It’s only 10:00 am, but the day is already heating up as Darlene Arviso pulls her iconic yellow water truck into the St. Bonaventure Mission at Thoreau, NM, on the Navajo Nation. We are only a couple of miles off Interstate 40, but already cell phone service is spotty. However, for the over 1,863 people who call this place home, cell service is low on their necessity list. Already Darlene has visited a handful of homes, delivering the 3500 gallons of water her truck holds to families who in this millennia of excess are still living without running water, and in some instances, electricity.
“They’re all my family,” says Darlene, who is known locally as both The Water Lady and Grandma Darlene. She has been delivering water for the last decade through St. Bonaventure, but the mission has been providing clean, filtered water to the community for over 30 years. Digging a well requires thousands of dollars to reach ground water at 600 feet, and even then that water is often contaminated with uranium, a “natural resource” that was mined during WWII on the 27,000 sq mi reservation where in a multitude of places people have learned to live without running water.
About three years ago, DIGDEEP got involved, a human rights non-profit that has working in developing countries, such as South Sudan, to provide communities with clean, running water.
“I really had no concept that this kind of material poverty existed in the U.S. It should be regarded as a national embarrassment,” DIGDEEP founder and executive director George McGraw has stated in the media in regards to the water crisis happening on the Navajo Nation, and in places like St. Michael’s Association for Special Education, which until recently didn’t have safe tap water. Thanks to DIGDEEP St. Michaels, the only special needs school on the Navajo Reservation, no longer has “black and stinky” water coming out of its tap.
Over at Thoreau, Darlene is a key part of a team making real change in people’s lives with the help of DIGDEEP. To say that folks look forward to Darlene’s monthly visits is an understatement. Servicing 230 homes a month (and adding more every year), hauling water 50 miles a day Monday-Thursday, Darlene and her big yellow truck only have the capacity to make a home visit once a month.
Originally, DIGDEEP provided homes with three or four 55-gallon barrels to store water in, but one barrel only lasts an adult three days (or a bit longer if they are very conservative), and they soon found that sometimes two or more families live under one roof. It simply wasn’t enough. So they started installing 1200-gallon underground tanks. Darlene estimates they have 140 of these underground tanks already installed with more going in constantly.
DIGDEEP not only provides the installation of these life-saving tanks, they also provide solar panels to help run the pumps and other electrical needs necessary to get the water from the tank to the faucet. For some families this means having a hot shower in their own home for the first time in their lives.
At Thoreau, DIGDEEP and St. Bonaventure are more than partners, they’re neighbors. “I love my job,” says Darlene, who has become something of a volunteer advocate for her people. “I get to visit and joke with people. And I get to help them. They’ll ask how they can get help if they are it need, and I’ll give them advice. If they need roofing paper or a window, or groceries, I’ll go back to my supervisor at the mission and see if there is a way we can help them.”
What’s next for DIGDEEP? Digging wells that go deep enough to hit uncontaminated water, a challenging endeavor that can cost over $500,000 and for a non-profit that relies solely on donations, this could take a while.
Etkie wants to help. We believe that clean, accessible water is a human right everyone should enjoy. The Navajo Nation just happens to be very close to home for us. The majority of our artisans are Navajo, and doing what we can to help ensure a good quality of life for them and their families is a number one priority for us.
We created an exclusive cuff to support their efforts with all profits being donated directly to the Navajo Water Project. Additionally, 10% of sales from the entire AQUA collection will be donated to DIGDEEP during the month of September.