Thursday, October 25, 2012

An Open Thank You to the Women Who Passed Through the Shelter in Lake Andes South Dakota

Domestic abuse was not foreign to me. It was not something that was hearsay for me. I’d seen it. I’d heard it. I knew domestic abuse well. I knew that abuse came in numerous forms. Those forms could be physical, mental, emotional, and sometimes even spiritual. I’d seen that form of abuse as early as age six when one of my aunts had a husband who insisted on using her as a punching bag. I’d seen it thereafter with another aunt. I’d heard tales of it with cousins in the past and other family members. Thus, when I embarked on a journey, of sorts, to the middle of nowhere South Dakota I figured I knew what I was in for. I figured I understood domestic abuse enough to handle the internship on a Native American reservation in a rural area. I couldn't have been more wrong.

The first day I arrived I met one of the most amazing women ever. She was the Inter-Coordinator for the center where I would be working. I’d be working a regular nine-to-five job at the center and I’d also be on call every other evening at the shelter in which I’d be lodged. It didn't take long for me to get into the groove of things. It wasn't long before the women at the shelter and their children became like a second family of sorts. We’d cook together, eat together, and they let me know the realities of life on a reservation in South Dakota. When the women and their children left the shelter I was humbled and grateful to have met them. But it wasn't until the second group of women came through the shelter that an extremely strong bond was developed. Their children became extensions of nieces and nephews to me. The story of their lives were stories of triumph and the embodiment of what it meant to overcome.

Through their eyes I gained a greater understanding. By living with them and spending almost every waking moment together their realities became my own. The way in which Native women are treated and the way in which the issue of domestic abuse can be regarded as normal baffled me. The fact that the center I worked for was one of the very few in town additionally baffled me. These women and their tears and their sleepless nights matured me into the woman I'm almost a year later from when I initially arrived in South Dakota. I’m now back at home and they often cross my mind. I give them a call to see how they are or they call me to tell me of their triumphs or to let me know of the difficulties they are facing after having left the shelter. When they celebrate I celebrate. When they cry or have difficulties and I get calls in the middle of the night, I cry a bit too because sadness transcends distance. And if I only took one thing with me from that experience it was a thorough understanding of how domestic abuse can affect the individual and families.

I just wanted to thank them for the enlightenment and understanding I gained by being in their presence.


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