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Guardians of the Year
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Live Mic: He started a relief program and now he’s a ‘Guardian of the Year’

ete Sands, Utah Navajo COVID-19 Relief program project manager, delivers wood to an elder in Oljato-Monument Valley, San Juan County, on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. The Navajo Nation has one of the highest per capita COVID-19 infection rates in the country. Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah- The frontline healthcare workers deserve a round of applause for their work during the year of the pandemic. 

Or as TIME magazine so eloquently worded it:

“Guardians put themselves on the line to defend the ideals sacred to democracy. In 2020, they fought on many fronts. On the front line against COVID-19, the world’s health-care workers displayed the best of humanity—selflessness, compassion, stamina, courage—while protecting as much of it as they could. By risking their lives every day for the strangers who arrived at their workplace, they made conspicuous a foundational principle of both medicine and democracy: equality. By their example, health-care workers this year guarded more than lives.”

Pete Sands created the Utah Navajo Health System’s COVID-19 Relief Program in February in Montezuma Creek, Utah, where he grew up.

Sands was then named one of Time’s “Guardians of the Year” and joined Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic to talk about how his program became a reality.

Facing challenges on the reservation

Before the coronavirus pandemic began to ravage the United States, Sands told TIME magazine in May, “there was just something that kind of spoke inside all of us saying, “this (the coronavirus) is going to come here.’”

By May, the Navajo Nation had surpassed New York for the highest case rate in the US.

On the Navajo reservation, many households suffered because they don’t have electricity or running water.

“What type of aid do you offer those who are in need? What is the nature of the program?” Lee asked Sands.

“We have people down here who are out of jobs. People here who don’t have any source of income. People who need food. People who need firewood. People who need water because water is something that’s already very scarce here on the reservation. When people are told they have to wash their hands for 15 to 20 seconds that takes away from the water they have stored in barrels in their homes because there’s no running water,” Sands said.

He said another challenge is delivering food and water to people who live in rural, remote places on the reservation. This area is mainly comprising parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah on about 27,000 square miles or approximately the size of West Virginia.

“Those are the kind of issues we face down here. We have to figure out ways to work around that. We try to help these people by implementing portable handwashing stations . . . A lot of people have trouble with transportation. . . . We here at the relief program were able to give out food to people. We were able to get out food drives every week.  . . . And that’s what we continue to do.”

“That’s admirable. It’s incredible stuff you’re doing. I am inspired just hearing you describe this,” Lee said.

Guardian to be praised

Sands said he was “honored being from such a small town” to have been chosen as one of TIME’s Guardians of the Year.

“Our (Utah Navajo Health System’s COVID-19 Relief) program has reached well beyond our borders into the rest of the country,” he said. “It’s a testament to everybody here who works together day-to-day to make this whole thing operate. It’s just amazing. . . . It’s a high honor. It speaks for how a community or people can start something just out of instinct, just wanting to help people, and people can gather around that idea, and it can inspire.”

Lee asked Sands what advice he would give to others who want to reach out and help others.

“Start out small. Start in your community and help out your neighborhood. How I started was helping my little hometown, and it the just grew from there. Little acts of kindness and gratitude and benevolence are something that goes a long way,” he said.

Related: 

In his own words, Pete Sands tells his story in TIME: “People talk about grassroots—I mean, this is pure grassroots.”

Deseret News reporter Amy Donaldson travels to Monument Creek to talk to Pete Sands about winning his award: “I thought, ‘That guy looks like me!’”

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.