Dick Young is quite the world traveler. The longtime Roxbury resident recently returned from Mongolia, and on Friday he will fly to Peru. On these trips he checks in with the various hospitals and educational programs that are the result of an idea he had more than 10 years ago.
Young is the founder and president of The Denan Project, a nonprofit organization that provides health care, education and other critical assistance to highly disadvantaged people around the world free of charge. To date, The Denan Project has established programs in four countries—Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Peru and Mongolia—and provides medical care to more than 50,000 people annually.
This international organization grew out of an experience Young had over a decade ago while working as a filmmaker in Africa. He found himself in an extremely poor internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Ethiopia and was shocked by the conditions there.
(Young and a group of volunteers in Mongolia, right.)
“This camp had somehow dropped through the cracks,” he says. “They hadn’t received a food shipment for a month. Not only were people dying around us, but some people had walked 20 days expecting to find food and shelter. They found nothing. There was no doctor, no nurse and only a handful of medicine for thousands of people.”
Young and his team made a video depicting the deplorable conditions at the camp.
After returning to Connecticut and showing the video to some friends, they all decided to do something to help.
“We wanted to see if we could raise money to hire a local Ethiopian doctor for a year with medicine,” says Young.
On April 26, 2004, The Denan Project, in partnership with The Ogaden Welfare and Development Association (OWDA), opened its first medical clinic in a two-room building in Denan.
(IDP camp in Denan, left.)
“By a miracle that two-room building has morphed into a 29-room hospital with a paid staff of more than 40 people,” says the founder.
The hospital is the only free medical facility in the entire region, where nearly four million people live. And from that first hospital, the organization has branched out to replicate the program in different countries.
Young says the second location in Burkina Faso, located on the border of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, was selected because warfare in Ethiopia caused concern that the project would have to move elsewhere. From there, Peru and Mongolia were selected based on suggestions from donors. The Denan Project initiates programs in areas where there is a strong local partner or governmental agency.
The Denan Project is run entirely by volunteers who pay their own way to the different sites. More than 96 percent of donations to the organization are used for program-related expenses.
A recent $30,000 donation has been earmarked for use in opening a new program. While that figure is not enough to open a clinic, it is a start, and Young says he is looking into possibly opening a program in the United States, at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Another program in Africa or one in Sri Lanka are also possibilities.
On the volunteers’ most recent trip to Mongolia, they met with the patients and staff of a new hospital (left) in Tariat, an isolated village approximately 400 miles from Ulan Bator, the country’s capital. The new hospital replaced a dilapidated facility that was built by the Soviets in the 1960s. The hospital serves more than 30,000 people annually, most of them from the outlying areas around Tariat.
According to a press release, The Denan Project has been influential in moving the Mongolian government to recognize the need for a new hospital and allocating the necessary resources. In partnership with Save the Children Japan-Mongolia, they have provided the funds to purchase essential materials, provide heat in the winter and print educational pamphlets about the harmful effects of smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diets and other things.
“What I saw was a real partnership, where western philanthropy was being well used by dedicated indigenous practitioners,” Jeffrey Barist, a Washington, Conn., resident who went on the trip, said in the press release.
(A Mongolian couple outside their yurt, right.)
On his next trip to Peru, Young will visit the health center and be present for the dedication of a new preschool, which serves children ages 6 months to 6 years. Two scholarships will also be given to students graduating from the program’s high school.
“We wanted to give these kids the chance for the first time to get a college education,” says Young. The scholarships will give two students the opportunity to attend the top public university and top technical institute in Peru.
(A Mongolian boy who was treated for dental problems, left.)
The Denan Project was the dream of Young and his group of friends, but the successes they’ve had and the differences they’ve made over the last decade are due to generous donations. Without continued support, all of the health centers would not be able to run.
“That’s the big challenge. It’s really scary,” Young says of the money running out. “We are providing health care to 50,000 of the most destitute people on an annual basis. If we stop that, [there will be] 50,000 people without any quality medical care.”
For more information and to donate to The Denan Project, visit the website.
Contact me by email at email@example.com and follow me on Twitter, and connect with Connecticut Magazine on Twitter, on Facebook and on Google + Denan Project of Woodbury Provides Free Health Care to 50,000 Globally