I got a friend request on Facebook today. It was from a young women on Pine Ridge Reservation. She lives in one of the areas I serve and we had spoken before – so I recognized her name and accepted.
She had sent me two messages. The first thanked me for the card I had mailed to her when her step-dad died. This was the second
I was wondering about were you able to find my 3 children a sponser also i would like you too know our trailor house had burnt down?
I had not found them sponsors yet . . . wait a minute . . . did I read that right? Their trailer burned?!
I immediately found the phone number I had for this young mother and called it. I got the frequent message one gets when calling the rez: I’m sorry, the number you dialed is not a working number. Please check the number … . Oh wonderful! She had at one time said that if I needed to reach her I could leave a message with her area CAP (Community Action Program) office and they would get it to her.
I got out the CAP office phone number and called. She had been there, using the computer, but she’d left a little while ago. I told them I would try back later.
Apparently they were quite diligent at the CAP office, because I got a call from the young, single mom a few hours later. She cried as she told me the story.
On December 23, 2009 she had been awakened by coughing. There was smoke throughout the trailer. She was able to get her 3 children, then aged 8, 5 and 4, out safely. However, since the reservation is huge and the fire department is all volunteer, it took a while for the fire trucks to arrive. She noted that she and the children watched the trailer and all their things burn up while they waited for the fire trucks. (This is an all too common occurrence on the rez.) Talk about something to cause PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
I asked her where she and the children have been living. “Here and there”, she said. I knew what she meant – they had been living with one friend or relative until their welcome was worn out, then moving on to the next. I asked her where she was living right now. She said they were living with her grandmother, then began crying again.
She said, “All my relatives have a problem with alcohol. All of them. I don’t want that for my kids. I don’t want them around them when they drink.” Sadly, another problem for parents who want to set the right example but do not have housing of their own.
Housing is a desperate need on Pine Ridge Reservation. I know people who have been on the waiting list for housing for 10 years! I know homes that house a dozen people or more! If you look at the statistics for homelessness on the rez, they won’t be accurate. The reason is that many who are truly homeless have a roof over their heads thanks to the sharing of family – though it may be extremely overcrowded and some may sleep on the floor. I always ask myself if that is really a home – is it any way to have to live?
I told her I wished I could help her with a home, but that is beyond the scope of the organization I work for. She understood that. I asked her what she and the children could use right now. She told me she wanted nothing for herself. She just wanted to take care of her children. They needed shoes and some school clothes, even underwear and socks.
When was the last time you had to worry about buying your children underwear and sock?
I told her I would place her children on the OKINI (Lakota for sharing) list that we have for people who want to donate but not become sponsors. She was grateful. She gave me the address of a cousin for anything that could not be shipped to a post office box. I asked if she could get there to pick it up. She said she could probably walk. My next question, obviously, was whether or not they had a vehicle. No, she said they had no transportation.
She thanked me for calling her.
Do you know what struck me most about this conversation? I’m sure you don’t. But you can be sure I’m going to tell you!
What struck me most about my conversation with this young, single mom? When I asked her how she was doing at the beginning of the conversation, she said, “Well, we’ve been kinda having hard times here.” Although she had 3 children to clothe, feed and find a home for, although she and her children suffered the trauma of watching their home and possessions burn, although she is homeless, unemployed and has no transportation, there were no histrionics. Just kinda hard times. The Lakota women I know are the strongest and most humble women I have ever met.
I know folks who pop a cork over not getting their favorite brand of coffee or their favorite designer jeans.
What would they say if they were in this young woman’s shoes.
Better question: What would you say in this young woman’s shoes?
Most important question of all: What are YOU going to do about the many like this young woman on the Pine Ridge Reservation?