The Navajo American Indian Reservation in Cameron, Arizona is only three hours from the A.T. Still University (ATSU) campus in Mesa, Ariz., but to the medical and dental students who participated in a Project Pueblo service trip, the area seemed more like a third-world country. Project Pueblo is a 100% volunteer, student-run 501(c)3 non-profit organization that is dedicated to helping families of the Navajo American Indian Reservation. Through the program, short-term, low-cost service trips to impoverished areas are carried out while also raising money and awareness for relevant projects and issues.
Spearheading Project Pueblo are students Ryan Wycliffe, OMS ll, ATSU-SOMA, and wife Lori Wycliffe, D2, ATSU-ASDOH. Lori and her husband met during their undergraduate years on a service trip with Project Pueblo to Cameron, Ariz. “I never thought there would be so much poverty on American Indian reservations in the United States, but I’m glad we could help in a small way to make a difference,” said Lori Wycliffe.
The Navajo American Indian Reservation is the largest American Indian reservation in the country, and it stretches through Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico. Ryan and his brother, Sean, started Project Pueblo in 2009 to provide basic needs to thousands of residents affected by an economic sanction called the “Bennett Freeze.” This sanction prevented any development in a 2 million acre area (the size of Delaware) located about an hour north of Flagstaff, Ariz. in the western region of the Navajo American Indian Reservation. Due to the Bennett Freeze, no one in the area could build homes, repair their homes, build roads, or have running water or electricity from 1966 until the freeze was lifted in 2009. “When the freeze was finally lifted, many families did not have the financial resources to improve their homes or to provide electricity and running water,” said Ryan.
“Since 2009, Project Pueblo has coordinated service trips for over 500 student volunteers, and thanks to generous donations from Johnny Depp, one of Johnny Depp’s fan clubs, other donors, and hundreds of student volunteers, several running water systems and solar electricity systems have been installed. “We have also repaired many homes, delivered much needed medical supplies, raised awareness, and more,” said Ryan.
During this past spring break, Ryan and Lori organized 18 students from the ATSU-SOMA Class of 2017 and two students from ATSU-ASDOH Class of 2017 for Project Pueblo to improve living conditions for families on the Navajo American Indian Reservation. In one weekend, students finished building a hogan (traditional Navajo home) for a woman who had previously lived with her seven children in an uninsulated trailer.
“Lori and I hope to continue to return to the Navajo Nation in the next few years to provide medical and dental care, in addition to providing basic needs to families,” said Ryan. Project Pueblo wants to expand its efforts in the future by helping to organize dental clinics, medical clinics, health screenings, and health education workshops in this under served area. For more information, check out Project Pueblo at projectpueblo.org, or e-mail Ryan Wycliffe.