In late July of 2010, I boarded a flight headed to Denver, Colorado. Along with 45 other youth from the Bay Area Episcopal Diocese, I headed to the Standing Sioux Reservation. Every summer, about 50 high school youth from our area go on a mission trip, during which we do construction and build relationships in pursuit of social justice. As our plane took off from the Oakland Airport, I had no idea the next eleven days would impact my life.Upon our arrival, I fell in love with the breathtaking landscape; the rolling hills and swaying grass. But even that could not distract from the challenges at hand.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
The extreme poverty that grips the Reservation is astonishing. How could a part of the United States as large as the state of Connecticut go along living in such oppression, with the general public being unaware of this? They are human beings as well, and no one seems to notice or care.When I left the reservation that summer, with a heavy heart, I wanted to take action. I needed to know that the time I had spent there would not simply disappear into my memory. I had to change something.
This past summer, we returned to the Sioux Reservation. As soon as we arrived at the reservation, I could feel my soul soaring. I had missed it so much more than I ever thought I could. This year, aside from doing the usual painting and construction, we put on a Day Camp for the children of the town of Wakpala. In the five days I spent with the children, I was welcomed into their small community with open arms. Many of the children had only one parent, a product of rampant alcoholism, domestic abuse, and suicide. Each day I grew more and more attached to them. After eleven days, I didn’t want to leave the South Dakota’s marvelous aesthetic beauty or the compassionate Lakota people.
At the end of the trip, one of the church elders approached me and told me the following that I will never forget. “What you kids did, coming here, you may not think it helped those kids, but it did. You showed them that not all waschichu (Lakota for Caucasians) are bad people, you gave them something positive to hold on to throughout their lives. You gave them hope.” Although I believed what he said, I also concluded that I took away from the trip just as much as I had given.
Although the Lakota people have been oppressed for the past two centuries, they have not let that affect their generosity or kindness. They value respect and gratitude more than anything. They live through their culture and breathe through their traditions, embracing the beauty of life much more than the average person. They taught me an appreciation of culture, tradition, and respect. The Lakota people of Wakpala, South Dakota forever changed me. They showed me that as a single person I can have an impact. The juxtapostion of the vibrant culture and undescribable beauty of the midwest morphed my soul into the person I am today. I will be forever changed by that trip, and I am grateful for the experience.
To my dear Chelsea, I pray for you everyday. I hope that you grow up to be happy and confident. I hope that you keep your roots alive, and that you always feel loved and supported. I miss you, and you will forever remain in my heart.
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