Student Journal: winter dispatches from the field Kumeyaay Reservation: Inspiring native students to consider college
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The Dispatches
The Authors
Van Truong: Winter Breaks program leader and a sophomore double-majoring in business and sociology

Sylvia Johnson: A former Campo Reservation resident and a sophomore focusing on Native American Studies

Matt Singer: Alternative Breaks' student director and a fourth-year pre-med student

Louise Hon: Senior majoring in sociology

Frieda Kreth: Junior majoring in history



Presentatiuon circle

A peon game in progress

The group reflects on spontaneity vs. schedules, sharing instead of saving, and making history ...

Missed the earlier installments in this series?
Dispatch 1: Going home to the Rez
Dispatch 2: Sharing different roads to college

Campo Reservation, California, Day Five —

Van Truong: We cleaned up at Ms. Johnson’s home, had our last reflection session, and departed Campo.

I learned and absorbed so much knowledge, awareness and culture from the Kumeyaay community. From the moment we entered the community we were treated with sincerity, warmth and hospitality. I had a meticulous outline of all the events that we were scheduled to perform during our break. However, I quickly learned that the schedule was irrelevant. As it turns out, the most worthwhile experiences were the events that were unplanned and unscheduled — the oral stories passed on by the elders, playing peon with the kids, talking with the boys at the YRTC, being presented with gifts from the community members, and all the brief interactions with the youth.

Missed the first or second installments written by the Kumeyaay volunteers?

Education takes place beyond the classroom. The discussions I held with the community members, youth and elders have overshadowed all the conceptual and abstract theories on socialization, community and culture I’ve learned in lecture auditoriums. It was a privilege and honor to lead such a dynamic and diverse group of UC Berkeley students and graduates, who continually motivated, entertained and encouraged me throughout the trip. As I sought to inspire others by my words and my testimony, in the end I too became inspired by collaborating with my peers and interacting with the Campo Kumeyaay people.

Frieda Kreth: Spontaneity can be quite a challenge at times. You are stuffed and filled with apprehensions about what will happen next. Yet spontaneous reactions can be an impetuous force to help to assess your actions and responses. Sure, I can sit in on all the Socratic seminars, engage in debate about random topics, establishing arguments in theoretical, sometimes abstract analyses, but I deprive myself of a more practical, humanizing foundation. The Kumeyaay community in Campo helped me to link this missing perspective. I came in with many assumptions and intentions that the Kumeyaay demystified and clarified in my short stay.

The reciprocity of learning and education was exciting as it embodied the force of community empowerment. The same girl who I had to constantly nudge in order to get a response during an Alternative High School tutorial session was the same one who danced intuitively and with such a strong sense of cultural awareness during the Bird Songs. Or Fred, with whom I got into a historical debate over representations of heroes and enemies in American society, was the same young man who had all the strategies of the peon game floating and permeating in his cranium. Yet the school system had flunked him.

"The last thing students need are people to come in with the charitable mentality of 'saving' them…It became really important to send a message of empowerment and encouragement rather than one of fixing the wrongs."
—Frieda Kreth, volunteer

It does get frustrating to realize that such potential does not have the opportunity to materialize. The last thing students need are people to come in with the charitable mentality of "saving" them. But I think that through interactions — be they in the form of workshops, talking circles, making dreamcatchers, or just by our mere physical presence — it became really important to send a message of empowerment and encouragement rather than one of "fixing the wrongs."

Matt Singer: My experiences on the Kumeyaay reservation amounted to a crash course in social inequality, Native culture, and teambuilding. For five days, I absorbed knowledge like a sponge and developed relationships that have impacted my life in permanent ways. I take from this trip a message that was never accurately conveyed to me in high school: the fierce struggle for equality in Native American communities continues.

Sylvia Johnson: I think that we made history. Pretty much that’s just the way it is. Since the break I have been getting all kinds of good feedback from community members. Parents tell me how our group worked with their child on math and now he is doing better in that subject, or how we encouraged their child to go to school more and try harder. And it’s been asked many of times, "When are you all coming back?"
Being from Campo, I know how hard it is to try and do something positive and get support for it. I know how much you will have to struggle and you maybe even fall a few times. I think that the only thing the kids in the community need to succeed is the support from someone who cares, and that is exactly what the Alternative Breaks group gave to them.

The Berkeley volunteers show off their new t-shirts.


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