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Archive for the ‘Sponsor’ Category

I have been pretty “quiet” lately thanks to the work volume all of the wonderful folks who have been stepping up to become sponsors for children and elders on Pine Ridge Reservation since the 20/20 episode aired.  I literally have not had time to write.

That is about to change!

This evening I called an elder to give her a sponsor for the 5 year old granddaughter she cares for.  The longer we spoke, the more I knew I had to share this story.  I’m sharing it because I am so far past angry I can’t keep this to myself.  It is difficult to type when all you can see is red, but I will give it my best effort.

[scrape … scrape … scrape … sorry, the soapbox makes a bit of noise]

I asked Grandmother how her granddaughter, who is in first grade, was doing.  She told me that the girl was happy but having some difficulty in school.  She was told the child may be dyslexic.  That will mean a struggle for her.

I told her I had a sponsor for the girl and she was very happy with the news.  We continued to talk as I confirmed the address information.  It was then that I began to steam.

This little girl’s family had moved away and left Grandmother with a trailer to live in with the girl.  If you could hear me, I would tell you to close your eyes and picture it as I describe it.  Instead I will try to paint you the picture with my words on this page.

The trailer is in a group of trailers.  It is very old.  Grandmother worries that the roof will come off in the wind that comes with storms – and in South Dakota that is often.  It seems that the wind is always blowing on Pine Ridge Rez.

The trailer has no running water or sewer connection.  They were using a nearby outdoor faucet for water, carting several jugs a day.  Some of the neighboring men “rigged” up the sewer pipe so they could use the toilet, flushing by pouring some of the water they had carried into the tank of the toilet.  HOWEVER . . . there was some kind of water line break in the area and the tribal water department had to shut off the water.  Yes, the outdoor faucet that they were using to obtain water is now dry!  The tribe has not made the repair that would allow the faucet to be turned back on.  Now they have to go to someone else’s home to obtain the water they need and carry it home.

Following the dotted line . . . or broken water line, let’s see the additional results of the lack of water and sewer connections. 

The most striking consequence is that Grandmother cannot get a propane tank without the water and sewer connected.  Is that important?  It depends on your perspective, I guess.  Do you think eating is important?  Do you think it’s important to have heat in the South Dakota winters?  Personally I think they are both things none of us would want to go without.  So how does Grandmother cook?  She uses a hot plate or electric skillet.  How does she keep herself and her young granddaughter warm in the poorly insulated trailer?  She uses several small electric space heaters.  The pair sleep in the living room.  Grandmother has hung a blanket in the hall doorway to keep as much of the heat as possible in their small living area.

Picture two old-fashioned thermometers, the kind with the bulb of mercury on the bottom.  One of the thermometers is measuring the temperature outside the trailer.  The second thermometer is measuring the electric bill.  As the mercury in the first thermometer drops (actually plummets at night) during the winter, the second thermometer’s mercury is exploding through the top of the stem like a volcanic eruption!  By spring, the electric bill will be too high to pay – causing the electric to be cut off and a $250 reconnect fee to be added to the next bill.  This is what will happen this winter as Grandmother tries to feed and warm herself and her granddaughter.

Are you beginning to get upset yet?  No?!  Okay then, it’s time for the clincher.

Do you remember that flimsy roof I referred to above?  That roof has another serious problem – it leaks badly!  When it rains, the water comes in through the light fixtures.  It comes down the walls.  Grandmother’s mattress in the bedroom can’t be used – it’s wet.  Even if they had running water, the bathroom would be unusable – the flooring and carpet is wet.  Besides, after her granddaughter got a small electrical shock when turning on the bathroom light to brush her teeth, Grandmother decided it was better not to use the bathroom at all.  So all bathing and tooth brushing and laundry is done in the kitchen.

I asked Grandmother whether she had sought any assistance to get the problems resolved.  She told me that she had.  She told the folks at housing.  A man came out and made one small repair.  He never returned, in spite of her calls.  Her district representative to the tribal council has tried to help her out but he has had as much success as she has had.

