this was just another day would be an understatement. To reflect on this day, this experience, these people, and to not have emotion about the experience would be a life void of greatness, and pain as well as hardship and heroes.
Part of being a Rotarian is recognizing the needs of others and where there is a will there is a way! If you feel compelled to be a part of something meaningful and rewarding, consider Rotary. A true tribe in believing what's good and how all will benefit. While I am a newbie to Rotary, I have fellow members in my group who have been involved for at least 32 years.