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Schools & Program Visits - Feb, 1998 Issue #50

Mesa, Arizona
Denise Lecheminane, 
Admissions 602-892-7403
Visit by Lon: January 6, 1998

“I love it here! I don’t want to leave Anasazi” the girl was saying with a huge smile that lit up the mouth of the ancient cave we had just hiked up to. This was followed by some friendly banter with Wanda, one of the staff, about how much she had changed from anger and resistance to the whole ANASAZI experience, just a few short weeks before. This was the third camp we had hiked into up the Verde River in the Tonto National Forest. By the time we arrived, the girls had finished their morning activities and were off to explore the surrounding ruins and signs of the ancient Indian culture. This particular cave was about 100 feet or so above the valley floor, and was where a couple of ancient pots had earlier been found by exploring staff. Standing at the mouth of the cave, overlooking the valley, with a view that had been shared by others in the distant past, with plentiful saguaro dotting the hillsides, the past became very close. Of course, this experience of the girls exploring the ancient cave is part of the Anasazi experience of teaching the timelessness of certain principles through ancient Indian symbolism and wilderness experiences. 

We had visited the first group earlier in the morning, where food was very much on the minds of the girls. Each girl had just received her week’s ration of food the day before, as had all three groups we visited. What we saw here was each girl with their ziplock bags of food lovingly laid out. Before our eyes, they were struggling with issues of self-discipline, instant or deferred gratification, and the consequences of their choices. In this particular camp, all the girls were eating almost non-stop while we were there. The oldest girl, the one almost ready to graduate, admitted with a laugh, “we’re horrible.” Another girl agreed as she popped the last of her week’s ration of raisins into her mouth. The look on her face was one of, “They’re, Oh! So good!”, but she was going to miss having raisins later. She knew that, but at the time, she was satisfied with her choice of instant gratification. 

This group showed a clear before and after example. The girl almost ready to graduate was smiling, open and outgoing, and clear eyed. While we were there, she went apart from the group with Tiffany, the Trail Walker staff, for a blanket ceremony to mark accomplishment and preparation for graduation. She returned a little subdued, but with an air of being very pleased and proud. On the other hand, a girl was sitting by the fire who had arrived only the day before. She was softly crying most of the time, and radiated a sense of misery. 

It’s hard to watch a child expressing that kind of pain, but it would be a short sighted mistake to simply “save her.” The pain was already there from her self-destructive decisions from the past. Bringing her to Anasazi only helped bring her pain out into the open where it could be seen and worked with. Facing her in the wilderness was a chance to do something constructive about it, instead of just burying it through drugs or other instant gratifications and diversions. This way, with the Anasazi experience, she can get the help she needs to finally work her way through her emotional baggage. In a few short weeks the new girl will likely gain the tools and self- respect that will enable her to feel like her companion who was getting ready to graduate, and like the smiling girl in the mouth of the cave. Both of those girls had started their ANASAZI experience with similar baggage, resistance and expressions of misery and anger. 

The second camp we visited was a boys camp, where wilderness survival skills were being emphasized at the time. Wilderness survival skills is an important part of the Anasazi experience. Anasazi believes the self-discipline required to gain an intimate touch with nature is exactly the self-discipline a person needs to live a full life. One boy was building a spear, in hopes of spearing a fish to supplement his diet. Others were discussing the best wood to use for a baseboard for a fire starting bow drill. Others were carving wood to improve their eating utensils. 

At the same time, boys were going aside for one-on-one discussions with their “shadows.” “Shadows” are staff who work with students on a weekly basis to chart and push them toward their goals. These were the staff who had walked in with us and played a role other programs usually used therapists for.

Ezekial Sanchez, co-founder of Anasazi, and our host for the walk into the camps, emphasizes the importance of the students learning the ancient skills of wilderness survival. The reasons include the obvious ones of self-discipline, satisfaction at mastering a difficult task, learning the importance of deferred gratification, and gaining a better understanding of the lives of our ancestors. He also sees a more practical value. He claims that any of us might find ourselves in a situation where the ability to find food or water, or start a fire in a primitive environment could become of supreme importance. Stephen R. Covey, in his best-selling book THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE FAMILIES makes a similar observation. He enrolls his family in survival programs because he sees it as important for everyone to learn “...the ability to survive in adverse conditions.” 

ANASAZI Founders, Ezekial Sanchez and Larry Dean Olson have been taking kids into the wilderness since the late sixties. All their current students have the advantage of more than 30 years of these men using the wilderness to help teens learn to better cope with the complexities of civilization. Because of Anasazi’s on-going training of staff, it was quite evident the Trail Walkers knew their responsibilities and were alert to each child every minute. The combination of efficiency, effectiveness and caring was impressive. It was easy to see that the students were making dramatic changes for the better. And, that is what Anasazi is all about. 

Copyright © 1998, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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