[okay, breathe . . . in . . . in . . . in very slowly, then out . . . out . . . out slowly, control the breath to control the rising anger . . . again . . . okay]

 

Is this how elders of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the wise people of the Lakota, should be living?  Is this how they should be treated when they ask for help?

We ALL know the OST has no money, though why they don’t is harder to figure out.  But the fact is they have people.  They need to be training more people to do the very repairs that elders need and can no longer do for themselves.  The tribe needs to invest in their own vocational school to train plumbers, electricians, construction workers, carpenters, etc.  These trained workers could be licensed.  They could form companies and do work for an income.  They could also, in exchange for their education, give back to their communities by performing the repairs for elders for free, as a sign of the respect due to the elders.  The tribe needs to work at making it easier to do business on the reservation — especially for registered tribal members.

Lakota culture and values state that elders are to be respected; that women and children are sacred.  But it is only lip service that the tribe gives.  They spend more time with politics and nepotism guiding their decisions than the truth of their ancestors.

So I am left with the question of how I can help this particular Grandmother.  But I am also left with the bigger question.  There are many more grandmothers on Pine Ridge Reservation.  Many do not have the energy or ability to lobby constantly for the repairs they need.  I am trying to use the steam I am still feeling about this to brainstorm ideas on what would help.

If you have any ideas, I would love to hear them.  It doesn’t matter whether they are feasible or not at this point.  I just want to know that you think this situation is abominable and how you think it could be changed.

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And when I say short, you know I mean short!

Ever since the 20/20 Program aired last Friday night, I have been swamped with work.  In the 48 hours after the show, I received more sponsors from my coordinator than I typically receive in a month!  It is an example of “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.”  It is a wonderful problem to have but with my fibromyalgia I have to be careful.  If I let myself get stressed by all the work, I’ll have a flare-up and then I definitely won’t be able to get the work done.  I am trying to balance it out but it isn’t easy because I care so much about the work I do.

I knew, when this program was first discussed over a year ago, that it would bring about the kind of interest that it has generated.  I knew that, if someone with a large enough following would bring the conditions to the public so they could SEE for themselves what it was like, the people in this country would respond.  I tried the networks and Oprah and everyone I could think of to DO SOMETHING.  Gratefully, ABC News came through.  Why, I even wrote an open letter to Bill Gates on this blog.

So now I am working night and day to contact sponsors.  Then I have to contact people on the reservation.  Actually, that can be the hard part.  Phone numbers on the reservation change more often than the weather — or so it sometimes seems.

Also, as I begin to assign more sponsors, people on the rez are telling me about neighbors who could use one.  Perhaps one day we will have all of the people on Pine Ridge matched with a sponsor.

If you don’t see a new post for a few days, do not think I have abandoned my crusade or forgotten to write.  I’m just up to my eyeballs in sponsors at the moment!

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ABC NEWS Has Come Through For Pine Ridge

Over a year ago, I was contacted by a researcher/producer for ABC News.  She had found one of my blog entries (in which I was chastising ABC for not paying attention to the disasters in the west, especially on the reservations).  She told me they were working on a Diane Sawyer prime time special in her “A Hidden America” series.  The prior one had been on life in Appalachia.  This time they were planning to profile Pine Ridge Reservation.

Those of you who have been reading my blog will know that there is not much that fires up my hopefully righteous passion more than talking about life on Pine Ridge Reservation.  So talk we did, for almost an hour.  And we emailed – resources that they might find helpful.

I had heard that Diane Sawyer was out on the rez this past summer when I was there (no, we didn’t happen to cross paths traveling the approximately 2 million acres on the rez.  But I did here that she went up to KILI Radio one of the days I was there.  Try to keep that quiet when you’re talking to DJ’s.

