Snowmass residents return to Ethiopia

Joel Stonington

Three Snowmass Village residents are returning to a small refugee camp in Ethiopia to continue the aid work they have launched there. Susan Marks, Dr. Harriet Washton and her husband, George Kaye, will leave Sept. 5 as part of a nonprofit group known as the Denan Project.The relief efforts are something they have all become passionate about as they have recognized how much they have to give to the residents of the camp and surrounding area. “It makes you appreciate how lucky we are living here,” said Marks. “It’s like nothing any of us have ever seen.”The Denan Project has accomplished a great deal in a few short years. In 2004, it opened a small medical clinic that employs 25 and serves thousands. It is the only free medical care in the Ogaden region, a desolate desert with a population of more than 4 million where temperatures often soar over 110 degrees. More recently, the project bought an ambulance for the clinic, a pickup truck, generator and 72,000 supplemental meals. They are also working to provide potable water to the village. “We are putting in a water pipeline,” said Marks. “That’s their major problem. The water is all polluted. So we’re providing this pipeline. Each watering station costs $15,000 [and] Snowmass Rotary has given us enough for two stations.”Marks, Washton and Kaye will only able to go to the village for a week because of potable water constraints. Marks said the group has made a large impact.”They’re so grateful for everything we do,” she said. “We’re the only free medical clinic for miles [around] and they walk for days to come there.”The change has all been happening since a filmmaker named Dick Young happened on the refugee camp in 2002. The population had boomed, the area was overgrazed, and the firewood was burned. When drought arrived, people starved.Young came back to the states, put together the Denan Project and started raising money from friends to hire a doctor for the area. Marks became passionate about the project and now spends a great deal of time fundraising and working on the project. “I have never, in my life, been a fundraiser,” she said. “I never wanted to ask people for money but I don’t feel funny about this. I’m so passionate that I don’t even need to ask people about it” – people just want to give.After a fundraiser at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies a few years ago, some of the caterers who were hired donated their paychecks.”This has changed my life,” she said. “I think about it every day. It makes me appreciate everything I have. If you called Harriet and George they would say the same thing. It’s something that few have ever seen, except maybe other aid workers. This is different.”For more information go to Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is