By Nicole Duciaume, Documentation and Sponsorship Support Officer for Christian Children's Fund
In the midst of traversing the state of South Dakota, we had the opportunity visit several national landmarks such as Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Wounded Knee. These opportunities bring history alive. I often reverted into an inquisitive school girl at seeing monuments in actuality rather than as a faded memory from elementary school history class. One cannot help but sit in awe of what these places mean, especially to the people who have dedicated their lives to telling the story of the great persons represented and memorialized.
A highlight today was meeting with a wonderful couple who lives in South Dakota and sponsors two children in our local programs. As they explained, charity begins at home. Don and Lauren Balyeat have been CCF sponsors for several years. However, they have taken the challenge of supporting programs well beyond their monthly contributions. Understanding that many enrolled children do not yet have sponsors, they have taken it upon themselves to bring a little extra joy to many enrolled children as well as their own sponsored ones. For the second year in a row, the Balyeats have funded monthly summer trips for groups of children from 2 of our partner communities (one in Kyle and one in Rapid City). Trips range from water parks to animal sanctuaries and even to the Devils Tower in Wyoming.
When we met up with the Balyeats for lunch, Lauren was on her lunch break and Don had just left Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, a community-funded animal sanctuary that houses lions, tigers, pigs, donkeys, and chickens, among several other species. Don was there welcoming a group of about 20 CCF kids who would spend the day learning about different animals, the importance of compassion for animals, and even more subtle messages such as teamwork, community support, friendship and living peacefully even in difficult times.
For example, Don told the story of an orphaned tiger cub named Stinky who was raised by a hound dog named Butter. As they grew older, Stinky outgrew the space and had to be moved to another section of the sanctuary. The first night apart, both Stinky and Butter wailed and cried until it was determined that they had to be reunited the following day. The children were amazed at even seeing a tiger, let alone the fact that the tiger’s “mom” was a dog and how they relied on each other for support. These types of learning experiences are rare for the children enrolled in our programs – and they are the kinds of moments the children will remember for a lifetime.
Leaving the Balyeats just outside of Rapid City, we headed south toward Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Whereas the landscape to Cheyenne River Indian Reservation had been rolling palatial green plains, the route to Pine Ridge took us through the arid and seemingly desolate Badlands, which Frank Lloyd Wright once described as giving him “an indescribable sense of mysterious...”
Formed by 500,000 years of erosion, the Badlands dip and peak in terra cotta colors, painting a sunset across their vastness. With prairie dogs playing hide and seek in the shadows of the eagle-circled peaks, the drive was wondrous as we learned of the historical and spiritual significance of this National Park. The land, named mako sica (mako, land and sica, bad) by the Lakota, is as beautiful as it is intimidating.
We arrived at our hotel for the evening ready to rest, reflect and renew for the next day.