There are days when something beyond our limited human comprehension transpires. When within the course of a few hours, lives forever change. Days when the structure of evil is being dismantled in front of our eyes, a new structure of hope, life, promise and integrity is being raised with the quiet authority to demolish that which had usurped its way into the lives of our kids who were rescued from ISIS.
There are days where the joy, the grins, the shrieks of laughter create restorative memories that continue the process of eradicating those of a black past. Days so totally divine that a few days later I still find that words fail me, and lack the ability to verbally process and describe all that has taken place.
There was the joy of achievement, the victory owned when pushing through the fear barrier, the desire for a horse friend, unspoken dreams coming true. There was the first cheeseburger ever, the USA in Kurdistan for some, the first trip to Erbil, the teamship of a friend helping with the fiddly riding helmet, a group of friends cheering on.
Try to imagine a group of teens who were forced to ride horses together in the captivity of ISIS now riding together as free men, in peace, with music playing in the background, potential girlfriends admiring them, and a hot lunch to follow. I see healing, I see freedom, I see restoration, I see moving forward. I see life being grabbed once again, this time by the reins.
When we take our kids out for a day they usually fall asleep on the way back, they are wiped. Not this time, their adrenalin was buzzing, they were exchanging photos, naming their horses, and already asking to go back to the incredible Erbil International Equestrian Centre, who extended their hospitality and invited us as their guests for the day.
We left you dear reader last week having just run into our dear General in Duhok. Sadly for our good General, he was outshined. The following day we met with a special man who wishes to remain in the background, one who with excessive generosity, having heard about our students, opened his equestrian center to us. He gave us a day which changed lives and yet again confirmed to us that although our Horses for Hope project is massive, and once again we are way out of our depth, we are indeed on track.
As always, the words of our students are the best testimony so I hand this platform over to them.
"A great horse will change your life, the truly special ones define it." Unknown.
"I learned to ride when I was in captivity in Syria. It was the same as many things I learned there, we just had to do it. No one taught us. We had to get on a horse, manage it and go wherever we were sent. Eventually, we asked our leaders to let us ride the horses in our free time.
This was my first time going to Erbil and my first emotional experience of a horse. I could not believe the beauty and the size of the stadium, this was a first for me, I did not know such things exist. I have a very deep desire to ride horses and to learn the correct way. I would like to have a horse, give him a name, take care of him and develop an emotional connection with him. When riding today I knew that I was riding as a free man, today was different.
I am so glad that Springs of Hope are opening a stable for horses. We need this. I know that I will always be there." - Daoud
“Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway “ John Wayne
Wassim was one of the most broken children that we have seen. He arrived from Baghouz, Syria, starved, confused as to his identity, broken, full of rage yet with something soft inside him.
"This was an amazing trip. I loved going to Erbil with my friends. It was such fun, it was so different from anything and any place we have been. The night before I was thinking about the horses because I was scared to ride. I had never actually seen a horse, I just imagined it to be big and dangerous. I saw the older boys riding, they were so happy, so I decided that I would do this also and I encouraged all my friends to ride. Thanks to me, they did.
I hope that Springs of Hope brings horses as soon as possible, I want to get back on a horse again. I would like to make friends with a horse and have him remember me each time I come." - Wassim
"A horse doesn't care how much you know until he knows how much you care. Put your hand on your horse and your heart in your hand." Pat Parelli
"Actually I didn’t want to go to Erbil but Dr Saeed was pushing me. I thought that it would be better for me to work and earn $20 to feed my five children than to go and see horses. Even when we set out I wasn't happy but I realized that it was right for me to go with the children and to experience something new. I have never left Shariya, I have to work every day, I don't know anything about life outside the village, so everything was new for me.
It was so special to touch the horses, to smell them. I feel that my soul connected with them and now I am anxious to finish our construction and to bring horses. I have to prepare everything for them and for me, we will live together as friends. I can sleep with them if that will help speed up things. My room can wait.
I just want Miss Lisa to know that I have been watching videos on YouTube, how to take care of the horses, how to groom and train them. I am becoming an expert, and have many ideas in my mind now that I have seen them with my own eyes and touched them with my hands. But I am still thinking about the $20 I could have earned today." - Harbi
"The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit and freedom." Sharon Ralls Lemon.
