Community Service

National History Day Inspired by Commitment to Community

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This year as we set out to choose our NHD topic, based upon the 2018 theme, Conflict and Compromise, we thought back to our summer adventures on the Lakota Indian reservations, and we knew we had an historical story that needed to be explored.

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As we traveled throughout South Dakota, and witnessed first hand the difficulties encountered by present day Lakota’s, we asked ourselves, Why? and How did this happen?

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Location: Battle of Little Big Horn (Custard’s last Stand)

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Extensive research, that took us from South Dakota to Washington DC, NYC and back to CT, provided us with the information we needed to create our Nationally competitive theater performance, “From Sea to Shining Sea: The Conflict Over the Fort Laramie Treaties that Compromised American Values.” 

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We opened with a reminder of our founders’ original pledge to all Americans, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal…”

 

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We described battles won and lost between settlers and Indians, underscoring their differing perspectives.

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Sadly, as we quoted Rev. Burrell from the 1800’s, we found his words as applicable today as they were over 150 years ago,

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“Who shall be responsible for this event so dark and sorrowful? The history of our dealings with these Indian tribes from the very beginning is a record of fraud, and perjury, and uninterrupted injustice. We have made treaties, binding ourselves to the most solemn promises in the name of God, intending at that very time to hold these treaties light as air whenever our convenience should require them to be broken…. We have driven them each year further from their original homes and hunting- grounds…. We have treated them as having no rights at all…. We have made beggars of them.”

Black-Snake-poster-1-We did not fail to mention that the Keystone XL pipeline of 2016 continues to impinge upon Indian land and neglected agreements stemming from the original 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. Notwithstanding assurances that, “These new pipelines are among the most technologically advanced ever constructed and exceed many state and federal guidelines.” (Craig Stevens, 2016), on November 18, 2017 South Dakota’s Keystone Pipeline spilled approximately 210 thousand gallons of oil into Amherst South Dakota.

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Liv sang “America the Beautiful,” reminding us that we are all Americans, striving for equality and a worthy life.

red cloud 2 We closed with Red Clouds famous words, They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.”

After 6 months of research, discussions and multiple performances, we finally had the answer to our question.

Current conditions on the Pine Ridge reservation are a direct result of the failure of the US government to live up to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851.

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Our team was honored to receive the Native American Award at the NHD National Contest in Washington DC.

IMG_3746We received $1,000 in prize money, and we knew immediately that we had one more place to go before our 2018 NHD project was complete.

IMG_3757 (1)Back to Red Cloud Indian School on Pine Ridge Reservation.

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We met with Tamatane l’atala and discussed the most pressing needs of students at the Red Cloud School.

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Tamatane l’atala told us that Red Cloud Indian School is committed to teaching Lakota, both as a primary and as a secondary language to elementary and middle school students.

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By learning the Lakota language, Lakota children gain a tremendous sense of pride. We know that feeling good about oneself is the first building block needed for success.  We happily donated our NHD funds to the Lakota language program of Red Cloud Indian School.

Now we can study Lakota on their website Lakota Language Project as we prepare for our next visit to Pine Ridge!

5,000 School Books Reach Nigeria

By Sebastian 

This month, Wonderland BookSavers shipped 100 boxes of books, adding up to  5,000 total books, to Nigeria! This is our first shipment there, and we’re so excited to be able to make a contribution, thanks to our awesome liaison on the ground, Mark Grashow! The state of education in Nigeria is very dire, with more children out of school than anywhere else in the world; 40% of primary school-age kids do not ever attend school. Nigeria’s population growth over the last decade has made it even more difficult for the already struggling government to provide basic public services. This has especially impacted education, with about half of the current population under the age of 15. In many parts of Nigeria, there are simply not enough schools, and children often have to walk many miles to get there. Unfortunately, even where there are schools closer together, these schools frequently lack proper facilities such as a water-proof structure, toilets, books, basic school supplies and qualified teachers. Moreover, families often need children to go to work to help support their survival. In fact, perhaps one of the biggest factors is that families cannot afford to pay the required fees for uniforms and school books.

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Our hope is that we can provide some relief to schools and families by providing those needed books directly, so that the quality and possibility of education might be a little improved for some children. We are so grateful to try to do a little part to make sure that Nigerian children can get access to education which we so often take for granted!

IMG_2871Packed by The Wonderland BookSaver Team!

