A student volunteer group from the Wegmans School of Pharmacy at St. John Fisher College discovered their week of service on the Rosebud Reservation of South Dakota really does make a difference. Learn from their experience here!

Just one week. Would that be enough time to truly have even a little impact on people’s lives on the Rosebud Reservation? Assured by Mindy Lull (an Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and 10-time Global Volunteer), eight pharmacy students and the Director of Experiential Education, Keith DelMonte, from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, traveled to the remote Western lands, and in one week, contributed to projects that met their need to make a difference. They said they desired to be an effective team, and to immerse themselves in the Lakota culture as much as they could. Along the way, they closed the knowledge gap between themselves and the Sicangu Rosebud Sioux people, and learned how similar everyone’s needs and dreams are.

“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Labor Work Projects in South Dakota

The Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota is the home of the federally recognized Sicangu Oyate (The Upper Brule’ Sioux Nation), also known as Sicangu Lakota, and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, a branch of the Lakota People. The needs on the Rosebud Reservation are very great. Todd County, comprising the reservation, is the second-poorest county in the nation, with about 76 percent of the employed labor force on the reservation living below the poverty level. Living conditions fall far below the average American’s. During their one-week-service program in South Dakota, the St. John Fisher students helped alleviate some families’ challenges by repairing and painting homes with native crew leaders, and splitting and delivering firewood for winter heating. They were surprised by their impact on these projects day by day!

“We painted, ripped up carpeting and baseboards, taped and applied mud to the drywall, and sanded. It was great to see how much we completed in just one day.”

Hannah Guererri, student

The students reported learning a number of new skills, as well. They were grateful for the labor projects that gave them a needed distraction from the pressures of their education. “We broke up into two teams,” LJ Bean reported. “My team went with Billy (community leader) to take down a tree. We got to experience using a chainsaw and loading wood into the truck to bring back to the wood shed.” Following that, he said, they split wood for Rosebud elders. Another student, Josh Sullivan, continued: “At the house where the seminarian student Lydia lives, we helped clean and organize her living quarters – including sawing a bunk bed in half to remove it!” Another group performed maintenance projects at Holy Innocence Church. While Global Volunteers is completely non-sectarian, we do sometimes collaborate with faith-based groups providing development projects in host communities.

“This service experience was an eye-opening experience for me because I learned so much about the history and culture of the Lakota people.”

Allison LeFever, students

The journey of the St. John Fisher student volunteer group also included various opportunities to learn about the history and culture of the reservation, including a two-hour-drive through the prairie to Chamberlain to visit the Lakota Museum and the statue of Dignity, an icon of Lakota beliefs; and tours of the quilt factory and the Rosebud Exchange, an Indian retail enterprise selling Lakota-inspired household and other items in Mission. “Visiting the different museums and sights was memorable and helped us to understand better the culture and the people,” stated Vito Zagarrio.

“It was really cool to visit the quilt factory and see all the unique patterns and time spent on the beautiful blankets,” said Jacquie Liptak.

Each evening, the student volunteer group heard different life stories of local people who grew up on the Reservation.

“Mother Lauren told us many stories and answered questions about history and culture. We ended up one night with Mother Lauren’s rendition of the creation and recreation stories,” said Hannah Guererri. Josh Sullivan recounted the story of Hattie, a gifted craftsperson. “She talked to us about her work, the massacre at Wounded Knee, and about her opinions about life on the reservation. Talking with her was very fulfilling and inspiring due to her unique outlook on the world around her,” he said.

“Sage, one of the local men, taught us about all kinds of dancing such as sun dancing and fancy dancing, and we had the pleasure of going outside to learn the snake dance, crow dance, and more. It was really inspiring to hear his wife speak about how the women take part in the sun dances and how they prepare food, cleaning, and care for four days before, four days during, and four days after the sun dance,” Jacquie Liptak recalled.

Teamwork On The Reservation

The students say that although they’re proud of the work they did, and the effort they contributed to the projects, they most enjoyed the opportunity to relate with the Lakota people and build strong relationships with them, while also learning more about themselves and strengthening the bond among the group.

“This trip truly brought out the best of us,” said LJ.  “Luckily, I was able to have all of these new experience with my close friends by my side. We all realize how much we appreciate each other and are all an asset to our team.” Vito added: “This experience meant a lot to me. Just to make a little impact on the community made a huge difference.”

“I am poor and naked, but I am the chief of the nation. We do not want riches but we do want to train our children right. Riches would do us no good. We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches. We want Peace and Love.”

Red Cloud, Chief of the Lakota people 1868 to 1909

In urging other student volunteer groups to follow where they left off, student Dakota Pursel becomes philosophical: “If you want the past, grab a paintbrush we used to paint the walls of a family house we helped build. If you want the present, pick up that piece of firewood that represents hope. If you want the future, you can leave here with the cultural knowledge and share it with others so we can continue changing lives beyond our week here.”

Opportunities to Volunteer in the USA and Abroad

Global Volunteers offers individuals, families, and groups the opportunity to live their own volunteer adventures worldwide. Interested in starting your own adventure? Contact us and connect with one of our experts to get started!

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