Flying Hand-wash Stations into the Navajo Nation

Not a family adventure but my own effort to help during the Covid pandemic

This is a family adventure blog but occasionally I’ll post something else, usually for two reasons. 1.) I think readers would find it interesting and 2.) It’s my blog.

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Lynn, Eric and me

This is one of those posts.

The Covid pandemic was really taking hold and I heard that the Navajo Nation was particularly hard hit. There area few reasons, but one is that much of the “deep reservation” does not have running water. Then I saw an article about a company in Oakland that had designed hand-wash stations design plans for homeless camps out of Rubbermaid garbage cans. It seemed like it was something I could build and fly out to the Navajo Nation.

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I had been to the Navajo Nation a couple of times for service projects. One of trips was a service project with my family were we rehabilitated a traditional ceremonial Hogan – I plan on writing that up and putting it here on the blog. Anway, both were great trips and along the way I made friends with Eric, now the pastor at the Tuba City Church of Christ. However when I first met him he was a project coordinator at a volunteer organization. Which really meant he made sure we experienced an authentic sweat lodge and he also showed us a secret and historic Navajo Refugee cave (the cave was deep and also a little sketchy and he said he hasn’t taken anyone else there since).

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Eight cans for four hand-wash stations, and they all fit!

I contacted Eric and he was excited to help to place the units in the deep reservation where the residents don’t have running water. My neighbors Lynn, Jim and Jerry agreed to help pay for and build four handwash units. Lynn agreed to fly with me and do final assembly in Tuba City Arizona.

Mark Rudolph is a good friend who did one of the service projects with me, knows Eric and pilots a similar plane to mine (a pressurized, turbo Cessna P210 vs. my non-pressurized turbo T210). He agreed to also build and fly out some units and his neighbor Drhuv helped out.

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Lynn in Zebra Canyon, which will be featured on this blog from a separate trip

Since this was in the middle of the pandemic we decided to just drop off the units at the airport, chat with Eric and catch up on things, then take off again without actually going into Tuba City. Eric offered us a place to stay in some church buildings that hadn’t been used in the previous six months but we’d still need to travel in the same car, etc. so to be as safe as possible for everyone we decided to fly into Escalante Utah and base the mission out of there.

It took a few week to purchase all the parts, drill lots of holes, glue lots of PVC and test units. Everyone helped and we made some modifications.  I had carefully measured the plane but was still surprised when all 8 garbage cans (one can for fresh water, the other for grey water) actually fit in the back with all the seats removed).

Lynn and I flew direct to Escalante early one morning and met Mark and his neighbor. We hiked a slot canyon, had dinner in the pilot’s shelter and enjoyed a warm campfire after a cold wind had died down. Early the next morning we flew out and flew about 1,000 feet above the Escalante river, then Lake Powell and finally over the Navajo Nation. At one point (since the winds were calm) I flew through a notch in a rocky ridge. You definitely get more of a sense of speed when the rocks are 50 feet off your wingtips.  That was a stunning and memorable flight. In flying over the “deep res” it was apparent that running water is a huge job, as most homes are very spread out in a very arid area. I overflew the city then landed at Tuba City’ airport where Eric and his kids where waiting.

His kids?

Well, first things first. Everyone put their face masks on and Mark and I took the kids up for a flight over the city. Very cool. I know we decided not to drive in the same car, but we couldn’t help it. Hopefully the masks, short duration and lots of airflow helped keep everyone safe.

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Flying over Tuba City

We then assembled a few units so Eric could see how they went together. We then chatted while his kids disappeared into Eric’s truck to watch a movie, and after some time we took off for Escalante. We probably could have flown directly home, but flying early morning is so much smoother and enjoyable (and safer) that we decided to spend another night in Escalante and head home in the smooth morning air.  Sure enough, the ride into Escalante was a little rough with the typical afternoon turbulence. The flight the next morning was great, and by 10:00 am we were home.

Airstrip at Tuba City

A few days later Eric said he had placed his first unit with a family that had previously been washing their hands in a shared basin of water (so the last person washed with a film of dirt in the water). In addition an elder in the tribe had committed to keeping their 32 gallon fresh water container full (supposedly good for 500 washes).

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It works!

Yes. That felt good.

Someone asked how they can help. Eric still does volunteer programs through the church and tries to keep track of those in need in his community. You can donate to his church at the website: www.tubacitychurchofchrist.com.

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