Its that time of year when I begin to get people, many of them unknown to me, contacting me about how to give coats, clothes, heaters, blankets, etc. to the people on Pine Ridge Reservation. Winter is fast approaching and our minds turn to those who may not be able to stay warm this winter. I love that people care and are thinking of ways to help. That's pretty awesome and I don't want to discourage caring or giving, but I feel that I should attempt an explanation of why I don't get personally involved in that sort of thing.
I've been told by several people who work on the Reservation, and I think I've seen for myself, that a lot of our efforts at helping others are not necessarily helpful - at least not in the long term. Charity often sets up a mentality of expectation, and worse, dependence in those we are attempting to help. That can lead to a lot of behaviors and attitudes that are far from healthy. It may make us feel good, and it may in fact help for a short time, but in the long run, our charity can become part of the problem.
And then there is the sad truth that sometimes in areas where drug and alcohol addiction are rampant, the things we give are sold for drug/alcohol money. I hate saying that, but its the sad reality. They don't do this with the school supplies because they wouldn't get much money for them anyway so I feel its a safe, and effective way of helping.
I've also seen that often we give to the poor in ways that, how do I put it gently ... are disrespectful. It is easy to give our old stuff that we don't want anymore. Anybody can do that. Some people give stuff that should be thrown away and then feel good about giving it. It leaves the person we are giving to feeling small, and strips them of their dignity. That sort of "charity" is not charity at all. If we're going to give something, we should give our best - that's real charity (love).
I realize that other people will do other things in an effort to help. That's fine. But after nine years of visiting the Reservation, I feel confident that school supplies are the best way that we can help. Hopefully it will help some child choose to stay in school, get an education, and maybe, just maybe, work toward a better life.