"Thank you for taking me to this amazing horse center. It was out of this world. It was such an amazing feeling to ride the horse, so peaceful, so comfortable. I watched all my friends riding, we were all happy, smiling, relaxed, no thoughts of our tents, we were at peace, total peace." - Haniya
"The best therapist is a horse." Equestrian Co.
"It was an amazing experience. It was not my first time to ride a horse, I learned to ride when I was in captivity, but my memories of that time, and that place are only bad, so even thoughts about the horse had become negative. I was afraid to sit on its back as I did not want bad memories to invade plus I was fearful of falling and breaking my arm or leg. I decided to push through my fear, and to put the negative memories aside. It was wonderful, totally relaxing, I felt my mind being healed and I came home a different person. Now I am waiting for the Springs of Hope horses to arrive." - Salwa
"If you have gained the trust of a horse you have won a friend for life." Equestrian Co.
"When I entered the arena and saw the size of the horses, I was terrified. I was surprised that horses are so big and huge. In those first minutes, I decided that I would not ride but when I saw all my friends laughing and happy, I decided to overcome my fear. The trainer was very kind and understanding and told me to touch the horse and become friends with it. I discovered that it was very good for me psychologically, I felt different, more healthy in my thinking.
Miss Lisa and Dr Saeed explained to us that the day in Erbil would help to prepare us for Horses for Hope in Shariya. I am ready, totally ready. This is our next step, this is a new door for us to help us to learn more, and to be healed. Thank you for taking us, and please bring horses very soon." - Fawzia
"No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle." Sir Winston Churchill.
"I was a little nervous and afraid due to their size but as soon as I rode I knew that I am addicted to horses and to riding. I loved it more than anything. I want to spend all my time with horses. I had a brown horse, he was so sweet and comfortable, I think he knew that I was fearful so he was so gentle with me. I have to ride again as soon as possible, riding is my most happy place." - Hadiya
"It's the horses gift to connect us with heaven." Ronni Sweet
"Oh it was a wonderful day, I don't know how to express my feelings. I am so happy when we go out with my friends, the Syrian kids from War City, somehow I always feel much stronger with them.
This was the second time that I rode a horse. My first time was when my captor made me ride in Raqa. Today it was a different experience, one with Springs of Hope who are my family, one with my friends. I was in total peace. I was in heaven." - Kristin
"The horse paws in the valley and rejoices in his strength; he goes on to meet the battle." Job 39
"I rode in Syria, I rode everywhere. I took care of many horses but it was in the context of captivity and war. Today I rode tall, I rode with pride and dignity. I rode as a free man. I so wanted to take the reins and ride and ride and never stop. Although I had to go slow and be inside the arena, today was different. Today was honorable for me. I hope that Springs of Hope builds fast in Old Shariya so that I can ride again." - Barzan
"Have you Job, given the horse strength? Have you clothed his neck with power?" Job 39.
"I came from Al Hawl camp one month ago. I have a brother, the rest of my family are dead or missing. When I arrived in Sinjar I immediately went to my village where I saw the grave that had been prepared for me. It had my name on it. I sat by my grave and dismantled it, tore it to pieces until just flat earth remained.
Today I am in a new world. A world that I did not think possible, a world that I didn't know existed. I met this beautiful, strong horse full of dignity and passion. I fell in love with my horse. Yes, I was scared but then I have been scared for over seven years in Syria, facing endless dangers and challenges, so to overcome this fear was nothing. I felt alive, living, breathing. The moment that I put my hand on his neck, he knew me, understood me, and felt my joy at that time. I have gone from my grave to being so totally alive." - Sipan
Horses for Hope, Old Shariya Progress update:
We have constructed the outdoor arena, built the struts to hold the roof which is on order and should be delivered within two weeks. The foundations of the stables, and our offices have been laid, as you read this we will ( if no rain ) be working on the ground floor level, the stables.
We are in the middle of building a road into the Horses for Hope property and erecting electric poles, taking them across neighboring fields, as we are doing with sewage and drainage pipes.
We will be planting oat grass in the closed and open pens this week ( again dependent upon weather ) ready for sprouting in spring.
As I was reading the Torah portion for this week, I halted at the phrase which displays the kindness and generosity of spirit of Rebecca who did not stop giving the camels water until "when the camels had finished drinking." Genesis 24.
My hope and prayer is that we will have both the wisdom and resources to enable water to flow to our thirsty kids until they stop drinking. Please consider giving to Horses of Hope, this is a new well we are digging.