Saturday, June 12, 2010

Our Week on the "Rez"

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thought for the day: Blessed are the cracked; for they shall let in the light.

The day started as usual…but warmer inside and outside. With the boiler was turned on due to the unseasonably cold weather, we all woke up toasty in our bedrooms. Rested and optimistic, we read Wednesday’s journal over breakfast and discussed the day’s work plans. Our first stop was at the Tribal Offices to talk with Sweets Kaline, who had made contact with Alvin Racine, a local elder who is deeply grieving the loss of his wife to cancer. Through the new tribal Elder Assistance Program, we’ve been asked to work with his adult children at his house to help fill in the low areas of his front and back yards, and maybe help him clean up his shed.

While at the Tribal offices, we made a brief, unplanned presentation to a gathering of tribal council and committee members, thanking them for their invitation to work with the Blackfeet people, and explaining a bit about Global Volunteers’ work worldwide. Sweets filled us in on a few aspects of the upcoming tribal general election, and described the many initiatives she’s undertaken to help motivate local residents to become more involved in community projects.

After leaving the tribal offices, Steve walked across the street to the Care Center while Michele and Don dropped off Rosa and Kevin at Cleo’s apartment. Don and Michele followed Sweets to meet Alvin at his house to see what volunteer help he needs next week. Afterwards, Don returned to the Care Center to assist Steve with the lawn trimming and raking. What an amazing difference two days has made! They’ve uncovered the overgrown garden areas and cleared the way for mowing. The rains returned around 4:00 – just as the dynamic duo was winding down, so they joined the elders gathered around the TV in the activity room to watch “Dream Keeper,” the movie we watched in our meeting room last night, and shared with the Care Center today. Meanwhile, Kevin and Rosa made immense progress at Cleo’s apartment. They primed all the rooms they taped off yesterday…the kitchen, living room, and bedroom. Perhaps they’ll be able to finish the final coat on Friday. They’ve enjoyed learning a bit about Cleo’s family and background, and recalled the interesting stories she’s shared as she’s carved up the elk roast to dry in strips while they work in her small apartment.

During the afternoon, Michele met with Connie at Eagle Shield, Denise at Head Start, Angela at the Community College and Joyce at the Tribal office to schedule work projects for the upcoming teams. All reiterated their gratitude for Global Volunteers’ efforts and look forward to the next team of 10 volunteers arriving on Saturday.

The team enjoyed a tasty meal of salad, French dip sandwiches and fries at the Care Center before returning to the Boarding Dorm. After dropping off our backpacks, we all piled in Kevin’s rental car and headed out to locate the elk preserve south of town on the cut across road. Halfway to Heart Butte, we turned west on a narrow road Michele remembered from previous years. Expectantly, and armed with Kevin’s GPS, we peered out all windows hoping to see the elk Marvin Weatherwax described to us earlier in the day. While visually scanning the trees and hills, we reveled in the gorgeous landscape – creeks, cliffs, peaks and wildflowers which we stopped frequently to photograph. Over the rocks and muddy potholes, we emerged in East Glacier an hour later, telling jokes and laughing as if we had known each other much longer than the five days when we became a team. Somehow, the hard work has created a lightness in our effort, which we enjoy together while working toward the common goal of service to the community we’ve grown to truly respect.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Thought for the day: The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” - St. Augestine

Final impressions of one week in Browning, Montana on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation:

The opportunity to be introduced and immersed in the Blackeet culture could not have been more complete without our team leader. She arranged meetings with individual tribal leaders and other Blackfeet who told not only the stories of the reservation, but also their personal stories.

Individual contact with the local people as the team went about their daily service projects and free time also gave us the chance to become a very close-knit team and to enjoy work projects and free time together.

From the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains to the West and the rolling wind-swept plains to the East, a week in Browning, Montana was well-spent.


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Working on the Reservation

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

During the morning drive to town, the team admired unusually clear views wispy clouds shrouding majestic mountains partially covered with snow. After our orientation tours the previous day, the team members seemed eager to start working hard. Showcasing our flexibility, the team changed their plans when we discovered that the Tribal Center was closed due to the Flood Memorial and the nursing home staff was busy with administrative meetings. Team leader Michele dropped off the team at the Blackfeet Community College while she figured out how we could help with the Flood Memorial effort.

Initially, Don, Steve, Kevin and Rosa worked clearing a rock garden overrun with weeds. The small rocks and weeds needed to be removed before a lining could be put on to keep out future weeds. Larger rocks would then be added to form a rock garden to greet students and faculty as they drove into the campus parking lot.

