In the U.S. Northern Plains, ChildFund is listening to Native American children and youth and helping them arrive at solutions to bring about change in their communities.
In a recent interview with KQFR 89.9 FM in Shenandoah, Iowa, Deb Douglas, ChildFund’s Northern Plains area manager, ticked off the harsh realities that Lakota youth face: suicide, alcoholism, childhood obesity, diabetes and poverty.
“Suicide is the greatest destruction,” according to Deb, whose work with ChildFund takes her to the Cheyenne River, Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations in South Dakota.
Also tough to witness is “children not believing they can make a difference — and they can,” Deb told KQFR’s Public Affairs Director Jenny Goodell.
ChildFund programs focus on building leaders through after-school programming that includes homework help, nutrition education and hands-on activities like gardening and quilting. In addition, ChildFund seeks to improve community resources and conducts focus groups to identify issues in need of attention. “We ask tough questions to develop good communication between youth and parents,” she said.
For Deb, job satisfaction is “watching children develop into positive role models for their community.”
When children and youth reconnect with their family and community, they often find answers to many of the dilemmas they face, Deb told KQFR. “We listen to the children. We listen to their needs and their wants.” Sometimes just speaking and being heard enables youth to make decisions in their own lives, she noted.
Here’s Deb’s full interview with KQFR. Deb Douglas Interview_KQFR
On the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, the Lakota Indian youth population is taking the well-being of its community into their own hands.
And they have a lot on their agenda — suicide, homelessness, domestic violence, teen pregnancy, dropout rates and gang activity, all of which have been rising at alarming rates. In 2008, ChildFund International, the local university Sinte Gleska and community partner Oyate Networking opened the St. Francis Youth Center to help combat these problems.
St. Francis is used as a “Safe House” for children and youth of all ages to complete homework, visit with peers or just relax in a positive environment.
For teens on the reservation, their aspirations and goals for the community exceed well beyond the four walls of the center.
About 30 youth between the ages of 12 and 17 joined to create the Sicangu Oyate Teca Youth Council. Their focus is on cultural restoration of traditional Lakota values that embody generosity, wisdom and courage — and adopting those values as positive way of life for their families. The council is also championing leadership skill development, youth-led constructive activities and suicide prevention education.
ChildFund is guiding youth on how to create project plans and budgets, seek external funding, publicize activities and monitor and evaluate the success of their projects.
These youth-led activities provide an alternative to high-risk behaviors and promote healthy habits, cultural and self-expression, educational enhancement, physical fitness and service to the community.