Because of the high risk of drunk drivers on the reservation, we decided to spend the first night in a hotel. The next morning we continued to drive a few extra hours, eventually we arrived in Pine Ridge South Dakota! To be honest, all fun and games stopped once we arrived on the reservation. While driving on this long and narrow road to the Resort/Hotel, we were silent. Personally, I was numb with a deep sadness and concern for the community. I could barely swallow or blink my eye. I was no longer in Baltimore, Maryland. Immediately, my comfort zone stripped. I was lost for words and felt extremely uncomfortable. I began to question if I was really ready for this. It was real folks! No more just reading about it because it was right in front of your face, the mud, dirt, poverty, broken faces and broken hearts everywhere. Again, it was REAL!
I slowly got out of the van and could barely stand. I couldn’t believe I was really here. Others surrounded me going about their way, for me it was personal because I felt the pain, heard the tears, and could smell nothing. It was real but surreal at the same time. I walked with the group into the lobby; we checked in and then ate at their café. Even though the menu looked delicious, and I was hungry, it was still a struggle. Even though there may be some similarities with the poverty in Baltimore, however I was looking in from out which gave me a totally different perspective of things.
While on this trip I knew that trying new foods was going to be one of my biggest challenges and it was. Did you know that it is very offensive to Native people to reject the food that they offer it to you? I did not want to be rude, therefore I had to scrape my taste buds, fix my face, and brace my stomach. The room where separated by gender. The rooms were standard. The beds were comfy too. The first day we got ourselves acquainted, packed lunched, and stuffed zip lock bags.
We were split into two groups, Crazy Horse and Wild Mustangs! The groups would rotate jobs and projects throughout the week during different times. We would eat breakfasts in the morning: typically cereal, nutria-grain bars, fruit, oatmeal, or a pot-tart. Packed lunches would consist of a PB&J or Ham & Cheese, chips, and water. Dinner time a group would cook a dish like homemade pizza, tuna casserole, or burgers. Keep in mind we were on six dollars a day/ per-person budget just like the natives. So we were stretching the dollars! It all worked out wonderfully!
The second day we combined groups and worked on two houses about an hour away. Everything was an hour away because, well the reservation is HUDGE! We worked with a man named Scott. Scott founded a non-profit organization and partnered with another organization as well. Scott is very compassionate for the natives. He’s willing to sacrifice his comfort zone to make the lives better for the natives. We worked together as a team. We moved furniture, scrapped paint, cleaned floors, cleaned windows, moved lumber, dug holes for trees, and more. It was hard work but working with such great people made it a blast.
Myself and a few other ASB folks had the opportunity to work with kids in an after school program. It was a great experience and enjoyed working with the kids. We helped move all of the toys in the building. We brought in several toys, games, costumes, and other items for the kids to enjoy. We played music for the kids and painted their feet. They were the cutest and nicest kids. We had so much fun with them. These kids were happy despite their surrounding conditions.
We also conducted a health fair. The fair was designed to inform natives of Diabetes and how to be healthy. We provided the natives with information packets, presenters, lunch, and the opportunity to have nursing staff check their blood pressure. We had so much fun conducting the health fair. I’m sure it was of great help to them.
The last day we visited the site of Wounded Knee, which is the actual place where the massacre occurred. It was very sad and lonely. There were flags, ribbon, and tobacco everywhere to symbolize grief and to pay respect to the victims. Also we visited Oglala Lakota College, which is the only college on the reservation. The campus was beautiful. Most of the buildings looked new. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly.
The next day we departed at 4am. It was very early, cold, and rainy. We packed out bags and loaded the vans. It was a very dangerous drive to the airport because the 99.9% muddy roads were extremely slippery (mudslide). Can you imagine driving three eight passenger vans on the slippery edges of mountain? Not fun! Fortunately and prayerfully we survived and arrived at Denver International Airport safely. It was a long and rocky plane ride home. We endured some turbulence and pain in our ears but made it though. At least I did, I think.
Overall, I had a amazing experience. I grew as a person, ambassador, student, and leader. I faced my fears and broke through barriers. Relationships with friends changed to family. I developed a deeper compassion and understanding for the community. I desire to make a change not just in my community but I the world. I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this trip. I learned so much! I hope I blessed someone’s life. ASB was an incredible/ life-changing experience that I will never forget! Thanks for reading!