Handmade Books Arrive in Haitian Hands

We are so gratified to have received this letter and these wonderful photographs:

Dear John and Josh and Wonderland BookSavers,

The children of Fondation Jean Bellande Joseph in Cayes-Jacmel send heartfelt thanks for the beautiful books created by the students in John McMillan and Josh Cummings’ French classes from Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center in Chicago, and delivered to us by Allie through Wonderland BookSavers.

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The books were a stunning success!

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First, there were enough for everyone, which is a big issue in the distribution of gifts. Very few students have books of their very own outside required textbooks and access to our growing library.

 

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Our kids immediately grasped the hard work that went into the composition and illustration of the books, and the laminating insured their longevity – so necessary in Haiti.

 

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There was a book about a pig given to one of the girls who shared the same name and that provoked a torrent of giggles. (Her friends all that that was very appropriate.)

 

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Standing up to read your books was an important exercise in public speaking.

 

Our students, aged 3-19, are in primary and secondary schools in a semi-rural area outside Jacmel, on the South coast of Haiti. Their parents are subsistence farmers who live on about $1.25 per day. Most of their parents are illiterate and really struggle to keep their kids fed, clothed and in school. We provide scholarships, food and job training to 67 kids in this area who spend every Saturday with us. Many of the kids in the photographs are much older than they look because their growth was stunted by malnutrition in early childhood but they are thriving now with us!

 

You might be interested to know that the administrator of our program, who is a Haitian Education Department official, said that most Haitian children would not be able to produce books like this because they are not encouraged to do any kind of creative writing. They generally learn by rote and don’t have the resources or tradition of branching out into projects like this. We have challenged our kids to develop books of their own and I hope they’ll be inspired by your models.

 

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Please thank all the students whose talent and care brought such delight to our kids.

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Very best wishes to you all,

Susy Whitcomb

Haitian Education Initiatives

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South Africa: Weighing-In at 129 Boxes

We like to get most of our books boxed and on the road before the first snowfall, but somehow we missed that deadline this year, so we put on our warm coats and boots and headed for the garage…

These books are all heading for South Africa, which has fairly strict importation guidelines.  Every box must be accurately labeled and weighed.

This was an excellent job for our treasurer and stellar statistician, Reid.

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Treasurer in training!

IMG_0774.JPGMany pounds of books! I think we can count loading the truck as gym class today.

IMG_2272Claire is managing to box books, load the truck, and attend her OHS classes!

IMG_0771.JPGIMG_0781.JPGFinally our garage is (almost) empty, and it is (almost) Christmas.

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The Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;  

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.                                    Merry Christmas to All, and to all, A Good Night!

Fall Renewal: 10,000 Books for Zimbabwe; 100 Pen Pal Letters Exchanged

As summer comes to an end, many schools along the East Coast begin preparing for the new school year. This means clearing out their shelves. For us, at Wonderland BookSavers, this is an excellent time of year. We hopped in our Suburban and began visiting our favorite schools from Massachusetts to Connecticut.

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The Wetherbee School, in Massachusetts, has been especially generous. They truly understand the concept of charity. Working with their teachers, school children help to determine books, games and “manipulatives” as well as classroom posters and other tools that are no longer needed. Students then organize, prepare and box items for shipment to Africa. They are so excited and happy to know that they are actively helping other children. They compete for the opportunity to load our Suburban and take photos with us!

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As members of a Title I school, the children here are themselves frequent recipients of aid. Hailing from at least 35 countries, with many of the children describing rice and beans as their favorite food, these students eagerly share stories of daily life in America.

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Although it takes almost one year for their Pen Pal letters to make a round trip from Mbembeswana Primary School in Zimbabwe to Wetherbee School in Lawrence MA, they are thrilled that they can share their love of books, games and food with African children. We are so grateful to be the conduit for this truly snail-paced child-to-child mail system.

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Many other schools have been eager to help us in our mission to spread literacy. Librarians eagerly contact us as they prepare for the new school year.

They are delighted that their favorite books will keep inspiring children.

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And we are happy to help them box and relocate their books from their libraries to our fabulous sorting area: our garage!

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Here we sort our books by age, subject, and intended destination, so that each region will get appropriate material. Some countries require us to weigh and quantify every box. Finally, we load our boxes onto trucks.

