Over thirty percent of the residents in the Navajo Nation do not have access to running water, according to a recent study from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. To fight the water scarcity in the region, Yolanda Tso founded THE WATERED – Water Acquisition Team for Every Resident & Every Diné.
In late spring, the Navajo Nation saw the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate in the country. Although the number of positive cases declined over the summer, cases are now growing at the fastest rate since May.
The Center to Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to stress the importance of hand hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But with a large portion of the population without access to fresh running water, many members of the Navajo Nation have found it challenging to follow this guidance.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES ACT) set aside US$8 billion for tribes. These funds were meant to address the pressing water issue the Navajo Nation faces, but funding came with restrictions. The Act requires all aid funds to be used within the 2020 calendar year.
The Navajo Nation argues that this timeline is unrealistic. Jason John, who manages the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources, estimates the project will take at least two years to build the necessary infrastructure.
Tso wanted to help members of her own community with a more immediate solution. After researching pre-existing handwashing stations, she launched THE WATERED. The organization creates and delivers fully hands-free portable washing stations to those who request them, free of charge.
The hand-washing kit is foot-pedal-powered for a hands-free experience. It has a five-gallon water reservoir at the bottom of the device, another five-gallon storage container, and two wheels to make it portable. Tso explains the kit was designed so it can be easily maintained by the elderly or those with disabilities.
Tso says that because the kit is made almost entirely from plastic, users can easily sanitize the station. With each kit, THE WATERED also provides a bottle of liquid hand soap, a grey bucket that can carry five gallons of water, a case of bottled water, paper towels, a reusable cotton cloth, and toilet paper.
Tso decided to include these additional cleaning products because residents have access to just a few grocery stores, convenience stores, and gas stations to purchase food, water, and cleaning supplies. She explains there are approximately 13 stores on land the size of West Virginia, which serves around 174,000 residents. At the height of the pandemic over the summer, these locations were often entirely depleted of their stock, according to Tso.
“That is not a lot of opportunities to be able to get your household items, so we really tried to make sure people were supported in what they know they need,” Tso tells Food Tank.
Tso thanks the power of the media for bringing light to the struggles within the Navajo Nation and credits Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez for spreading awareness. To date, THE WATERED has provided over 100 hand-washing stations and is working on securing funds and donations to create an additional 150 stations through a GoFundMe campaign.
“Our elders are those we are supposed to protect and honor, our native people, we’re supposed to look out there,” Tso tells Food Tank. “That is what community and compassion is about.”
Photo courtesy of THE WATERED
Content like this article is only possible because of Food Tank members. Please join today and get exclusive member benefits at FoodTank.com/Join.