Using shovels and rakes, the team exercised their muscles in the surprisingly sunny and calm weather. A maintenance worker named Bony told interesting stories such as his month long trip to Hawaii and his four children. He informed us about a Kids’ Rodeo that his son was participating that night.

Rosa was called up to work at the Head Start Center where a worker and her extended family were helping to prepare a meal for hundreds of attendees at the Flood Memorial. She found the workers very warm and friendly. Rosa said that she could not believe how many baked potatoes that she put aluminum foil around!

Kevin was called up to work at the care center. After visiting with several residents, he played checkers with Lester, who proved to be a formidable opponent. Lester could move any red or black checker in any direction. Whenever he captured a checker, he always had a friendly smile. Kevin talked with Joan, a former elementary school teacher and principal, who is a resident at the care center. She told many stories including how a relative was able to lasso a baby out of the water during the flood of June 8, 1946.

Meanwhile, Don and Steve were slaving away at the BCC. They had suggested to Bony to use the backhoe to break up the soil and shovel rocks into a mini-car that could dump its cargo. Bony decided to use the backhoe, but also enjoyed the more strenuous approach of shoveling by hand. He had many entertaining stories.

“Mama Bear,” aka Michele, gathered her “cubs” and took them to the Flood Memorial site, which was a field near the Indian Museum with a circular arena. The team cut watermelon, set up tables and trays of food, and assembled plates for 75 elders who were not able to attend. After a few speeches, a flag ceremony, a drum ceremony, a few speeches by flood survivors, and a few more speeches for good measure, the ceremony was over and about 400 people descended on the food tables. The Global Volunteers team worked frantically to keep up serving food while the line progressed. Afterwards, the team had a chance to eat some of the leftovers.

The team had a chance for a bonus volunteer activity to clean up the pots, pans and serving utensils and tour the Head Start Building.

Finally, the team members decided to go to the kids’ rodeo in the rodeo grounds next to the Indian Museum. A few children rode horses bareback during the warm-ups. Young equestrians guided their horses to gallop down, steer through a set of poles twice, and gallop back. Very young children competed as “sheep riders”: trying to stay on a sheep, often with the assistant of a father running along for support. Most riders only stayed on for a few feet, but one rider nearly followed the sheep out of the ring. In all cases, the audience cheered on the young cowboy-Indians.

The team returned to the boarding dorm after a hard day’s work. It was a great day and we expect the week to continue to be great.


Monday, June 07, 2010

Our Montana Journey

Monday, June 7

Thought for the Day: From Tom Crawford, local elder: “Think of others before you think of yourself.”

Monday…our team’s first official work day after a weekend of orientation and settling into our comfortable lodging was both busy and exciting. We got an early start and after eating breakfast, we headed into Browning while threatening storm clouds gathered in the distance.

At the Blackfeet Community College (BCC), we were greeted by Connie Bremner, Eagle Shield Center Director, who described their services and residents. Eagle Sheield is one of the main wor projects sites for Global Volunteers teams.

Angela Johnson, BCC director of student services, and Jolene Kennedy, dean of Academic Affairs, told us about the BCC mission and courses. Smokey, the plant manager, discussed some of the maintenance work we’ll be doing this week on site.

Angela led us on a tour of the campus. Personally, as a college student myself, it was interesting to see the similarities between the BCC and my own campus.

We met with Nikki, director of the Blackfeet Academy, an alternative high school program on the BCC campus. She was eager to tell us about her students, especially about those involved in a service club that traveled to the Dominican Republic to assist with earthquake clean up. We met one of these students, Ronnie, a recent graduate, whose optimism and determination were quite inspiring. Some of the students will be assigned to work with Global Volunteers throughout the summer to earn community service credit.

After lunch, Michele and Steve finally had time to go to the “infamous shed” to find additional team supplies while Don, Kevin and I helped Smokey pick up trash in a section of the campus behind the Exxon Station. Despite the relentless wind, we picked up as many plastic bags, wood planks and soda cans as our garbage bags could hold. This appears to be a covert dumping ground for cast-off rfefuse, and Smokey works hard to keep the area cleaned up.

As we worked, Smokey told us stories about hunting moose and living at the Boarding Dorm. Ronnie arrived to work with us, and talked about his plans to attend BCC in the fall and to eventually become a lawyer.

Although the dark clouds overhead seemed ready to burst, it didn’t rain. When Michele and Steve returned in the Global Volunteers van, we drove back to the dorm for dinner.

We were invited to a traditional Indian “sweat” that evening in Heart Butte, so, towels in hand, we departed in Steve’s car and drove on a scenic route through the plains, with snowy mountains always in the distance.

