by ADAM GRUENEWALD
Central freshmen Ashley Louwagie and Emma Klaustermeier brought with them memories of a special summer when they entered the doors of the high school this week.
The freshmen, who got involved in scouting when they were in kindergarten and are now part of Troop 1072 West Carver Girl Scouts, visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota from June 14-20.
While there, Louwagie and Klaustermeier not only earned their Silver Award, the second highest award a Girl Scout can earn, but they also learned about the Oglala Lakota people. The people live in extreme poverty, a situation faced by the Oglala Lakota people since they moved onto the reservation after the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.
In addition, Louwagie and Klaustermeier learned that the people on the reservation were forced to assimilate until 1970, which was when they could practice their own culture. Only about 15 percent of those on the reservation still practice their culture, giving Emma and Ashley, as well as those that joined them on the mission trip, unique insight.
The mission trip originated from Pastor Deb Meyer at St. Paul’s UCC Church in Henderson where Klaustermeier attends, and also joining them were Deb’s son, Mark, Ashley’s mom, Barb, and Emma’s mom, Jessica, brother, Aaron, and Andrew Kelly.
In addition to bringing donations they collected locally, both Louwagie and Klaustermeier supported the Oglala Lakota people by working on different projects during the day and listening to speaking at night to learn about their culture.
“You learned their lifestyles are totally different than ours,” said Louwagie. “They didn’t have any of the stuff we had so it was interesting to see.”
Through the non-profit Re-Member organization, which works to improve the quality of life on the reservation with services and volunteer efforts, Louwagie and Klaustermeier both helped out in a workshop where they sanded, stained and loaded wood for mattresses and delivering mattresses. Both girls also worked on installing beds, building decks and repairing floors of houses.
In supporting the efforts Re-Member, both Louwagie and Klaustermeier were able to expand their views as they learned about the people.
One of the standout memories for Klaustermeier happened when they were delivering two sets of bunk beds to one of the families.
One of the neighbor’s girls, Maechun, made an impression on her as they talked and played tag.
“I gave her a toothbrush and some toothpaste because she didn’t have them,” she said. “Then she gave me a white flower she picked from the prairie.”
The exchange made an impact on Klaustermeier as she talked with the Re-Member organization to convince them to return to deliver bunk beds to the girl as well, and she was added to the list.
“Most of the kids sleep on the floor or wherever they have room because the houses are so small,” she said. “It made me realize what I have and how great it is and how much we have to give back to people in this community.”
Louwagie added she particularly found the native speakers at night fascinating as she learned a lot about the history of the people, as they learned the Lakota phrases, “Mitakuye Oyasin,” meaning “All are related.”
They also learned crafts as well as the importance and symbolism of a medicine wheel.
“It’s something the natives use to symbolize skin – yellow skin, white skin, black skin and red skins – and how they we are all joined as one,” said Klaustermeier. “We are all children of God no matter what our skin color.”
As part of earning their Silver Award, Klaustermeier and Louwagie kept journals and will use those to put together a binder explaining the donation collection process as well as their experiences which they will share with St. Paul’s UCC to better enable future groups to help out.
“What we wanted to do was inform our community about these people and just to try to give back to them,” said Klaustermeier. “So that it can continue on in the future and that it’s sustainable.”
The two friends also collected a variety of items to donate to the organization leading up to their trip in May, soliciting donations from the community with presentations, flyers and door hangers,.
“We didn’t know where to start,” said Louwagie. “It was just difficult to get everything going and showing everybody what we started to do.”
The effort paid off though as they were able to collect $350 as well as 1,237 items along with seven bags of clothes with the help of Flower Mill and Sacred Health Chiropractic, an amount which shocked both girls.
“We only collected for two weeks,” said Klaustermeier. “It was cool seeing the pile of stuff we had collected throughout the community.”
Klaustermeier added that the donations were able to make an impact, like with a young boy, who didn’t have teeth because of the dire living conditions, that another group had met.
“The next day we went through our donations that we had collected and grabbed a bunch of toothbrushes and toothpaste because they were going back up to the house the next day,” said Klaustermeier. “So they brought them a bunch of toothbrushes.”
Jessica Klaustermeier said the experience was significant for her daughter and Ashley.
“That was kind of fun, they had that moment of a definite and specific need from a person,” she said. “None of us were on that crew. That was fun for them to know.”
Looking ahead, both Louwagie and Klaustermeier said they want to continue their involvement in scouting and develop a project for their Gold Award, perhaps returning to the reservation next summer.
The project also fit with their future goals as Klaustermeier said she wants to become a pastor or a missionary and Louwagie expressed interest in becoming a nurse.
For more information on Re-Member, visit www.re-member.org.
Contact Adam Gruenewald at [email protected]