Most of Moravian's service-learning projects take place in the
Lehigh Valley. But in a new venture, eight students spent part of
last Christmas break working on a Navajo reservation in Northeast
For students from eastern Pennsylvania, everything was different,
from the very look of the Four Corners area (the high desert where
Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado come together) to the Navajo,
Hopi, and Pueblo people they met on the PiŠon-Chinle reservation.
In their eight-day stay (December 28'January 4), they were to make
some repairs on Our Lady of Fatima parish church and to organize
a non-alcoholic New Year's party for the residents.
What they got, in return, was unexpected and profound. 'It changed
our lives,' they said.
No one thought they would meet the kind of cardboard Indians seen
in cowboy movies, but the richness of their culture and the complex
troubles of their daily lives made for a more textured, threedimensional
experience than any of the students had dreamed.
They got a thorough education in life on 'the rez.' They learned
about alcohol, the scourge of Native American health. (It is thought
that the Indians lack a hormone or other biological marker that
will allow them to process alcohol, leading to an abnormally high
number of cases of alcoholism, death by alcohol poisoning, and fetal
alcohol syndrome.) Other troubles include domestic violence, children
with malnutrition, and gangs.
There are environmental problems that the Indians don't cause but
must address. Because of their isolation, Indian reservations are
often used as illegal dump sites for toxic wastes. The Navajo report
these to the Environmental Protection Agency, but the practice does
not stop. Because they still use coal for heating, many are stricken
with mercury poisoning from its emissions. The students were introduced
to the tribe's spiritual ancestors and the customs that honor their
They met a Roman Catholic priest who incorporates Native American
rituals and spiritual symbols into the Communion service, and who
built his church in the form of an eight-sided hogan, much to the
annoyance of his bishop. They found people with very little who
nonetheless did not hesitate to share food and drink and warmth
with their visitors. 'The Navajo maintain a cultural richness and
beauty in the face of multiple social problems,' said one student.
They began with eight weeks of preparation, learning about Native
American customs, culture, and spirituality from Chaplain David
Bennett and Donald St. John, professor of religion. They discussed
problems of social justice and education on the reservation with
sociologists Marcella and John Kraybill-Greggo, their trip advisors.
When the trip was over, they wrote reflective essays on what they
Each student was responsible for one aspect of their trip. Kyle
Borowski '06 learned about the geography of the Canyon de Chelly
region, a sacred space to the peoples of this reservation. They
learned to think in terms of the relationships between the terrain
and the people.
'The land is flat, and there's very little vegetation,' they said.
'And there are four sacred mountains, one in each direction.' And
then there was 'the joy of mud: three to four inches of mud everywhere.
When it rains, you can't go anywhere.'
The other students'Rena Drezner '05, Catelyn Savoth '08, Kelly
Haymaker '05, Elyse Jurgen '07, Amanda Moulton '07, and Chad Majczan
'06'reported on spirituality, social issues on the reservations,
and 'cultural competence, ' a social-work concept that encourages
service workers to become conversant in the culture of those they
The Indians have learned to make use of whatever grows on this
starkly beautiful land. Juniper is the most common tree, and the
people use its wood for their hogans (spiritual gathering places)
and for quick fires, its berries for dyeing, and a brew made from
it for its healing properties. Sage, a plentiful herb, is burned
as a part of their spiritual and sweat lodge rituals. 'They are
such a persevering people,' said the students.
The students all said they want to go back; some want to work on
reservations, as teachers or environmentalists, when they graduate.
When it was time to come back to the College, one asked a Navajo
friend, 'What do you want us to take back?" And he answered: