Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America

December 16, 2000 - Issue 25


Navajo Students Visit

Notre Dame High School (PA)

Their trip from New Mexico follows tour that 6 seniors from the Bethlehem Township school took to reservation.

by Genevieve Marshall of the Morning Call

 artwork by Virginia Stroud Southwest Chilies

When six Notre Dame High School seniors and three teachers visited a school on a Navajo reservation in October, they were amazed by the enthusiasm with which they were welcomed, the beauty of the sandstone mesas and the widespread poverty that gripped the community.

Last week five seniors and a chaperone from St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School, Thoreau, N.M., reciprocated with a visit to the Bethlehem Township school.

Though they had been on the East Coast less than a day Thursday, the teenagers were already forming impressions.

"The houses are so close together and there are a lot of cars," said Lucynthia DeClay, 18. "But there are some similarities. Everyone has been really nice to us."

The trips are part of a cultural exchange between the schools -- and at least a yearlong project by Notre Dame students to adopt the school on the Eastern Navajo Reservation.

The connection between the two Catholic schools, more than 2,000 miles apart, began last spring when Notre Dame teacher Cheryl Fenton read an advertisement in the Allentown diocesan newsletter about the mission and felt compelled to write a letter to the director to offer her help.

As supervisor of the student council, Fenton sold some of the school's most enthusiastic students on the project. With a handful of fund-raisers, including a penny drive and T-shirt sales, the group had more than $1,000 to donate to the school.

They delivered a check to the school on their trip, which the students financed themselves.

"I think that says a lot about their commitment to helping others," Fenton said. "They were profoundly struck by what they saw."

Fenton and two other teachers used the trip to study the needs of the mission school and look for the best way they could help. It also allowed the students to see a life much different from their own, she said.

While much of their time was spent interviewing Navajo students and learning about their culture, the student council members also helped deliver food and water in trucks that traveled hundreds of miles each day over unpaved roads with deep ruts.

What the students witnessed was the struggles of the Navajo Nation, which is regarded by the federal government as the most economically disadvantaged tribe in the United States.

Those who live on the reservation reside mostly in trailers and mobile homes far from each other. They often have no means of transportation, limited access to phones and sometimes no water or electricity.

"They lead very different lives than us," Notre Dame senior Carissa McMurtrie, 17, of Palmer Township, said. "Everyone we met was so happy and welcoming, and we were the ones trying to help them."

The group enlisted the aid of community and business leaders to raise enough money to bring the St. Bonaventure students to the Lehigh Valley for this six-day visit.

Other fund-raisers are planned to help build a playground for the school in April and pay for a visit by two St. Bonaventure teachers and several students to perform traditional Navajo dances at a ceremony at Notre Dame in June.

The St. Bonaventure students' visit to the East Coast has been decidedly different from their counterparts' trip to New Mexico -- but just as frenetically busy.

After arriving Wednesday night at Newark Airport, the five teenagers -- the school's entire senior class -- were whisked off to a wrestling match, then their sponsors' homes.

They spent Thursday morning being interviewed by a film crew for a documentary about their school, which will be used by Notre Dame to solicit donations for them. Other activities included a trip to the Lehigh Valley Mall and a night at the movies.

The mission school students will spend part of today shadowing professionals in their fields of interest.

Rozlynn Johns, 17, will visit nurses at Easton Hospital while classmate Anthony Martinez, 17, gets a flying lesson at Queen City Airport, Allentown.

Despite a weekend packed with tours of local areas of interest, the pupils said they were most excited about a trip planned today to New York City, where they hope to visit Times Square and get on camera for MTV's "Total Request Live."

St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School



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