I am giving you a link to the promo for the show.  Please, if you have ever enjoyed or been moved by anything I have written, I implore you to watch the 20/20 program on Friday at 10 PM.  See with your own eyes the good and the bad of Pine Ridge.  You may not find it possible but this place does exist.  I have been there and I suspect they will not tell you the worst story nor show you the poorest homes.  But it will still be worse than you expect.  After all, the living conditions on Pine Ridge rival those in Haiti and the life expectancy on Pine Ridge rivals that of Burundi.

I work for an organization that works to support self-sufficiency – not an easy thing to have on Pine Ridge.  Many of us work to keep the dam from breaking by trying to improve the life of one person at a time.  The big picture can be truly overwhelming.

If you can’t watch the show when it airs, record it or have a friend record it for you.

I will be honest.  I prayed for someone with greater reach than mine to focus attention on the needs of Pine Ridge.  I did not know (or care) who it would be.  I am grateful to ABC News because I know that if more people see the conditions, they will be moved to respond.  I believe in the American people and I know in my heart that things can improve.  I do not have the answers but I know it can be done.

Thank YOU for helping them to raise awareness.  You can do that by sharing this blog post with everyone you know.

Oh yes, here’s the link to the promo:  http://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/hidden-america-children-plains-14708439#.TpOhj9LOE2E.facebook

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I spoke with a young mother last night to try to assist her.  She had moved from Oklahoma to Pine Ridge, SD to help care for her mother after her mom had some surgery.  Her mom has other medical conditions in addition to the one that required surgery, had been life-flighted off the reservation previously and certainly needed the extra help.  Her mom, however, has gone back to work early because of the dire need for income.

I said this was a young mother who moved back to Pine Ridge.  She did not come alone.  She brought her 4 children with her.  Her children range in age from 11 to 18.

It has been a culture shock moving from the Cherokee Nation, where her children are enrolled members, to the Lakota Nation, to which she has transferred her enrollment when she moved back there.

In Oklahoma, she was enrolled in a college program majoring in Criminal Justice.  Back in Pine Ridge, she is enrolled at the Oglala Lakota College, which does not have that major.  So she will have to choose something else to complete her degree.

When she and the children moved back, they were given her grandfather’s trailer to live in.  However, because neither he nor other family had a job, the electricity was shut off for lack of payment.  They were not the only ones, of course, so candles and generators in the neighborhood were the norm.  But generators take fuel, too, so they are run intermittently, as hot water is needed – not solely for TV or lights.  Apparently while she was at her mother’s home, the children had candle lit so they could see.  A neighbor had turned on a generator and did have the TV on while the water was heating.  So her children we to the neighbor’s house to watch TV . . . forgetting the candle.  Unfortunately, unattended candles can be a fire hazard and this one was no exception.  The trailer caught fire and burned down, taking all their possessions as well.  Even worse, they had some historic documents and items in the trailer which have now been lost to both the family and the tribe.  She is so saddened by that loss.

I explained to this mom that the family had been referred to us and explained both the sponsorship and OKINI programs.  I told her I would put them on both, with an emphasis on the OKINI due to their urgent needs.  She began to cry.  She apologized for the tears and said that it has been very difficult to get help through the tribe.  It seems that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, that no one communicates with anyone else and that there is “no money left” in any program.

She said that would never occur with the Cherokee Nation.  They are organized and it is easy to navigate their systems.  They are honoring and trying to maintain their culture while at the same time fitting in with the current day.  Moving back to Pine Ridge, from one Indian nation to another, has been a Native American culture shock!

She and her four children went to the tribe for assistance with housing after the trailer burned.  They were told that they qualified for assistance but it would take some time.  This young woman, who is strong and articulate, was not about to let her children be homeless.  They have moved into her great-grandmother’s “old house” that was built sometime around the 1900’s.  It is a house, but it is small!  It contains a kitchen and one other room.  The only furniture they have is a full-sized bed.  Since there are 5 family members, the 2 older children are going at night to sleep on their grandmother’s couch.  They have no appliances, no table or chairs, no food storage (no food for that matter) and very little clothing.  They do have someone who is willing to build another room onto the place if they can materials from they tribe (they are not holding their breath on that).

