At the moment, I am sitting on the airplane leaving South Dakota en route to Oaxaca. I just spent two full months in La Plant, but it feels like a lifetime ago that we pulled onto the Cheyenne River Reservation in the big red bus with snow on the ground. The difference between what the Community Center grounds look like now than they did in April is astounding. The volunteer groups have built two new beautiful pole barns, two green houses (currently full of almost-ripe vegetables), rebuilt the town’s Pow Wow grounds (currently in use!), built a bunch of bright picnic tables for our town-wide meals, and so much more in just a few weeks. It has been so inspiring to watch the physical progress, but what’s been even more moving has been witnessing the growth in our relationships with the kids of La Plant.
A few days in the beginning of the volunteer season were some of the hardest of my life; there were afternoons that I felt that I couldn’t make any impact in some of these children’s lives because of all that they have against them. But over these weeks, through remembering to rely on my fellow staff members and every volunteer for support, we not only made it through some difficult times, but have made true progress. It has been incredibly inspiring to watch our friendships deepen, and see the trust and reliance grow because of the sustained volunteer presence and dedication that every person brings when they give a week of their lives to the people of La Plant.
Personally, these last two months have changed my life. After spending the month of February in La Plant, holding meals, after school camp, bingo nights, with just a small staff, and then coming back with much more support and many more friends, my relationships have grown and my resolve has deepened. I have built deep friendships with many of the kids here, and I feel a responsibility, dedication, and love for them, just like I hold for my friends in Oaxaca that I made years ago.
In my last few blog posts I’ve talked about having some of my favorite Simply Smiles moments in Mexico, where I find myself not being able to be happier, surrounded by friends in a place that I love, doing what I love. Throughout these past few months in La Plant, I have experienced the same feelings for the first time on the Reservation- a feeling which was harder to grasp, as the kids and adults’ trust was harder to gain.
When we play basketball with Calvin, Stratten and Julian- the one way I have found to connect with the young boys, I am just thrilled that we can provide these simple moments of joy. Or sitting and drawing with Delaynie for all of camp, or baking a ridiculously messy Oreo birthday cake with Ale-cat, or sitting and talking under our new pole barn, at a new wonderful picnic table, enjoying the sunshine and a town-wide dinner with Doretta and Ronnie- all of these moments, plus so many more, have been added to the list of my Simply Smiles favorites.
Getting ready to leave was not easy. I did not want to leave my friends, young and old, which was a strange feeling, because it was the first time that I did not feel a simple, pure excitement about going to Mexico. I am so excited to be in Mexico, partly because of all the exciting plans we have- like going to the jungle with a team of doctors to hold our de-worming initiative to cure 3,000 people of intestinal worms. And then hosting volunteer groups in Oaxaca City, which means I get to spend more time with all my friends here. It will be so great, and I am ridiculously excited but I am already excited to see Juanita for the first time when I get back to La Plant. I guess managing this amount of love should be the least of my worries.
So much good is happening-- it is a HUGE week for Simply Smiles- between de-worming 3,000 people over 3 days in Santa María Tepexipana, and building the first brand new home on the Reservation, this Simply Smiles community is creating so much real change. And I couldn’t be happier to be in the middle of it, torn between my many homes.
Stay tuned for updates from La Plant and Oaxaca throughout the week and the rest of the summer!