The Giving Tour, Reflections: Jake Rath

By Jake Rath

When I sat down to write this blog post I thought it would be easy. On the Giving Tour I have learned so much and have met so many truly amazing people, how hard could it be to explain the events that have transpired? Yet, as I begin to type, I am at a loss for words. How do I even begin to describe the profound impact this trip has had on my life? I could tell you about each stop we made, the incredible people that I have met that are doing everything in their power to improve the lives of those around them, and yet many do not even know exist. I could tell you about the endless generosity of people that would give you the food from their own plate before they’ve had a chance to eat themselves. But still, it doesn’t seem like I would be doing them justice. As I could probably write a small book about all of the stops we made, I will highlight one that truly touched my heart deeply. So please bear with me as I attempt to give some breath to some of the true heroes our country has to offer.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Giving Tour - Jake RathThe above quote by Margaret Mead is one of my favorites and is also one that has manifested time and time again throughout our weeklong Giving Tour. Each stop we made we spoke to a handful of the men and women in our country that are changing the landscape around them, one person at a time. They might not even know the impact they are having, but as I listened to their stories, it was clear as day. The resounding theme that I have seen throughout our trip is HOPE. Some of the people we visited with have endured unspeakable hardships that statistics cannot relay, and yet they still show up day in and day out to provide for the people around them that need it most. They still have hope.

When you say a group of people have 80-90% unemployment you know that it must be terrible, but it’s just a statistic. What does that really mean? It was not until we visited the Pine Ridge Reservation that we saw firsthand what that truly meant. Harsh living conditions; trailers with leaky roofs, homes with improper plumbing, food insecurity, and families that drove over 70 miles each way to get their child to a proper day care. And yet, there is still hope. Not just a glimmer, but resounding hope. But the people we met with on the Reservation do not even look at life through these statistics, they just try to affect positive change in their community. These are people with the determination to save their people and their culture.

Giving Tour - Jake RathThe daycare we visited has been working to save the Lakota language by immersing the children and teaching it to them at a young age. Language is so important to their culture because it is one of the only things that is uniquely theirs. It cannot be taken from them, and with it, helps them preserve and secure their identity for generations to come.

Sustainability is a foundation in Native American culture. One of my favorite native America proverbs says that “We do not inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children.” This is why the concept of land ownership was so foreign to them. How can a group of people own a portion of the earth that we all share? The decisions one group of people have on their piece of land can, in fact, impact many others outside their region for years to come. The Lakota were taught to only take what they needed from the earth and to leave the land as they found it, something rarely seen in modern society. This is how Native Americans have lived for thousands of years. As I am about to further my education focused in sustainability, all I could think about is how green energy and sustainable agriculture could benefit this group of people. It could empower them to not rely on outside systems that are only holding them back. It would allow them to truly control their own destiny by having the comfortability to meet their basic needs. When I found out that a community development project by Thunder Valley CDC hoped to accomplish just that I was thrilled. A thought even popped in my head that a few years down the line maybe my own expertise could be put to use helping the people I met with last week, but only time will tell.

Giving Tour - Jake RathI had hoped that through our giving tour we would, initially, be able to help the groups we met with monetarily. But the needs are immense, far greater than what is achievable by one foundation alone. My hope for the legacy of this trip is that we can bring light to the issues a great portion of our country are facing and be able to direct that attention to the general population that does not even know about them. So that the next time someone in New York thinks about donating to a large non-profit, they also think about the small Domestic Abuse Shelter in Page, AZ. Not to say they are more deserving, there are many large non-profits making impacts just as large, but just that the thought is an option in their mind. Because for me, before this trip, I never knew that little charity even existed, and I doubt you did either.

Next time you travel to a new place, take a look at the issues you see around you and the non-profits that are trying to make a difference. Do not just be a tourist, but be a traveler, open your eyes so that you can truly see, take in what you can and widen your perspectives. Realize the differences being made and join the fight to better those that need it most. You never know, you might even find your next calling.