After we talked about all the hardships she and her children have been enduring, she proceeded to tell me the story of her pre-teen nephew.  Her brother, who still lives in Oklahoma, is the boy’s biological dad.  However, when the mother was pregnant with the boy, she left the biological dad and moved to Pine Ridge to live with another man.  She listed that man as the father on the boy’s birth certificate.  After a short time, she left that man . . . and left the boy with his non-biological father as well.

Apparently this boy has been abused since he was quite small — physically, mentally, emotionally (being told his biological father was dead after he found out about him) and perhaps sexually.  The boy finally called the police to try to find safety.  After a court hearing, they placed him back with the abuser.  The young woman fears for her nephew’s life and wants to help the boy.  But again she is frustrated by the lack of organization and lack of urgency she finds in the Oglala Sioux Tribe.  I have connected her to my Lakota friend, who has had a lot of experience with the juvenile system on the rez, as you know if you read my accounts on this blog.  I will try to give her other connections as I can.

This young woman is passionate, articulate, intelligent and driven to make a difference for her people.  I hope and pray that she will find a way to do that.

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I have been up to my eyeballs in “work” for the rez, as well as “powerless” (electrically speaking – due to Irene), and have not had the opportunity to write about the rez in the way I’d have liked.  So I’ve decided to post a few shorter bits about my visit to the rez a couple of weeks ago and some of the phone conversations I’ve recently engaged in with “rezidents.”

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I spoke with a grandmother this week who had returned an update form to me.  The reason I had requested the update was an email from the sponsor I had given her.  The sponsor had asked if I could perhaps find another sponsor to help with the family.  She mentioned other children.

This puzzled me since I was only aware of 2 young grandchildren, aged 4 and 7, living with this grandmother.  When I saw the update form, I understood the sponsor’s concerns very clearly.

Grandmother now had 2 adult daughters (aged 22 and 24) and 4 other children (aged 13 – in school, aged 18, 19, 20 – all attending virtual high school) living with her, as well as 6 more grandchildren (aged 17 mos, 2, 3, 4, 4 and 6 yrs old).  Don’t forget the “original” 2 grandchildren I knew about.

In case you’ve lost count, as I would if I didn’t have the update form in front of me, 15 people living in one small house!  No wonder the sponsor felt overwhelmed!

Grandmother also noted that they did get food stamps (there aren’t enough food stamps they could possibly get to feed that crew).  However they have no source of income and no transportation.  Her final comment was typical Lakota understatement, “I have a big family so it’s usually hard on holidays.”

Needless to say, I’ll be hunting for sponsors for that family.

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I spoke with a disabled elder today.  She had been referred to our program by someone at Pine Ridge Hospital.  She has multiple ailments including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, a leg brace, hypertension and congestive heart failure.

She had been living in a condemned trailer (and trust me, to be condemned on the rez, it had to be pretty awful) and is now living in a new-to-her house with an adult daughter and 10 year old grandson.  I gave her a sponsor today.

The problem is the sponsor won’t be able to help with their biggest need: furniture.  They have none, except for the hospital bed she was given due to her multiple disabilities.  Not a chair or couch.  Nothing.

She said to me, “I don’t care if it’s not new.  I go to Salvation Army Thrift when I have any money.  But it would be great to have a recliner so I could put this bad leg up.”

********************

I got an email from a long-standing sponsor who asked if I could possibly find a “food sponsor” for the family she sponsors.  She had been sending gifts as well as ordering monthly food.  But she recently retired and cannot continue to do both on her more limited income.  She is concerned that the grandmother’s recent leg amputation and the surgery that the child she sponsors required will really have a negative impact on the family.

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I assigned a sponsor to 2 elder sisters who live with a niece and extended family (8 folks in the home).  The sponsor lives in New Zealand.  I’m not certain how that will work out.  I chose them because there is someone in the home who has an email address.  I hope it works.