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From here they get loaded onto shipping containers and finally set off on their long journey across the sea, to another continent, 10,000 books, school supplies, pencils, crayons, and most importantly, 100’s of letters of encouragement from children just like themselves in America.

IMG_9907.JPGThe Wonderland BookSavers are grateful to have been able to connect so many children from across the continents and to inspire a shared love of reading, our tagline: Inspired by Literature!

“Sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Boxing Books: An Inspirational Visit by Sebastian

One day last summer, I went for what I thought was going to be a regular day of hanging out with my new friends Pierce, Brooks, Emma, Claire, and Maddie from my school, little did I know I’d end up crashing a Wonderland BookSavers meeting and boxing books in their garage and having an absolute blast!!! But besides having fun, I was mostly deeply inspired by their dedicated work to bring books and literature to those without. When I got in the car to go home, I told to my mom I’d felt like I’d been wasting so much of my life when I could have been really making a difference in the world. I am so inspired by my friends and since then I’ve tried to help in any way I can.

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My pastor likes to quote Sojourner Truth’s wise words that “Religion without humanity is very poor human stuff,” and for me it was really amazing to see my friends, my very same age, making such a direct and tangible difference for humanity.

During the week, I live in Brooklyn, so I figured maybe I could help by reaching out to schools in my community there. Two amazing private schools in Brooklyn were just as inspired by Wonderland BookSavers and were eager to contribute.

The first school to reach out to us was The Berkeley Carroll School. Berkeley Carroll has been so incredibly generous to the Wonderland BookSavers mission— Thank you Berkeley Carroll! The librarians there, Ms. Briar Suaro and Ms. Kristine Hartley-Maneri, have been so kind in reaching out whenever they have books to share and have donated some 50 boxes of books to date!

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The Brooklyn Friends School was also eager to contribute and offered us a great number of books as well. For the first pick-up, Ms. Ryan and I arranged to meet at the entrance where they could most easily unload the books on Pearl Street in downtown Brooklyn. Picking up books on one-way streets in Brooklyn can always be a little tricky — you usually have to block a little traffic but we try to do it quickly! — and Ms. Ryan warned us we’d have to do some slightly illegal maneuvering in order to get to the unloading spot. But as it turned out, we never had to worry about that because when we went to pick up the books that day we discovered a street fair! A two-block radius around Brooklyn Friends had been blocked off and filled with street vendors! Never daunted, the kind custodian of the school loaned me a dolly so that I could wheel the books down Willoughby Street to where my mom was waiting with the car on the other side. I wonder if those books will always have a faint kabob smell?

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Here we are re-boxing books into smaller boxes in Brooklyn before bringing them up to Connecticut to the Barry’s garage!

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We also live upstate on the weekends and so I started looking around up there for other opportunities to find books for Wonderland BookSavers too. We found two libraries that were willing to donate all the books they had left over after their annual book sale fundraisers. First we visited the Pawling library, who kindly gave us a generous stack of books (they will be able to give us even more this spring!) And then we visited the Patterson library. Ms. Graham at the Patterson Library so generously offered to donate all of the remainder children’s books from their library! Thank you Patterson Public Library!

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Finally, we brought the books to the Barry’s garage!

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Oh and that’s my sister Emmeline — she has been helping with all of the book moving and packing too and says “Wonderland BookSavers really is a Wonderland because it’s so fun and also kind-of like Magic.” I think she said it perfectly.

Hurricane Harvey: One Ton of Support for Houston by Emma

Hurricane Harvey decimated much of Houston and surrounding areas this past August.

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Although many communities are now fully functioning, there are those that are still suffering. With close ties to the Houston community, we felt that it was incumbent upon Wonderland BookSavers to reach out and provide assistance.

When residing in Houston, we attend The Woodlands United Methodist Church. This church became a central collection and distribution point, providing needed items for people who were suddenly homeless.

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People collected and donated all the materials others needed, and then the ones affected by the hurricane would come in and “shop” for whatever they needed.   We felt so distant, being in Connecticut, so we decided to reach out to our community and collect supplies and books to ship to Houston.

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Despite the fact that it is now November, we have heard that there are schools that remain closed, schools that have lost their entire libraries due to flooding. These schools reached out to us and were very eager for us to send them 1,000’s of books to jumpstart their collections. Additionally, as we searched for shipping and trucking options, we found districts whose children were still in need of basic home goods to replace lost items.

