Proposal to expand the capacity of communities to develop healthy families through the VISTA program

VISTA project for 1997
Excerpts from the successful proposal I wrote for expanding the capacity of communities to develop healthy families through the VISTA program

22 September 1996

TO: Center for National Service, Alaska Office (VISTA)

The three VISTAs in 1996 have made a difference to their communities by their service in solid waste, environmental consciousness, hazardous waste cleanup, etc. In 1997, we propose to integrate the VISTAs and their activities into the environmental office itself and to coordinate their activities with the development of tribal administration in the 56 Villages of our region. Making the VISTAs more active in the environmental programs of AVCP (while working in their respective Villages) will allow greater supervision and assistance; provide a strategic plan around which to organize local and regional activities; and ensure the results or knowledge gained will be circulated to others.

We consider the VISTAs a very important means to develop self-sufficiency. An informed community makes wiser decisions, especially concerning something so fundamental to Yup’ik way of life as the environment. In this way, we (AVCP with the Villages) hope to secure a quality environment for and by the people of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Rivers Delta, today and tomorrow.

M. Pamela Bumsted, Ph.D.
Environmental Planner

Association of Village Council Presidents, Inc. VISTA project for 1997

    Goal 1: Increase awareness within the community of environmental issues affecting them, strengthen the community’s existing solutions to problems, and aid the community to identify and test new solutions continuing
    Goal 2: Increase administrative ability of Villages regarding the environment
    1st and 3rd quarters
    Goal 3: document environmental issues, problems and solutions generated by each community and regionally 2nd and 3rd quarters
    Goal 4: Increase informed participation of Alaska Native residents in decisions effecting a healthier community by 4th quarter

I. 1
AVCP Inc. began in the 1960s when members of Alaska Native traditional and IRA councils came together to discuss social and cultural issues common to the Yup’ik Eskimo communities living between the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers on the tundra of western Alaska (see maps). Formally incorporated in 1977, AVCP represents 56 Villages in a roadless area the size of the state of Oregon. Since 1992, AVCP has had a multimedia environmental planning office, but with a focus on alleviating the serious issues of unsafe drinking water / sanitation and solid waste. For the past 2 years, AVCP has utilized the help of Village-based VISTAs (3 in 1996) and provided technical assistance to AmeriCorps (4 in 1996). Recently, as BIA governance and administration programs have been turned back to Native communities, AVCP tribal services division has been developing Village administrative capacity by hiring and training tribal administrators in their respective Villages.

II. 2.
About 20,000 people live in the AVCP region in Villages of from 42 to 650 people (most are 100-300 people). Bethel is the regional hub with 5000 population, but all communities are over 60% Alaska Native. Jobs and cash are scarce, consequently the region is among the poorest in the USA. Although a delta formed where 2 of the USA’s largest 5 rivers meet the (Bering) Sea, the amount of water suitable for drinking and sanitation is low, with concomitant unacceptably high rates of environmental and personal hygiene diseases, names of which are no longer remembered by most other Americans (see table). About 8,000 people in our region have to use 5-gallon buckets for toilets, which then must be emptied manually. At the end of 1997, Villagers will have increased their awareness of environment/ health problems and solutions, increased their ability through their governing and administering bodies to implement or maintain needed changes, and increased their own participation in the decisions needed for healthier communities.

II.3.
All VISTAs will be supervised by the AVCP environmental planner (see résumé).

II.4.
Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation (ADEC), US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and AVCP have a long-standing MOA for communication, cooperation and support. AVCP and VISTAs work with the Bethel Pollution Prevention Roundtable, a business/municipality/civic or non-profit group which meets monthly. AVCP is part of the Governor’s Commission on Rural Sanitation. We work with the Y-K Health Corp. (contracted under Indian Health Service) on facilities. The VISTAs will be responsible for the AVCP Environmental Newsletter which is
distributed to all member Villages and to related governmental, private, and international agencies and individuals. The VISTAs will assist with the collation and formation of an environmental talent bank to be made available to others.

III.
At the end of 1997, VISTAs will have assembled Village-level documents and identified needed new ones—what do administrative offices have? where is it located? what do they need, e.g., ordinances?

Villagers will have VISTA documentation of their Village environmental concerns, issues, and solutions

Resources will be identified for Village and regional talent bank (i.e., skills, expertise, operator certification, education, etc.) used to form mentoring links between those individuals and Villages with skills and those without.