It often surprises me that people outside the United States know more about conditions on the reservations and native culture than the citizens of this country know.

Why is that, I wonder?

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I heard about a woman who worked for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.  She ran a tight ship in her office and would not keep anyone who drank alcohol or used drugs.  That was in addition to the fact that the tribe has laws and regulations forbidding that sort of thing.

There is regular drug testing and apparently there was a test done on an unscheduled basis that revealed 2 of her employees had violated the rules.  She fired them immediately.  It all seems proper so far, doesn’t it.  Ah, but looks can be deceiving, especially on the rez.

The 2 fired employees went to their local tribal council members and complained.  Instead of supporting the woman who was the supervisor, they reinstated the 2 fired employees and fired the supervisor.

What are they thinking?!  What kind of example is that to set?  In a place where alcohol and drugs play a part in more than 80% of the health and family problems, you would think they would value anyone who upheld the rules.

The rez is a world unto itself and sometimes it makes no sense — even to those who live there and tell me the stories.

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I’ve saved the best for last — at least in my personal opinion.  That’s probably because it is a personal story.

You know I spent several days on the rez because my friends were having their new home blessed.  I truly got to visit this time, not just a few hours.  It was wonderful.  It was different because it was their own home, not someone else’s that they were living in, so we could all be ourselves.

I’ve already written about my Lakota friend’s first childhood memory.  That was one of the most traumatic stories I’ve heard from anyone on the rez.  I’ve witnessed the strain and discord between my friend and her mother over the 6 years that we have been friends.

The night before I flew home, when it was just my friend and I sitting and talking, I decided that I would help with their “transmission fund.”

They have an older Ford Explorer that needs a new transmission.  My friend’s husband is fairly skilled in auto mechanics (a matter of necessity if you have a vehicle on the rez) and plans to install it himself.  They have located a used one that he will take out of whatever vehicle it is in and install in their car.  However they need to come up with $350 to pay for it.  While that is not an outrageous sum in terms of transmission parts, it is a lot of money when you do not have a job.

I had not spent much of the cash I had taken with me on the trip and knew I would not need much of it when I flew home the next day.  So I took a good portion of it and gave it to her to start off the “transmission fund.”  That’s when she stunned me.

She started crying — really crying, not just sniffling or tearing up.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  Here was a woman who had endured more than anyone I knew (you can read the stories in my archives under “Lakota friends”) and I had never heard her cry like this.

Finally she looked at me and said, “You don’t understand, do you?  No one has ever wanted to take care of me like this before.  Not my mother, no one.”

It was my turn to cry.

And people wonder what sponsors get back?  I got friends and a whole lotta love.

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You might be wondering what aspect of “Back to School” time I’m referring to when I talk about the blues.  Is it the perspective of the kids — summer’s gone and so is my freedom?  Or perhaps it’s parents — there goes relaxation and here we go with all the activities to which kids need to be chauffeured.  Summer’s gone and so is my freedom.

What I’m actually thinking about is the shopping that needs to be done.  My children are adults now, but I still recall having to buy new school clothes and supplies.  Heck, I recall when I was a child, there were new clothes every year when school began.  It was a rite of passage.

Yet things were different in my day.  I didn’t grow up in a well-to-do family.  Sometimes, especially when I was younger and didn’t have much “say” in what I wore, my mother would sew my clothes.  My grandfather worked in a cloth mill and brought my mother many remnants that would have been tossed out.  Free material and my mother’s skill kept me relatively fashionable.

There isn’t as much of that happening today.  Most kids shop, with or without parents, for all of their clothing.  They get to wear clothing that may be their size but is styled in adult fashions.  We wonder why they grow up too fast.  Brands become important — peer pressure and the media certainly help there.  Cost vs value for your money seems to be ignored as credit card balances rise.

