Tuesday, June 24, 2008

By Nicole Duciaume, Documentation and Sponsorship Support Officer for Christian Children's Fund

Early Tuesday morning, we left Rapid City as the already sparse buildings grew farther and farther apart. The patches of green expanded in seemingly limitless directions. Rust colored earth pushed through between the grazing cattle, and the hills undulated in rhythm with the radio station coming in and out of range. My cell phone reception bars decreased as the horizon increased. We traveled west and then north and then west again on roads that are both paved and dirt. Our car took a beating. After almost 3 hours in the car we began to see signs for Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.

The whole of the Reservation is about the size of Connecticut. But instead of the densely populated eastern seaboard, we are in the central Midwest where the wind sweeps across the plains.

We entered one of the communities where CCF will be working. The community had only just survived a flooding, and sandbags were still in evidence. The facility we visited was in need of new supplies. There were only a few chairs, the windows had no curtains and the staunch white walls were mostly bare. The foosball table was used for storage and some books were missing pages. Though there was a small bookshelf with various board games, most were purchased at garage sales and had various pieces missing. The symbolism was pretty clear: a nearly complete puzzle just missing one or two pieces representing the resources, skills, programs and support CCF can add. CCF is not the only piece of the puzzle, but we do have the opportunity to see what is missing and partner with existing community organizations, families and the tribal council to help complete the bigger picture.

We had the opportunity to meet with Nicole Eagle Chasing, the newly hired home visitor who has been busy enrolling children for CCF’s upcoming summer program. She explained some of the needs that she notices as she goes home-to-home visiting with the families. She described how many of the government built homes are beginning to show signs of age, such as tile floors worn down to the cork boards below. Many of the families lack beds for the children and drapes for the windows. Cleaning supplies and toiletries are in demand as a result of the recent floods.

Nicole said that the biggest threat to children is neglect and being left alone while their parents are out of the house either at work, casinos or even the local bars. Some children might only get one meal a day. Older children are expected to take care of their younger siblings, and though this often leads to greater camaraderie among the children, it also forces some to drop out of school to care for their younger siblings. Children often don’t know what opportunities exist for them and are not able to fully embrace their cultural heritage.

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