As another year is ending, it’s time to introduce the two latest members
of our growing pride of lions . Recently, we got a phone call from the RSCN, saying
they were on their way to us with a very young female lion cub. We really
didn’t know what to expect, and when they arrived, we were in no way prepared
for what we had in store. Being just a few days old, she was the size of a month
old kitten, weighing about 1500 grams, toothless, helpless and blind. None of
us had ever seen such a young cub before, and it was honestly hard to tell that
she was a lion!
Having no experience with baby lions this young, all we knew was that we
had to do everything in our power to keep this girl alive and give her a worthy
future. Our resident vet examined her and took her home for her first night.
Since she was heavily pregnant herself, there was no way for her to keep this
cub at home and give her all the time, care and attention she needed, so we had
to think of a solution. Since the cub was so young, she needed around the clock
care, which is quite a task and requires big commitment. Luckily, just a few
weeks earlier, our –now-new team member
had moved here from Europe, and when she and her husband heard about the cub,
they immediately offered to take her in. So our vet handed the cub over to them
and we all prayed for the best outcome. Our prayers have been answered; the cub
is doing great and is now out of the danger zone. She is being hand raised by
the couple, who are caring for her 24 hours a day, like young parents with a newborn
Barely 3 weeks later, another call came in from the RSCN: another lion cub
had been found when attempting to smuggle him across the border; a boy this
time, and they were to arrive at New Hope within an hour. The cub, about 7
weeks old, was also too young to be put in an enclosure at New Hope, and so our
‘babymama’ was called and asked if she was willing and able to take in a second
one! However exhausted and sleep deprived from parenting the other cub, she
answered without any hesitation “Bring it on!!”
The new cub arrived at New Hope late in the evening, and it was clear
that this was a completely different story. He was far too small for his age,
nearly blind and very stressed and traumatized. Assessing him made it clear to
us that he must have spent most of his life in a tiny, dark cage and had just
been getting enough food to keep him alive. After being examined by the vet, he
went home with his new parents, and we were all hoping they would be able to
pull him through, although his physical and mental state gave us much to worry
The main challenge was to get him to eat, since he didn’t seem to have
an appetite at all. Because he was also refusing the bottle, he was fed with a
syringe, forcing down a few drops of milk every hour, around the clock. It was
a struggle, but after a few days he seemed to get a bit stronger and the
feeding started to get a little easier, although the syringe was still the only
way to get food into him.
His stress level didn’t go down though, and that was a big worry.Our unwritten rule is to keep new animals
separate from others for at least a month, but after a few days it was clear
that what he really needed was physical comfort from his own kind!The decision was made to introduce the two
little ones to each other. The female cub was doing so well and was getting
stronger and bigger every day and we were hoping that she could help him relax,
which in turn would help him to get stronger and healthier.
The cubs were introduced to each other, and while the boy sat quietly
in a corner, staring at the ceiling in full denial, the girl, who had never
seen another lion before, crawled up to him on her big baby-belly, dropped
herself next to him and put her paws around him. The boy started to relax
immediately, and they are now the best of friends!
In the above picture, the agedifference between the two cubs is 4
weeks. The difference in size however is very small, which is clearly a
result of malnourishment in the male cub in the first weeks of his
These cubs are such a blessing in all of our lives, and in each other’s
life as well. By now we’re sure both will pull through and we’re happy to be
able to say that two more lives have been saved!
Although many of us grow up dreaming of raising lions…one thing we can
say without a doubt is that lions belong in the wild. Watching in desperation
as these two young cubs fought for their lives, having been stripped from their
mother’s love and nurturing, was one of the hardest things to have had to
endure. Wildlife is called ‘wild’ for a reason…
It has been another busy year at Growing Together where we have seen many new children join us and have said farewell to others who have moved on to other countries, and each and everyone remains in our hearts.
We have been blessed to have seen wonderful
improvements in children’s social interaction, and their degree of
self-confidence, and this year we have widened the client group to include more
children with special needs other than those on the Autistic Spectrum. Our
regulars are growing quickly, and some of them will be starting lessons in main
stream school in September.
One of them, G, came to us very frightened
and hardly speaking when we first started the programme. His mother, who has
become a loyal supporter and much needed liaison with non-English speaking
teachers, was deeply worried that her son would never speak fluently nor be
able to have a full education. Her son would shrink away from the horses and
cling to her, and even when on the horse he would continually say “scared.” It was this boy whose first sentence was “I
love the horse.”
G has progressed to be able to ride his
horse Shimmer, a large 15.2hh ex-Polo mare, confidently and independently, he now
chatters away to his mother non-stop, and will be at main-stream school four
days a week at the start of the new scholastic year.
Another one of our children, K., who is
seven years old, was also deeply anxious when near a horse, although very keen
to feed them. He would hold out handfuls of grass but drop the grass
immediately when his horse Katirah, a beautiful chestnut Arab mare, came close enough
to eat. We worked with K, with strong support from his parents and teachers,
for over six months to have him lead his horse confidently using a lead rope. His
mother told me that K has always loved animals until his cousins scared him
badly with a large dog when K was about three years old. She was very
distraught at the change in K and had little hope of any improvements. K spoke
his first word for us with “Wolf!” and made his teacher cry that day with joy.
Eight months after starting GT we now have
K riding happily and saying many more words. We started out by placing him on a
horse with much encouragement and asking him to count to five and then taking
him off, then we counted to ten, then twenty…Now he rides for half an hour.
Towards the end of the year GT welcomed a
new child who had been the victim of extreme institutionalized abuse. He
arrived with his father and brother, sitting in his wheel-chair. His father
told me that A used to have a horse years ago and loved riding….Would he be
able to actually ride the horse? For A. our old stalwart Iago,
whom, although now retired from GT, remains always very keen to get involved
with any children in need of that need an extra-special equine presence! To begin with we asked A to hold onto
Iago’s rope while we led him around a small area and A was wheeled along beside
him. Then, seeing the joy on A’s face, we asked his father to lift A onto Iago,
who at a compact 14.2hh wasn’t too much of a stretch! Although A had total
muscle wastage in his legs, we were able to balance him on Iago and lead him
down the various nature trails. The first session wasn’t too long as it will
take a while for A’s core muscles to accustom themselves to the additional
physical exercise, but the brevity of the session was definitely inversely
proportional to the pleasure it gave our new client and his family. Having hardly spoken a word since leaving his institution it brought tears to everyone's eyes when he voluntarily repeated time and time again one word..."Iago".
One of the other new children to join us
suffers from cerebral palsy and is also confined to a wheel-chair. He had never
seen horses before coming to GT but was totally enamoured with them, happily
feeding Shimmer by hand from his chair. It was one of the most touching moments
of the year to watch the interaction between our wonderful equine therapist and
the boy sitting beneath her, both of them totally trusting of the other.
Everyone's joy was evident.
Some of the children to join GT this year
have Down’s Syndrome, and one little girl has found her heaven on the back of a
horse. From the moment she gets on board to the moment she has to get down, all
she does is smile, and laugh, and talk. Pure Happiness.
Not all of the children come to GT through
schools, we now have several children who come in the afternoons with their
parents for a one-to-one session. Rakan is one such child. He is only three
and a half, and already he has established a bond with Reem, the pure bred Arab
mare that he rides, and identifies the image of a horse by the name of his
equine friend. Rakan is not on the Autistic Spectrum but has had other
developmental issues, and his parents were eager to explore any alternative
therapies that might enrich their son’s life.
Having spent a year with GT, Rakan is
certainly a much better rider. Even at three, he sits up straight and balances
well, with only minor assistance from helpers. He definitely enjoys himself!
His mother tells us that the riding seems to have improved his core muscle
strength noticeably, so much so that she was always encouraging us to let him go
faster! The strengthened core has also helped Rakan with his walking, and he
can sometimes hold onto his horse independently.
We would like to thank Rakan’s mother also
for all of the help and assistance and support she gave to us for the GT
This year also sees the end of Suyen's time with us at Growing Together. Suyen has decided it is time to return home and all of us at PAF wish her all the best in her future endeavours. Suyen has shown all of us that through patience, love and kindness anything is possible and we will be forever grateful to her for leaving her home and family behind and coming to Jordan to help us establish and run GT and we hope to see her once more (even if for short visits) walking up and down the path of GT.
As for the future of GT...since mid June the numbers of students has more than doubled and we have taken on two new members of staff in whom we have every confidence to carry on as we grow, along with our ever noble team of horses, and we look forward to many new miracles at Growing Together...
Some fun and freedom at Growing Together
At one of Suyen's last sessions, one of the
teachers asked a child what Suyen's name was as he was riding along a trail.
“Miss Su,” the teacher suggested, as the child seemed to hesitate and ponder the question.
“Miss Husan (arabic for horse),” the child replied…..Miss Horse
The past few months at PAF have been full of challenges, losses and thankfully many succeses! New Hope has been going from strength to strength as we erect new enclosures to accomodate rescued animals both in the country and throughout the region. One of the latest groups being 563 tortoises. I wonder if you can count how many times throughout your life you have seen a tortoise plodding along quietly minding its own business and you have decided to scoop it up and take it home, depositing it in your garden or even in a cardboard box for the children to'enjoy'? Actually there is a great deal we do not know about these fascinating creatures. Tortoises are native to Jordan, but were you aware that they are in fact classified as endangered?
We were alerted to the situation by the Ministry of Agriculture who brought us together with our partners at the RSCN to coordinate the care and release of the tortoises. From what we were told, all 563 souls had been collected from the wild and were to be smuggled out of the country to neighbouring countries for sale.
Each and every one of the 563 tortoises was checked (to ensure they were all healthy) and then released in various reserves in the north of the country.
The next time you come across a tortoise in a field, under a bush or crossing your path; stop and think... don't they count? Don't they too deserve to be free?
With 2011 now in the background and the New Year upon us, I have the privilege of having shared another term of Growing Together with familiar faces…Boys have grown taller, a little leaner, girls have become braver, teachers more relaxed and confident…and parents less anxious.
Most of all this past term, I have been struck by how the children have overcome their fears, the fear of the outdoor spaces, fear of animals often twice their size,fear of animals usually only seen in fearsome films, fear of strange people and unfamiliar faces…Some of the children have made such advances over the past year that their schools are recommending that they join mainstream schools in September 2012.
There is a father who travels his eight year old daughter from Irbid, a town well to the north of Amman; he makes the forty-five minute trip every week so that he can widen his daughter’s circle of experience, give her another dimension to her very limited childhood. He earns 350JD a month, and specialized schools in Amman cost up to twenty times that much for a year’s tuition…So he drives her to Growing Together, and has tears in his eyes when he says the only words he speaks in English: “Thank you.” He says thank-you because after only four sessions with the horses, his daughter has changed from a terrified child who would not go within fifteen feet of a horse to a girl who is laughing and chattering while riding one.
Then there is K…he has taken three months to even catch hold of the horse’s lead rope. His mother is exasperated. K used to love all animals until his cousins teased and scared him with the family German Shepard. Since starting Growing Together, K showed his latent desire to interact by anxiously holding out grass to his horse, but was still unable to bring himself to touch one…Finally, after three months, K found the courage to hold the rope, walk alongside his horse, and tentatively touch her with his finger. It’s a start.
Another child of ours, A, a very bright and smart boy, who has always been very enthusiastic to lead his horse anywhere on the site, was still also very nervous about touching the horse…this is one of the frustrating ironies about children that have simply been “plonked” in a saddle withoutdeveloping any real relationship with their mounts…and resisted all attempts to get him onto his horse for several weeks.
One day, towards the end of term, with the help and support of his teacher, I insisted that A be placed on his horse. Iago, as always Mr. Reliable, stood like a rock, as A’s teacher and myself struggled to get A onto Iago’s back…
A struggled too, he kicked, he screamed, he cried..but I felt that we should persevere and his teacher supported my choice…All the time we kept talking to A, encouraging and praising him when he was eventually sitting on Iago’s back…He was still crying, but I could see that he was also taking in his surroundings from this new perspective..he began to cry quietly, stopped shouting…then he stopped crying, and then he started to smile. Within less than ten minutes his life had been changed. A sat on top of Iago and talked to his teacher, and when we set off to walk up the hill A was smiling and laughing, totally fearless.
It might be easy now, within this second year of Growing Together, to become complacent with confidence, to take for granted the humility of the horses, the courage of the children, and the dedication of the teachers and parents. It might be, but then one remembers that first word, that lightening smile on the first tentative reaching out to touch a horse, that laugh of joy, and then it hits you, and you realize that we are still being blessed, we are still seeing miracles, we are still being allowed our glimpse of God.
A class at the American Community School in Amman were set a piece of homework where they had to write about their Hero.
The piece below was written by Masa Dajani in Grade 5B and is piece which warms the heart and soul and yet again shows us that our children have the answers and hold the keys to a brighter future. Surely we must sit up and listen and give them a chance to make us better human beings...
On behalf of all of us at PAF we invite you to enjoy this beautiful account and we thank you Masa for allowing us to share your message and to learn so much from you.
Hero By: Masa Dajani 5B
My hero is a horse. I chose a horse to be my hero because he is beautiful, and most importantly helps so many kids in need. I love horses for that reason.
In Jordan there is a place called Growing Together that takes kids that have autism to see the horses because the kids can relate to the horses. They make physical contact and emotional bonds that helps the kids cope with their daily life.
When I am upset I go to the stables to see the horses. Horses make contact with your body, making you feel so much better. It is almost like horses are therapeutic because they have a sixth sense and that is seeing through you to help you when your sad. When you are nice to a horse, he will care for you and help you.
People that are lonely and have a hard time making friends can make friends with a horse very easily. Horses have been making friends with humans for over one million years. There is a movie called Black Beauty and it’s about a horse that saved a boy’s life because the boy saved the horse from choking.
There has been lots of children and adults that have been saved by a horse. For example on an island in the Netherlands horses saved people from drowning because they didn't know how to swim and the horses were born to swim.
Horses are heroic to me and lots of other people in the world. The world wouldn’t have as many people without horses. If you are free, go for a horse ride and you will feel what I’ve been feeling. Take a picture of your big smile because you will have one as soon as you put one leg in your stirrup