There will be a preliminary assessment of Village environmental /health risks conducted in part by the VISTAs.

  • Raise awareness of environmental issues and solutions, especially those pertaining to Village governance and protection, economic and healthy household functioning, and the elderly.
  • Develop active Environmental Newsletter and information distribution; assemble, collate, create directory of environmental help (within Village, region, state, nationally, and nternationally)
  • Identify Village human resources for updated training/skills databank and identify administration requirements for skills and expertise. VISTAs themselves will be selected and placed as mentors by AVCP.
  • conduct preliminary assessment of environment/health risks in 56 Villages
  • set up and begin training of Village ES&H (environment, safety, and health) advisory panels

Goal 1: Increase awareness within the community of environment issues affecting them, strengthen the community’s existing solutions to problems, and aid the community to identify and test new solutions. (continuing)

  • Identify and coordinate volunteer environmental education activities with existing resources, such as schools, churches, community health aides.
  • Be an environmental role model in everyday living and working in the Village. This is probably the most important objective. It is hard to recruit others to constructive action unless others are aware of a problem, and that it can be changed.
  • Find out, coordinate, and distribute information requested by community members on environmental issues. VISTAs will all write for the AVCP Environmental newsletter.
  • Document existing solutions; environmental concerns raised by community members.

Goal 2: Increase administrative ability of Villages regarding the environment. (middle two quarters)

  • Aid tribal or Village administrators to become aware of their administrative responsibilities towards environmental issues. Locate existing ordinances; review for effectiveness, modify/update existing ordinances; and develop or coordinate model ordinances. Identify regulatory requirements affecting self-governance in the coming year, such as dump closures. Help administrators prepare requests for state or federal funding of sanitation facilities. Assist administrators to meet public involvement requirements of public works projects. Develop guidance materials for administrators to be aware of community rights and obligations in developing, accepting, operating, maintaining, or planning sanitation, solid waste, or other environmental infrastructure. Assist AVCP collection, collation, and preparation of environmental information resources. Administrators will have identified environmental skills and expertise needed by the Village administration and sources of help available within the Village, region, or state.
  • Aid sub-regional childcare coordinators as they work with low-income households in developing their own viable household economic strategies and skills. VISTAs will aid householders to reduce/re-use/recycle and to influence availability of environmentally friendly retail practices and goods; develop economical and effective “green cleaning”; share water conservative hygienic routines (developed by themselves or others in the Village or region); demonstrate economic effectiveness of environmentally friendly and healthy activities and behaviors.

Goal 3: document environmental issues, problems and solutions generated by each community and regionally. Special focus through the Bethel City Senior Citizen Center will be on the needs and resources of the elderly. Their knowledge of environmental conditions, technology, practices, organization, concerns, and changes, provides a prized, much needed expertise for healthier communities. However, elders have special environmental issues in the Villages, such as emptying waste buckets (see photos). Increasingly, older people are moving to the regional hubs where medical and housing facilities are more readily available. (Bethel is currently raising funds for an assisted living facility.) But older individuals are particularly affected by pollution among concentrations of people (such as road dust, water quality, emergency response). Moving to regional centers involves a period of transition, which adds to the environmental/health stressors older Natives must already cope with.

Goal 4: Increase informed participation of Alaska Native residents in decisions effecting a healthier community. By the end of the year, Village-based VISTAs will have set up and begun training ES&H (environment, safety, and health) panels selected by community members. (In 1998, these panels will be performing the in-depth assessments of Village needs and risks and prioritizing those for further action. The head of each Village panel will meet with AVCP environmental office to prioritize needed actions within the region, to participate in the recruitment and training of a professional environmental management team from the delta Villages; and to provide a mode of communication between AVCP and the Villages and within the region.)

IV 5
AVCP, Inc. is the regional, non-profit, Alaska Native organization which provides social, natural resources, realty, environmental, economic, and family services to 56 Yup’ik Eskimo Villages within the Yukon-Kuskokwim Rivers Delta of western Alaska. AVCP Inc. began in the 1960s when members of Alaska Native traditional and IRA councils came together to discuss social and cultural common issues. Formally incorporated in 1977, AVCP represents Villages in a roadless area the size of the state of Oregon. Since 1992, AVCP has had a multimedia environmental planning office, but with a focus on alleviating the serious issues of unsafe drinking water/sanitation and solid waste.

