We continued to work on projects around the community center in the morning and at the summer camp in the afternoon. Although the official work project time is less than four hours, we have been able to accomplish so much. Our group has divided and conquered over the past few days, tackling projects that most of us have never seen or done before. Between installing light fixtures and trim work, to the laborious and heavy concrete mixing, we have broken our backs several times over, just to complete the job. Our kids work till they drop, and then they keep going. Throughout the day, the staff has to force water breaks on us just to keep us healthy. It says something to the dedication and mental fortitude to persevere through the tasks at hand. Our kids are giving their all to this community, both physically and emotionally. They are nothing short of amazing. Summer camp in the afternoon is equally as taxing. We run and play with the kids the entire time that they are here. When they leave, almost everyone has had their face painted and challenged Mike to a game of Connect 4. Either that, or they have built a LEGO structure with Jamie and Emily or played Jenga with Mark. When 5:30 arrives and the bus takes the kids home, we are all exhausted, mentally and physically.
As with each day, we close it out with a community circle. Last night our circle was amazing. Our 23 youth and 6 advisors talked about what we have seen and experienced here on the reservation. Bryan (the founder of Simply Smiles) had told us about the level of poverty, the poor living conditions, and the pervasive lack of dignity on the reservation. But even that did not prepare us for what we have seen. Although the prairie is vast and beautiful, the remoteness of this place is startling. Compared to Connecticut, there is nowhere to go, nothing to do; no jobs, no recreation center, no retirement home, no preschool program, no grocery store, no doctor, no vet for all of the stray dogs (which the kids have quickly become attached to), no anything.
As a church community we worked tirelessly raising the money needed to bring our kids out to this community. Our goal was to widen their eyes and give them experiences that they would never have in a cozy New England town. Last night it was gloriously obvious that we have accomplished our task. We sat in a circle and processed our thoughts thus far, sharing our surprises, our joys, and our wishes for the people of LaPlant. Our youth get it.
They talked about how cars and campers and motorcycles just drive by on their way to their destination and never realize the struggles of the people who live in La Plant. They talked about the remoteness of the people who live here without cars with a sense of shock. How do they survive with no grocery store nearby? And they talked about the joy on the children’s faces when you play basketball, or build LEGOs, or let them paint your face. I sat in the circle listening to our compassionate youth with tears in my eyes. Tears of sorrow for the challenges that face the children of La Plant, and tears of joy that our children see the challenges and know that they are making a difference.
To everyone who supported our mission to La Plant, South Dakota, not only have you made a positive impact on the people of La Plant through sending our youth out here to build houses and playgrounds, but you have changed all of us in so many ways as well. The depth of compassion and love that we are developing will be something that we will carry with us of the rest of our lives. Thank you.