I remember when I first started taking trips to Oaxaca, Mexico. I was a college kid, an idealist, and a romantic. I fell in love with the children of Casa Hogar, and when I wasn't with them, I missed them. I thought of them, and I dreamt of them. They are still a huge part of my life, but things have changed. With Simply Smiles, we work on new projects, meet new people, and yet - we still go back to Casa Hogar every week that we're in Mexico just to check in with the kids. (And I remind them that any of them can be our lovely Gaby, and move in with me any time!)
Enter, La Plant, South Dakota. I won't lie, the first time that I came to the Cheyenne River Reservation, I did not enjoy myself. The work was hard, the environment was sad, and the kids were tough. There were no hugs, they didn't care if I came back (or so it seemed), and so I knew that I had to. We all knew that we had to.
If you had been mistreated by the government, boarding schools, and missionaries, wouldn't you be wary of new visitors? Wouldn't you be skeptical of some white do-gooders? I know I would.
So we persisted the way we always do, by being present. We invited the kids over for games, the adults for dinner, and shared coffee and stories with the elderly. And now, here we are, almost four years later, with kids calling throughout the morning to find out when 'winter camp' starts, and adults asking what they can bring to Bingo night.
Being here, in La Plant, is changing all of us. I write songs about the kids, I joined the gym so that I could be stronger and have more endurance this summer, and even started doing yoga, so that I'd have a calm way to start the day!
And the most beautiful thing? The kids want to be a part of all of it. From music to our holistic, healthy lifestyle. They're eating carrot sticks by the fistful, I can't cut the apples fast enough for snack time, we don't have enough yoga mats for all that want to join in, and we wrote our first collaborative folk song. (You can get it here, and the proceeds are paying for Guitar Camp '13!)
These kids want to be happy. They want to be healthy. They want to feel connected.
Don't we all?
And now, I have more kids that I miss, more kids in my dreams, and more and more children that I'm proud of every day. I'm so glad that we stayed.