About 20,000 people live in the AVCP region in Villages of from 42 to 650 people (most are 100-300 people). Bethel is the regional hub with 5000 population, but all communities are over 60% Alaska Native. Jobs and cash are scarce, consequently the region is among the poorest in the USA. Although a delta formed where 2 of the USA’s largest 5 rivers meet the (Bering) Sea, the amount of water suitable for drinking and sanitation is low, with concomitant unacceptably high rates of environmental and personal hygiene diseases, names of which are no longer remembered by most other Americans (see table). About 8,000 people in our region have to use 5-gallon buckets for toilets, which then must be emptied manually.

At the end of 1997, because of VISTA Volunteers, Villagers will have increased their awareness of environment/health problems and solutions, increased their ability through their governing and administering bodies to implement or maintain needed changes, and increased their own participation in the decisions needed for healthier communities.

IV 6
At the end of 1997, as a result of the VISTA/AVCP team, the Alaska Natives of the AVCP region—through enhanced regional awareness and communication, the environmental preliminary assessment, AVCP Environmental Office, and the linking of communities with skills to those in need—will have increased their awareness of environment/health problems and solutions, increased their ability through their governing and administering bodies to implement or maintain needed changes, and increased their own participation in the decisions needed for healthier communities.

IV 8
Essential qualities are an interest in environment, safety, and health conditions of Yup’ik communities; cross-cultural experience; ability to live successfully in remote locations; strong communication skills; adaptable to novel situations; creative; strong organizational skills; and mature inter- and intra-personal behavioral skills. Bethel-based VISTAs and lead VISTAs must be fluent in reading, speaking, and writing English. In addition, Bethel-based VISTAs must be comfortable with personal computers, statistical interpretation, and working with the general public, desktop publishing; transcribing oral information and reports, technical writing/editing. The Senior Center VISTA must be fluent in spoken Yup’ik and English; the computer specialist must have advanced computer skills, sufficient to set up PC databases and document control (including audio and video databanks, central and field libraries) and to research Internet and GIS systems.

IV 9.
There is a shortage of available housing in most Villages. Bethel housing is very expensive ($880/month for studio plus electricity) and seasonally fully occupied. Food and household expenses are 150% to 200% greater than in Anchorage. Bethel is located on the Kuskokwim River, 90 miles inland from the Bering Sea. It lies 400 air miles west of Anchorage. There is Postal Service to all Villages. Bethel serves as a trading, transportation and distribution center for the region. Federal and state agencies have established regional offices in Bethel. The region is fortunate in that rapid Euro-American development did not occur before the importance of protecting the Native culture was realized. The traditional Yup’ik Eskimo practices and language remain predominant in the area. Subsistence and commercial fishing are major contributors to residents’ livelihoods. The sale of alcohol is banned in Bethel, although importation or possession is allowed. Other communities in the delta ban possession as well. AVCP emphasizes clean and sober work habits. There is no public transportation. Bethel has 1 blacktop road.

V 1
VISTAs and community volunteers are from, and venues are in, the Yukon – Kuskokwim Delta.

V 2
Bethel Senior Center and the mixed sector Bethel Pollution Prevention Roundtable will be specifically involved. (“Private sector” is an odd term to apply to traditional Alaska Native communities.)

VI 1
VISTAs will be recruited from the AVCP region through word-of-mouth, tribal council solicitations, AVCP Environmental Newsletter, regional newspaper ads and press releases, annual AVCP convention, region-wide radio and TV (KYUK), community bulletin boards, through other agency newsletters, through current VISTAs and AmeriCorps. If volunteers are need from outside the region, we will advertise in the Fairbanks and Anchorage daily newspapers and work with AVCP education/employment and training division to solicit Alaska Native university students. We will also work with the American Indian Science & Engineering Society to notify qualified Native American applicants at a national level. We anticipate general information materials from the Corporation will be needed as well as national release of press materials on the VISTA program as a whole and our particular project.

VI 2
On the basis of our previous VISTA experience, we will be trying several different ways to utilize volunteer resources. Two VISTAs will be based at AVCP offices in Bethel with daily oversight by the environmental office (2 VISTAs, 1 shared 50%) and/or Bethel City senior citizen program director (1 VISTA, 50% time). Fifteen VISTAs will be stationed in the Villages, overseen by tribal administrators (tribal services division), Village administrators, or the AVCP sub-regional childcare coordinators (children’s services division). Villages wishing to work with VISTAs must provide a resolution from their governing body and other letters of support and contribute their support of office space for the volunteer. No volunteer will be placed without a mutual agreement between Village or organization, the volunteer, and AVCP. Up to 3 VISTAs will act as lead VISTAs to enable coordination and communication between the 17. We expect this coming year to have the “critical mass” (sufficient numbers) of VISTAs to sustain a communication system or network.

