I have often urged people to consider sponsoring a child or elder on Pine Ridge Reservation. I will continue to do that.
When I assign a sponsor to someone on the reservation, I urge them to start slowly and not be overwhelmed by their own feelings of generosity or by the need of the Pine Ridge residents. There is a reason for that.
ONE Spirit has no rules written in stone regarding the amount that a sponsor should spend on the child, elder or family that is being sponsored. However, there are guidelines and a strong suggestion. The guidelines – 4 gifts a year minimum at obvious times like birthdays, holidays, the beginning of school – do not mean a sponsor needs to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars. A pair of jeans and a couple of shirts or a pair of shoes is plenty. As a sponsor gets to know a family, they may decide, based on their own budget, that they can do a bit more. But it should always be within their own comfort zone in their own budget.
The basic point of sponsoring is to make sure a child or an elder has the NECESSITIES for daily life – clothing, food, hygiene products, diapers, cleaning products, toilet paper, books or small toys. Most of us cannot resist sending something that would be considered more of a luxury as well – a larger toy, some make-up, sweets for the children.
The point of sponsoring in not to give a child everything they ask for or want. All children need to learn the difference between what they NEED and what they WANT.
The children of Pine Ridge are no different from children everywhere in this country. They see all the gadgets and goodies on TV. They want an iPod or computer or flat screen TV or furniture or car. They think they ought to be given these things. They need clothes and toilet paper. We, as sponsors, do them no true good if we give them the expensive toys that cannot be kept up and that may be easily stolen.
Sponsors need to use their judgment both with the guideline for gifts but also with strong suggestion to never send money to the family on the reservation. I think that this suggestion is very sensible due to the rates of alcoholism and other problems that result in cash being ill-used. It is so easily stolen, as well. But when you become better acquainted with the family, you may, as a sponsor, decide that in one certain case sending cash is okay. It should never be done without due deliberation.
I spoke with several sponsors this week that have had some experiences with these issues, which is why I am writing about it today.
But there is unfortunately two other issues that are not limited to Pine Ridge nor are they pretty. Those issues are greed and ingratitude. Greed is everywhere. In some respects, it is almost understandable in a place where poverty rivals the poverty of Haiti. But it is not acceptable in Lakota culture. Lakota culture honors generosity and humility, sharing and taking care of the less able (children, elders). Greed is not a part of Lakota culture but it is part of human nature. Ingratitude is not part of Lakota culture either. It is, sadly, a large part of American society. Too many today feel they are entitled to the good things in life without work. Therefore they don’t need to be grateful for those things. They are “owed” them! Children on Pine Ridge watch a lot of TV – there are few other forms of entertainment available – so they see the attitudes of American society in general. If you’ve ever really thought about what you see on TV, whether comedy or drama, “reality” or not, you will have noticed that the values displayed are not the values many of us “of a certain age” were raised by. But they are the values many of our kids are being raised by. Sadly!
One of the sponsors I spoke with had encountered greed and ingratitude in the persona of a pre-teen girl. This girl did not ask for NEEDS, she asked for wants. She did not just ask for jeans – not even designer jeans. She asked for a computer. She asked for a iPod. She asked for expensive running shoes. She asked for a cell phone “to call her grandmother.” (Her grandmother lives with the family.) This sponsor has decided to terminate her sponsorship of this child and I am looking for a family who will be a better experience for her.
As the person who matches sponsors with families, I try so hard to try to avoid this type of experience. But short of clairvoyance, there is no way for me to know the characters of either sponsors or recipients absolutely. It comes to trust, which I wrote about not that long ago. But it saddens me deeply when either sponsors or recipients have negative experiences.
I have been blessed with a wonderful family that we began by sponsoring but who have become our friends. They have never asked for too much. They have accepted any refusals due to our budget with grace. They have been grateful for whatever we have been able to send. I know many other sponsors who have had similar experiences. I am grateful that the number of negative experiences I personally know of can be numbered on one hand.
But I think that it is important for sponsors to remember that the people on Pine Ridge are no better or worse than people anywhere else. There are good and bad, generous and greedy, honest and dishonest, both on the reservation and in the people you meet every day. The only difference is that the people on Pine Ridge are extremely poor – just about the poorest people in this nation.
So sponsoring is not all sweetness and light. There are negatives and hard times as well as positives and joys. Sponsors should not expect that the people on the reservation will be saintly any more than they would expect all their own neighbors or co-workers to be saintly.
My perspective on my own sponsoring: I give what I can afford to give. I do it because I want to improve the daily life of someone I have come to love. I started it because I felt it was wrong for anyone to live in the conditions that exist on Pine Ridge Reservation. I know I cannot “fix” everything for the ones I sponsor. I cannot give them a life that is “just like” the life I lead. But I can do small things to make the life they do live more pleasant, more healthy, less painful.
I guess for me, that is sweetness and light.