PHOENIX — It is a part of our state where more than a third of the people are living on land that is so rural, they have no running water or electricity. It is an area about the size of West Virginia and is where the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with this lack of basic resources, has really taken a toll on families.
Now, our neighbors living in the Navajo Nation are getting some much-needed help in the form of hand-washing stations. They are from a group called "The Watered" which stands for the “water acquisition team”. Yolanda Tso who is a member of the Navajo Nation and belongs to the non-profit organization says their primary mission has been to deliver complete hand wash station sets to the 175,000 residents on the Navajo Nation who do not have running water. So far, the group has been able to donate about 110 sets that are valued at about $150 each.
"In order to be able to plumb every single home on the Navajo Nation, they're going to need somewhere between $2 to 2.7 billion," said Tso.
She also described the hand wash stations as self-sufficient units that came equipped with a 5-gallon reservoir and foot pedal.
The challenges of living with no access to running water or electricity has been enhanced for Navajo Nation families during this pandemic.
"Every day is a struggle," said Arizona State Senator Jamescita Peshlakai, who represents the largest district in Arizona that encompasses 7 Arizona counties and 8 tribal nations including the Navajo Nation.
Peshlakai is also a member of the Navajo Nation. She believes the pandemic has taken a toll on the mental and physical health of her people.
"Today people stereotype us as people that live in the most desolate places. Well, we didn't choose to live here. We didn't choose where we have no access to fresh water," said Peshlakai.
Add to that the lack of housing, which has led multiple generations of a family to live under one roof. Social distancing can be tough under those circumstances. Peshlakai says her brothers and sisters in the Navajo Nation have already seen so much tragedy.
"For the last month to two months, I have had at least one to two funerals a week from people dying of COVID-19," said Peshlakai.
Amid the hardships, the generous donations pouring into their community from all over Arizona as well as from people who call themselves friends of the Navajo Nation, have been a bright spot.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said seeing the outpouring of love and support from Arizona is lifting spirits in his community.
They have been focused on flattening the curve, really advocating hygiene and promoting CDC guidelines of wearing masks and social distancing, but Nez said it was tough to ask people who had no plumbing in their homes and no access to running water to wash their hands for 20 seconds, multiple times a day. The hand-washing stations are a game-changer for families.
"What we are doing with these donations is giving those to our most vulnerable citizens here, on our land," said Nez.
He called it a gift that is considered precious by many.
"It is something that is really wonderful on the most basic level," added Peshlakai.
She told ABC15’s Sonu Wasu stories about her childhood, when her entire family filled up a pan with water and took turns washing their hands in the same pan.
"It really sounds unsanitary, I know, but it was all we had," said Peshlakai.
"The Watered" non-profit has a Go Fund Me page where they are trying to raise $15,000 to get more hand washing stations to the Navajo Nation.
If you would like to contribute, CLICK HERE.