During this Spring Break I am spending time with my family volunteering on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for one week in South Dakota. The idea for the trip began with my 87-year-old mother in-law Joan, who has made extensive contributions to the Lakota Indians over the years. She is a great example of altruism and we are making this trip in her honor. We will be working on a service project building bunk beds, wheelchair ramps and outhouses with an organization called Re-member. Re-member provides access to work experience, exposure to Lakota Indian culture and most importantly, opportunities to build relationships with the Lakota people. We have facilitated a collection drive and are bringing three bins full of soap, toothpaste, shampoo and hair brushes to donate.
My family has participated on alternative spring breaks previously with International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) volunteering in Costa Rica. Traveling to Central America was an amazing experience. Water was limited, the power went out frequently and supplies were scarce, but we helped build a new bathroom and computer classroom in a local church in Barrio Cuba. Contributing to communities locally and internationally puts life in perspective. Giving doesn’t have to be complicated or grand, but the more I spend time sharing unconditionally, the more joy I feel. This spring break we’ll take time to open our eyes and our hearts.
One my College of DuPage colleagues, Tom Montgomery-Fate has spent an extensive amount of time on the Pine Ridge Reservation researching and writing for a College of DuPage Field Studies course. He has written an essay, “Detours of Intention: Lost and Found in the Holy Land” which appeared in Riverteeth (University of NE Press 2016). He writes:
The Pine Ridge is a hard place to live. Roughly the size of the state of Connecticut, it is the second largest reservation in the United States and contains the nation’s poorest counties. The statistics from recent studies are startling. The average life expectancy — fifty-nine for men and sixty-two for women — is the lowest in the United States and is comparable to sub-Saharan Africa. The estimated rate of unemployment is the same as the rate of alcoholism: about eighty percent. The rate of tuberculosis is eight hundred percent higher than the national average; the rate of cervical cancer is about five hundred percent higher. The high school drop-out rate is more than fifty percent. Forty percent of the homes on the reservation have no electricity, and sixty percent lack a telephone.