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WBS member Ella attends St. Thomas School, and they generously put a gigantic bin in their hallway to collect cleaning supplies, clothes, bedding, canned food, pet food, and books. We were incredibly grateful for this thoughtful gesture.   We have partnered with St. Thomas in the past, as they have given us books and shoes. My sister says that St. Thomas is the kindest school in America, and I can definitely see why that is true.  After several weeks, our bin was overflowing with donations from all the children, families, and teachers.

The children from St. Thomas also made hundreds of thoughtful, kind, and supportive letters to deliver to the victims of the hurricane.

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It was so sweet reading these letters, and knowing that someone across the country will feel loved.

After collecting the supplies and the letters, we packed everything up into our car (the supplies were nearly overflowing!)

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Next, we brought everything to our garage…

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and employed eager Boy Scouts from our community, who helped box the supplies, weigh the boxes, and stack them.

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We were so touched by St. Thomas’ and our community’s joy in helping complete strangers on the other side of the country.

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One more Road Trip: Montgomery County, New Jersey, en route to Houston!

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We partnered with Operation Friends Again, a New Jersey organization, that is sending a tractor-trailer filled with gift boxes specifically for children displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

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Almost there…434.5 pounds to go!

Once we weighed all our boxes, over 2,000 lbs., or ONE TON!, they said they would be happy to bring our boxes and letters, with them, down to Houston.

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The supplies from St. Thomas and our books are being packed up in a truck this week. Then they will begin their 1,600-mile journey and will finally reach their destination.  We hope to receive pictures of the recipients of these items in order to share in their happiness.

Summer Camp: Service Style! Dedicated to Susan Ei

A bookmark printed by the St. Francis Indian Mission in St. Francis, South Dakota has the following Indian prayer: “Great Spirit — Grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.” Hearsay attributes the prayer to Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians.

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Before departing this earth, our children’s librarian, Susan Ei, encouraged us to create a Summer Service Day Camp where we could share our knowledge of the world with local kids, and create a fun learning environment that would spark both compassion and enthusiasm for others through literature and service.

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We decided to tackle this task by geographic region, and by thinking about the people to whom we most commonly donate. We wanted to be sure to include literature, crafts, games, education and a service project in each day’s meeting.

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Africa We began with Africa because we have donated so many books to multiple countries in Africa: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda. We read Patience Mariza Goes for Water by Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, a native of Uganda, who has built a school for AIDS orphans in Uganda.

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This story, although a picture book for children, is very revealing. Patience is faced with unimaginable hardships that a storybook American child would never encounter. She is beaten by her aunt, and accosted by a strange man, worried she may have AIDS, and exhausted by her daily trek in search of clean water. Eventually, she is adopted by a kind grandmother.

 

Many children in Africa walk to school, sometimes several miles, barefoot. Shoes can be made from found objects. We helped our campers understand this by helping them create their own shoes from found objects and then experimented to see how far they could walk….(not far!)

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They also decorated donation boxes that they brought from home and filled with their own shoes so that they could share these with others.

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Haiti To begin our lesson on Haiti we read Tap-Tap by Karen Lynn Williams.

IMG_1215This warm, funny story is about a girl who goes to the market with her mother and after making a little extra money she and her mother are able to ride the taxi-bus home (tap-tap) instead of walking.

We know from our relationship with our friends at Haitian Education Initiatives, that a major part of Haitian children’s education is learning to make things they can sell in the market.

In particular, children learn to sew and to make painted paper-maché bowls. After the Tap-Tap story, our campers sewed beanbags and made painted bowls. They were very beautiful, but perhaps not yet ready to be sold at the market,

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Native Americans Having just returned from South Dakota, we had many stories and adventures to share. We also read Crazy Horse’s Vision by Joseph Bruchac and Black Elk’s Vision: A Lakota Story by S.D. Nelson.  These stories told of the bravery and beauty of the American Indians as well as some of their beliefs and dreams.

The Native Americans believe that Dream Catchers can catch bad dreams and spirits while you sleep and keep you safe.

Our campers made Dream Catchers from found objects, feathers and beads.

