While each day spent in Pine Ridge had its special qualities, my favorite day at Re-Member was the last work day on the reservation. I was in a group assigned to delivering the bunk beds that had been crafted and assembled by our group earlier in the week. Each stop we made was different from the rest, yet special in its own way. We had to bring in the supplies for the bunk bed in parts and drill and assemble it in the room chosen by the family we were helping. We had warm welcomes in each home and assistance in our set up in most as well. Our helpers ranged from a 5 year old boy excited about his first real bed, to a 15 year old boy happy to help us make up the bed for his younger brother and sister, to a dad that was so grateful that his two sons would have a new place to sleep. It didn’t matter who the bed was going to be for, the feeling that I got while setting it up was the same each time, and I know every one I was with shared this feeling as well. It was truly humbling to see how appreciative and happy these families could be- each having so much less than we, as college students with the ability and privilege to volunteer, are accustomed to. I left each house feeling so happy and accomplished with a concrete example of the difference, no matter how small, that we made. A bed is something I easily taken for granted and it takes an experience like the one we had on this day to stop and appreciate what simple gifts we all have and how much they mean.
Working on an Indian reservation was something I had never thought of doing since there are not many around my town. But when I heard we were working on one as part of our service trip, I was ecstatic! Being assigned to work on the local radio station (KiliRadio) I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I arrived at the site, one side of the roof was pretty beat up and at an extreme angle so I figured we were working on the other side. I was wrong on that assumption. With only four ladders, a walkway and a few shovels we scraped down the remaining shingles. All was going well then a man from inside the radio station called me in saying he wanted to ask me a few things. Little did I know I was about to be interviewed for the local newspaper, their Facebook and even the radio! A few days after I found out we also made it onto the local TV station and I couldn’t believe how popular we got so quickly. I really enjoyed working on the roof and I could tell the natives enjoyed seeing it! Having minimal roofing experience I was surprised when a few people asked me how many times I have done roofs like that. I couldn’t lie to them so I told them not much; they couldn’t believe that but it’s the truth. Working on the roof was such a great experience and if I ever had the option to come back to Re-Member and work on another project, without hesitation I would say yes! I enjoyed the project and learned many things about myself.
Today on the reservation, Re-member hosted a craft fair. Numerous vendors came and displayed their jewelry, dream catchers, and other goodies. When going to one vendor, I sat and chatted with her as I closely eyed her jewlery. I had been waiting to get the perfect thing. The woman was very happy to be there and talk with me about life on the res and the meaning of the beads. She bought beads and made the jewlery herself and was very proud of her work. While looking through the selection and variety of beads, I saw turtle charms that I adored and asked of I could have a bracelet. They were small, turqouise beads shaped like turtles with little detailed designs on them. After 20 minutes of putting it together it was completed. It was so beautiful and held so much meaning. She told me turtle represented long life and well as women, and strength. The black beads that were also incorporated kept away evil. It was amazing to be able to see my bracelet made and have a connection with the person I bought it from.
Today at Re-Member was one of the most memorable of the whole week. I had the privilege of installing some bunk beds in the houses and trailers of those who needed them, and for the first time had the opportunity to talk with some locals. We even installed two bunk beds in the home of a woman whose pre-teen daughter had committed suicide the previous year. Doing things like I did today remind me of how selfish and stuck in a rut I am. I have my schedule, my friends and family, my food, and the rest of my life compartmentalized in a very particular way… You’d better watch out if you suggest any kind of change. The first thing I think of when I wake up is the most important person in my life- me. However, when I am given the time to serve others, I find it more easy to release all of my personal baggage and focus on someone else for a change. It also helps when that person is as gracious and loving as the people with whom I worked today. I am thankful to Elon, the Gap Semester, and Re-Member for providing a way out of “me world.” I can’t wait to continue onward.
Today, we arrived at re-member after traveling for a couple days. Its very different here than home. Everything is dry and barren. The people here live in houses that are barely being held together without indoor plumbing or electricity. In today’s world, we take that for granted. Everyone thinks that all US citizens have the opportunity to get these things if they work hard enough, but i don’t think the people living on the reservation have that chance. They seem like they are stuck in a rut that they cant get out of, no matter how hard they try. Also, now that water levels are so low from lack of rain, life is getting even more difficult, and you can see it simply by driving down the road and looking out of your window. I am excited to get to work soon and start helping people. They definitely need it and I am willing and able to help.
Tonight is already the last night on the Reservation! I cannot believe our time here went so fast. Tomorrow morning hopefully we will be able to finish our roofing project that my group has been so diligently working on all week. I am really proud of each one of them because of the effort we put into shingling it. It will be a great accomplishment once we finish the job. The roof is safe but very steep and I was one of the guys who would walk on the top walkway of the roof. It was a fantastic yet exhilarating view from being at such a high level.
Today I was fortunate enough to be one of the few students who got to deliver bunk beds to families on the Pine Ridge Reservation. At first I was nervous about how some of the families would react to the charity, because many of the staff members at Re-Member warned us that the Lakota people could be very proud and might not like white people coming into their homes and giving them things. However, we were very lucky to have such positive experiences. The living conditions were appalling; there would sometimes be 15 to 20 people living in an extremely small house, the floors cluttered with trash and dirt and the sinks full of unwashed dishes. One of the “bedrooms” that we constructed a bunk bed for was a cellar underneath the house. Insulation hung inches from the top bunk, and mold grew all over the ground and walls. It was devastating to see that people had to live in these conditions, but knowing that I was making it just a little bit more comfortable for them made it feel good. One of my favorite experiences was when we went to a house and were greeted by a woman and her son, who was probably around 13 years old. As soon as we got to the house, the boy asked us what he could do to help. He began taking supplies out of the truck with us and even helped with the construction of the bed. He had never used a power tool before, but was so excited to learn. Many of the speakers we had listened to earlier in the week had told us that the Lakota people had difficulty finding work because they were never taught trades, and this young boys ambition and willingness to learn gave me a lot of hope for him. As we were leaving, his mom gave every single one of us a hug. Not just one of those quick squeezes, a truly genuine hug where you can feel the love.