Helping Hands 4 Tuluksak


Armando Quintana

A fishing excursion summer of 2020 in Alaska.

Kyla Wells, Reporter, Editor

 A beloved Woodland Park resident and teacher at WPHS sought change after his many years in the town. When he announced his departure from the school district, his intended destination shocked all of us. Tuluksak, Alaska. 

This small village with a grand population of about 450 people is located 50 miles upstream of Bethel in southwestern Alaska. Considering there are no highways or roads that connect Tuluksak to other villages, it appears to be pretty isolated. The main form of transportation is by small plane, although in the winter, they travel the highway of ice on snowmobiles. As a small community, the village is tight-knit; always willing to lend a helping hand to their neighbors and newcomers like one of their very own. When speaking about his favorite part of Tuluksak, Mr. Quintana said, “Adults always want to show you how to fish, hunt, and their way of life in the bush. They seem to enjoy nature more than anything else. They always want to share their food despite knowing they might not have enough for the year.” 

It’s now time that we match their gracious demeanor and lend our helping hands to their community who could use a little extra support. 

Because Tuluksak lacks many resources, “Everything they do is to survive and put food on the table”, according to Quintana. Being a skilled hunter/ gatherer is vital to life in the bush. Although the food products being placed on the table may change when the seasons do, the hard work to provide for their family never does. 

Among the resources they lack is running water. A bare necessity to many of us is a luxury to them. Fortunately, a few select buildings in Tuluksak have running water such as the school, the laundry mat, a small convenience store, and government-owned buildings. Therefore, it’s very common for the residents to use a honey bucket for the restroom and a steam room instead of a shower. Most people collect water from various rivers in Tuluksak and the Kuskokwim River, the same body of water that serves as their highway, for everyday use. 

Despite the pandemic, students all across the world have been lucky enough to experience new-age technology and education techniques. Although this learning style isn’t for everyone and may not be sustainable for the long term, students have to keep in mind how fortunate we are to still be getting a consistent education. In Tuluksak, because over 90% of the student population (K-12) doesn’t have access to internet, schooling is harder than ever. Only half of the 160 enrolled students show up. When asked what the biggest difference is between teaching in Woodland Park vs. Tuluksak, Quintana said, “Most Tuluksak students don’t see the importance of education or dream of using an education to better their lives.” Phone conferences are common among students and teachers because if they had books to take home, the likelihood of them getting returned to the school is slim. Adding to the difficulties of at-home learning, Mr. Quintana says, “My students are always hungry because they don’t get enough food at home which affects their learning. These children are very tough and hold in their emotions at home, but when they come to school, it comes out by showing a lot of anger and exploding with emotions.” 

Kids in this village find joy in running, playing sports (basketball in particular), hunting, picking wild berries, and fishing; “They’ll skip school any time of the year to do these activities.” In general, the people of Tuluksak love spending time outdoors enjoying the wilderness around them. But winter months in Alaska are harsh, as I’m sure we’ve all read about a time or two. Without suitable clothing, being outdoors can turn from a hobby to a burden in the blink of an eye. 

Housing in Tuluksak may look a little different from what a lot of us are used to. “Many children live with their grandparents because their parents moved to a different town or city.” It’s also common for multiple generations to live together, and a house in this area can range from holding 4-16 occupants. 

Heavy drug and alcohol use is also a concern for children and adults alike in Tuluksak. Kids are exposed to various substances beginning in their early formative years and alcoholism is at a high rate in this area, affecting not only life at home, but at school too. 

The children of Tuluksak need outside support. They need supplies, positive letters, and most of all, they need us to try. Try to reflect their generosity and gratitude for the little things. 

Putting yourself in another’s shoes is one of the most effective ways to gain perspective and become actively aware of your blessings. Take a moment to picture yourself as a resident of Tuluksak. Run through the events of your day that include foraging for food, collecting river water, going to the school to wash your clothes (they recently bought a washer and dryer for students to use so they wouldn’t get made fun of for poor hygiene), and exerting substantial amounts of energy while doing “simple” tasks. This way of life is foreign to many of us, but more emotionally and physically draining than we can even imagine. 

Many people believe that their one, small action won’t make a difference. Well, think about it. If 15 people read this article and each one is under that impression, there go 10 cases of granola bars, 2 jackets, and 3 bottles of multi-vitamin gummies that could’ve been on their way to the youth of Tuluksak. 

That may beg the question “Well how do I help?” and the answer is simple and user-friendly. Amazon Registry. Type “Amazon Registries” into your search bar and click on “Amazon Registry and Gifting”. Once on that page, there will be a spot to type in the registrant’s name. Enter “Armando Quintana” and select “custom gift list”. The registry called “Helping Hands 4 Tuluksak” will appear and after clicking on the title, you’ll be able to see all the items on the registry including toothpaste, toothbrushes, clothing, healthy snacks, vitamins, and more. There are many options to choose from, assuring that no donation is too big or small. Once you’re ready to check out, Amazon may ask you to sign in if you’re not already, or create an account if you’re new. All orders will be sent directly to the school in Tuluksak and given directly to students K-12. 

Thank you for taking the time to read about this cause and for lending a hand even just by telling your friends and family about it. If you’re unable to donate from the registry and would still like to contribute, email me at [email protected] to coordinate sending a positive letter or two!