School supplies (pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, crayons, etc, etc) are chosen far differently than when I was in school.  In fact, when I was in school, you didn’t have to buy much.  The school supplied most of your needs.  The first day of school, you were given pencils, crayons, a ruler and perhaps some other items.  The only things you needed to buy were what you might need at home to do your homework.

Today, we see parents and children with carts loaded with school supplies because schools no longer have the funds to supply those items.  Today it is parents who must find the cash (or raise their credit card balances again) to give their children the basic items they need for school.  Of course, it is no longer just the basics.  We now have designer back packs, a seemingly infinite choice of pencils and pens (and everything else) and a lot of “cutesy” items which only serve the purpose of making kids “cool.”

Most parents dive into this “back to school” preparation with abandon — either the abandon of joy because they are as addicted to the process as their children or the abandon of resignation because they have to get it done and over with.

There are some parents who cannot do this for their children.  I think of them every year now, when the “back to school” ads start appearing on TV and in print.  I am the one who watches for the “super deals” and heads to the stores for school supplies.  No not for my grandchildren; I don’t have any grandchildren.  I head to the stores to shop for the children of parents who dread the cost of “back to school” supplies.

They dread it because they have no money.  Now come on, you didn’t think I was going to just write a bit of drivel about going back to school in the “good old days,” did you?

I think especially about the parents on Pine Ridge Reservation.  Most are unemployed and subsist on tribal aid, government aid and the kindness of others (like you).  They have trouble paying for the basics in life — a roof over their family’s heads, food to put on the table, heat in winter, electricity.  Some have auto expenses, some have no auto because they can’t afford it.

But they want their children to get an education.  So they need to send school supplies to school with the children.  Where does the money to purchase school supplies come from?  I’ve been there and I know people there and your guess is still as good as mine.

For a lucky few, there is the OKINI list or a sponsor through ONE Spirit.  For a few others, there are other groups that will send some supplies out to one of the schools on the reservation.

I have sent things to individuals and through school supply drives (such as the one Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation has every year).  I watch the sales so I can get as much as possible for my money.  Otherwise, I won’t be able to afford to ship the supplies to the rez.  Thanks to whomever it was at the US Postal Service that came up with the idea for flat-rate boxes.  School supplies tend to be heavy!

So as you watch the “back to school” frenzy, think about the parents who are experiencing the true “back to school” blues.  Maybe you’ll be inclined to help them this year . . . maybe longer.  I know the economy  stinks right now but it is still stinks more for some than for others!

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I actually have 5 sponsors on my desk (actually, their information, not the sponsors themselves) at one time.

How can that be?  I have never had that many at one time.  In some ways, it’s overwhelming.  I have to, in a matter of just a few days, contact all of them, get to know something about them and then call twice as many contacts on the rez to make an appropriate match.

Don’t get me wrong!  I am NOT complaining about having sponsors.  It’s just that the universe has a strange sense of timing.  I have these sponsors when I also have several other pressing tasks and a deadline – since I traveling out to Pine Ridge a week from today.  I feel like I remember feeling when I was in school and it was time for mid-terms or finals.

I’m trying to get organized.  It’s not usually difficult for me, but it seems that there is a lot of subconscious thought going on as well, which is making it more difficult to concentrate.  I can’t add the subconscious topics to the “To Do” list because I don’t know what they are.  Obviously they are important but touchy.  So they will live a life of their own while I try to organize the rest.

I’ve been trying to contact the Food Program drivers for one of the areas I coordinate all week as well.  I have had an interesting story about one of the food recipients and want to talk to them about it, to get their impressions.  If you think “phone tag” is no fun in your life (and you’re right), it is even worse when you do it with someone on the rez.  I have to do some more of that today as well.

Okay, time to get going.  My husband has gone out hiking for the day to “stay out of my hair.”  The cat is fed and so am I.  Time for some caffeine and the phone.  Oh wait . . . it’s 10:30 AM here . . . that means 8:30 AM in Pine Ridge . . . just a bit early to call people, even if it is about a sponsor.

Maybe I have time to enjoy that coffee and listen to the birds.

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