VI 3
Within Villages, most transportation is by foot. However, some dumps and landfills and seasonal fish camps are at a greater distance, requiring boat or snow machine transport. Actual fuel costs will be reimbursed.

VI 4
We have found the use of the Environmental Newsletter, community recognition events, radio releases, technical conference presentations to be successful when available. One of the project’s goals is to increase awareness by providing desktop publication capability, public English and Yup’ik writing support, and development of other Village appropriate communication tools such as video and audio recordings, and visual, aural, and performing arts.

VI 5
AVCP has an MOA with EPA and ADEC and will provide on-the-job training, Bethel site training (such as OSHA HazWoper training or public/occupational health ed.), individual training and ad hoc training (telephone/fax) and through inter-Village communication or field trips.

==============================================
Photo captions [photos to be posted later]

(1) Goods including flour and milk; fuel for generating electricity; Pampers, toilet paper, garbage bags, and soap; gravel; wood; and medical care and school teachers must all come by air, barge, or sled, depending on the weather. Shipping containers have no return passage and fuel must be stored in bulk. The nearest fully-equipped hospital is 400 miles from Bethel.

(2) Precipitation and runoff can’t be absorbed by permafrost, underlying the interconnected surface sponge of mosses, lichens, forbs and heath of the tundra. The water table and land surface are within a few feet of each other, at most. Saltwater tides reach as far inland as Bethel (80 miles upriver and still just 50 feet above mean sea level). Many Villages have only a single point from which to get clean water for drinking, washing, and cooking. The raw water often comes contaminated with excess metals and salts, from surface ponds or wells. Water treatment may itself cause harm, when machinery breaks down–recently one man was killed by drinking over-fluoridated water. Rain dripping from roofs or pond ice in winter are other household water sources in this region.

(3) Technological solutions are not all appropriate. Others are designed and implemented without community expertise—This anuk house (pretreatment plant) is less than 1 year old and peeling and corroding from the humid, salty climate. The structure doesn’t meet occupational safety standards for confined spaces, especially not those with methane gases. The vat for emptying wastes from “honey” buckets is photographed from the eye-level of a 5 ft, 9 inch non-Native. Imagine carrying a 5-gallon open container up the steep ramp (photographed from a more appropriate eye-level, but without ice and snow covering) and then hefting it chest-high, past one’s nose, to empty it. From the pre-treatment, wastes are piped through special, expensive, unsightly, above-ground “arctic piping” into an unfenced tundra pond.

(4) In some Villages, human wastes must be hand-carried to central bunkers for later removal. Other Villages provide for transport of multi-household waste bunkers by 4-wheel ATV (all-terrain vehicles) across boardwalks to pre-treatment facilities. The ramps to the illustrated facility are too steep for 4-wheelers and the required transportation structure was left unfinished by the outside contractors. The pond behind the “anuk house” (just below the residence) is where the pretreated effluent is discharged.

(5) The regional hub, Bethel, has just permitted the construction of a 4000 gallon, above-ground gasoline station across the road from the city water well, adjacent to a school zone, and just a block down from the senior center.

Job Description for Volunteers

  • Raise awareness of environmental issues and solutions, especially those pertaining to Village governance and protection, economic and healthy household functioning, and the elderly
  • Write, publish Environmental Newsletter and information distribution; assemble, collate, create directory of environmental help
  • Identify Village human resources for updated training/skills databank and identify administration requirements for skills and expertise
  • conduct preliminary assessment of environment/health risks in 56 Villages
  • set up and begin training of Village ES&H (environment, safety, and health) advisory panels
  • Be an environmental role model in everyday living and working in the Village
  • Locate existing ordinances; review for effectiveness, modify/update existing ordinances; and develop or coordinate model ordinances. Identify regulatory requirements affecting self-governance
  • Help administrators prepare requests for state or federal funding of sanitation facilities
  • Develop guidance materials for planning sanitation, solid waste, or other environmental infrastructure
  • Work with low-income households to develop their own viable household economic strategies and skills, “green cleaning”; share water conservative hygienic routines (developed by themselves or others in the Village or region)
  • Special focus through the Bethel City Senior Citizen Center will be on the needs and resources of the elderly

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