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Food Lottery Each day, like every wholesome American Day Camp we had Snack Time. Who doesn’t? Well, many of the children we help don’t have snack time. We discussed this each day, and one day we decided it was time to emphasize what that might mean. Each child drew a piece of paper from a basket. Those with an X were given a snack. No X, No Snack. This was a pretty shocking moment, and after a while some pretty human responses occurred. Some kids “stole” some snacks. Some kids secretly “shared” their snacks with others. Some were publicly outraged, while they gobbled their own snacks. Politics as usual.

Read to Feed We wanted to emphasize that reading is for everyone. We brought in a basket of books, the ones we usually donate, and had the campers choose their own books.

Then we made posters and made a Read to Feed program for our local library. Children can be sponsored to read and by reading they can help purchase farm animals that can bring food to a family or village in another community. (Heifer Project)

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Appalachia We have been donating books and building children’s libraries through Project Appalachia since 2012 so we are pretty committed to helping children in this region.

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We read Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds by Cynthia Rylant and Barry Moser. We also discussed other American communities that are in need of books and supplies. There are kids that need books and supplies that live in our own communities and we need to reach out and help them as well as helping kids that live far away.

Our campers decorated boxes and brought them home to be filled with books that they could donate to children who would love to own their own books.

Around the World and Banana Ball We also played many fun games, like an African version of soccer played with a ball made from banana leaves (although of course we didn’t have any real banana leaves) and “around the world” frisbee.

Hospitalized children We always remember kids who are sick in hospitals. So we talked about illness and had the campers put together care packages of painted bags filled with our Knot-Yet-a-Blanket kits and poetry books.

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Lemonade for Literacy Our final project was to involve our campers, and our community, in our annual lemonade stand.

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Our Summer Service Camp jointly donated and boxed hundreds of shoes, books and school supplies, and created many Blanket Gift Bags. They had walked in handmade shoes, made dream catchers, fought over food, read stories from around the world, and committed to continue reading on their own.

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It’s time to create global literacy with lemons!

Cheyenne River Reservation: Simply Smiles

While we were delivering books to Pine Ridge Reservation, we received an email from Brian, founder of Simply Smiles, an NGO that supports Cheyenne River Reservation.

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Pow Wow location at Cheyenne River Reservation

He said, quite simply, “Cheyenne River Reservation is only about 4-5 hours from Pine Ridge. In South Dakota, that’s like going out for a cup of coffee…” Well, we kind of laughed about that, because after spending some time in South Dakota we knew what he meant. It takes hours and hours to go from one place to another, and as noted by Emma, you can never use the GPS. Only a map will work.

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After ditching our trailer, and packing our Suburban to the top with boxes of books, we decided we were up for the challenge. We restocked our peanut butter and jelly, refilled our water bottles, and set out on our journey.

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We did run into a 30-minute roadblock of one car, not that unusual we found, and, of course, miles of empty, sandy roads.

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Visiting the Simply Smiles community center, located in Sam Different Horse’s community building on the Cheyenne River Reservation was amazing. Brian and Zachary and their team are welcomed into the Lakota culture. The volunteers all have close relationships with the community.

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The wind blew incessantly, but fortunately the community center had one indoor room and we were able to set up a series of folding tables and create an entire room for our “free” book fair.

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The kids were really excited and grabbed as many books as they could carry. That evening Simply Smiles was hosting a reservation-wide dinner. All the parents and grandparents were able to also come and choose books for their families.

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One woman shyly asked if she could keep some of our better-conditioned cardboard boxes to use as furniture to store her clothing in her new home. We were humbled by this simple request.

Simply Smiles imports soil and has created functioning gardens that produce enough food to feed a substantial portion of the local community.

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The greenhouse was built when Simply Smiles volunteers and Lakota Indians worked together. Zachary explained how difficult it was to stretch the plastic sheeting over the metal hoops and secure it down while battling the constant wind. We could barely imagine. The paper flowers are remnants from the previous night’s decorations when the greenhouse served as a teen dance hall.

We have continued our relationship with the Cheyenne River Reservation kids, inviting some of them to our home when they were traveling near us, visiting NYC. They joined us for dinners, swimming and basketball on several occasions. We have supported Brian at local fundraisers for Simply Smiles. We are so grateful that we have had this opportunity to get to know some of the Lakota kids and we hope to see them again. To learn more about the efforts to sustain the Lakota peoples of the Cheyenne River Reservation: Simply Smiles

Enjoy a film our team made about our trip to the three reservations: Rosebud, Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River: