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
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. Amman
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 without developing 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.