As non-Indians, it was a privilege for us to attend the sweat, which is a kind of weekly “church” for local residents. While the plastic-covered dome seemed small on the outside, it fit many inside. Steve, Kevin, Michele and I braved the heat to attend the fascinating ceremony of prayer and song. We were so lucky to have experienced such an important tradition in Blackfeet culture, and it’s something I’ll never forget. However, one round of sweating was enough for us, so we thanked our hosts and returned “home.” It’s amazing how much was packed into one day, and I can only guess what’s in store for our team in the next four days!


Sunday, June 06, 2010

Global Volunteers Montana Team #64

Saturday, June 5

A team of four intrepid volunteers and a fearless team leader arrived in Browning, Montana for a one-week service project with the Blackfeet Indian Nation.

Most of the group arrived at the Blackfeet Boarding Dorm uneventfully.

Steve, a retired school teacher, drove the 670 miles from his home in Puyallup, Washington to Browning. This gave him a chance to travel through the Flathead Lake Valley to the West of Glacier National Park. He arrived early, explored Browning, visited the Plains Indians Museum and was waiting at the boarding dorm.

Team leader Michele, the co-founder of Global Volunteers met Rosa, a University of Scranton student from Long Island, New York and Don, a member of the Global Volunteers staff at the airport. The three traveled in the Global Volunteers van for three hours to Browning where Steve was already waiting.

Michele, Rosa, Steve and Don took a quick tour of Browning and then returned to the Boarding Dorm where a hot meal was waiting. After dinner and stories of each others’ adventures, and Michele thinking that Steve was a little off the wall, the four settled in for the night. Something else was in store for Kevin.

Kevin, an aviation engineer from Virginia, had his first flight canceled due to a mechanical problem and notified Global Volunteers emergency line that he would be arriving late. With a seven-hour wait before his baggage would arrive in Great Falls Airport, he rented a car and toured the Lewis and Clark Center and the river near Great Falls. Arriving at the locked dorm at 12:30am, he had the pleasure of sleeping under the stars in sleeping bag in his car.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday morning awakened to a crisp day and a delighted team as we found Kevin asleep in his car.

A few adjustments were made to the day’s plans because all of the team was now aboard.

Kevin and Don attended 10:30 AM mass while the other team members checked the storage shed. After mass, it was a quick tour of Browning, a cup of tea at the casino and a visit to the Plains Indians Museum.

The first highlight of the day was an Eastern tour of the reservation along the boundary of Glacier National Park. We were up close and personal with the mountains at 5,900 feet above sea level. A quick stop at East Glacier National Park lodge included a walk through the lodge.

Then the super highlight of the day was a visit to a local art gallery, where we had a chance to visit one on one and as a team with some of the Native American artists. We heard their stories of legends and artistic interpretations. Returning to the dorm, we prepared dinner, actually warmed up leftovers from the evening before.

Our first formal team meeting was then held and the plans for the coming day were discussed. This was a great start to an even greater week.

Thought of the day:
We often wonder what we can do for others, especially for those in need. It is not a sign of powerlessness when we say: “we must help one another”. To help one another is, to first of all acknowledge, in the presence of God that we belong to each other as children of the same God. Without this acknowledgement of human solidarity, what we do for one another does not flow from who we truly are. We are brothers and sisters, not competitors or rivals, we are children of God. Where we work, God works with us and we find all our brothers and sisters.


Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Good Friends and a "Scratcher" Fulfills her Dream to Serve in Romania

There are two things people know about me: I’m turning 40 in July, and I’m passionate about volunteering. I've wanted to work with Global Volunteers for over ten years, and the timing couldn’t be more right for me personally, professionally, and spiritually.

Instead of a big birthday celebration, I’ve signed up to volunteer in Romania at the Tutova Clinic caring for infants and children who were abandoned or given up.

In order to do so, I had to raise $2,495 for my one week service, plus pay for my airfare. I was concerned that asking for donations from friends and family would be difficult given the economy, but they pulled through and I was lucky enough to meet my goal months before my service date!

My last concern was the airfare. Like so many others, the economy has hit me as well. I've been furloughed and have lost 7% of my salary and hit with other financial set backs. I'm trying hard to keep my credit card debt down, but ended up charging $938 for the airline ticket to Romania. I had $225 in extra donations that I was putting towards the flight, but still had to come up with the $700.

While in Phoenix Memorial Day Weekend visiting family, I decided to buy a $2.00 lottery scratcher. It ended up being a winner! When I scratched off the prize amount, I was shocked to see I had just won $777, almost the exact amount needed for the airline ticket! If that isn't the Universe being good to me, I don't know what is! Eternally grateful and heading to Romania!

Cindy Cordova