Our working base in the Palestinian city of Qalqilya
The Palestinian town of Qalqilya (known more locally as Qalqili) is located literally in the centre of Israel but forms part of the Palestinian West Bank known as Area B, which is Palestinian but under Israeli military control and Area A, which is fully Palestinian. The previous charity for which I worked, had been operating the haven in Qalqilya for the past five years but after it was recently closed down, the landlord – knowing how desperate local people and their animals are for help - very kindly offered it to my new charity to use rent free until January 2016.
So every Thursday afternoon we arrive at our Qalqilya clinic base which is considered Area A, and open the gates to welcome a variety of donkey and horse owners and their animals, whether they be in need of medical help or perhaps a little rest and a munch of hay and cool drink of water. Occasionally if a horse or donkey needs ongoing treatment for something more serious that perhaps the owner cannot take care of alone, then we are able to hospitalise them at our little centre and administer the care and treatment that they require.
I am ever so thankful to the dear staff who so kindly currently volunteer to help me: two vets, Dr Ahmad and Dr Nour - sometimes three with Dr Mohammad - and two assistants, Lokman and Khaled. They know that we do not have the funds at the moment to pay any wages since we opened the new charity. The meagre amount that we have right now has to be used solely for the animals, their needs and the veterinary supplies so that we can continue our work to take care of those animals who need us and their owners who deserve our help.
A few weeks ago I mentioned how we had rescued our first abandoned horse, Prince, followed a week later by a little abandoned filly whom we named Goldie. Because of the onset of rainy, cold, wintery days and because we knew it would be a little while until we will be able to properly prepare our new centre in the Arab village of Qalansuwa, 'The Helen and Hoskins Haven for Donkeys in Qalansuwa', we decided to take Prince and Goldie to our base in Qalqilya. We did this because it is such a great facility and it is dry and sheltered there and our volunteer, Khaled, is there to look after them.
Since we took the two horses in we have rescued three adorable donkeys who also currently live at our Qalqilya centre. Little Mac the donkey is an incredibly cute, very young male donkey who was found abandoned in Qalqilya. Lila, a small, young female whom we found terrified as she was desperately trying to avoid speeding trucks and cars on the busy road into Qalqilya – it took us a few attempts over the course of 5 days to catch her and each attempt had heart stopping moments as she had a few very lucky escapes from oncoming traffic. Qalqilya is not a place where drivers would automatically slow down for a donkey… Gideon is a lovely, young male donkey who turned up at an Israeli settlement after his Palestinian owner had to abandon his donkey and cart when he was pursued by the Israeli army for reasons unknown to us. Luckily for him a kind lady night guard took him under her wing and called us for help.
When we are in the middle of all our work out in the Arab villages and Qalqilya particularly, I often find myself taking a few seconds to absorb what is happening around me and I cannot help but feel moved. For example last Thursday evening, it was getting dark as we were completing our work in Qalqilya. A few poor old horses had come in for treatment, one or two of them just bags of old bones and yet still having to work so hard. One of them, a beautiful dark bay with a noble head and face despite his thin old body, was covered in harness sores. You name it, he had them: above his eyes, around his dear mouth, on his face, his hips, his legs, his back.
As I stood there, trying to first bathe his wounds in the dying light and then apply wound ointment to each bloodied sore on his poor body, about three young Palestinian men stepped forward anxious to try to help me by using the torch lights of their phones to light my way. These young men, with all due respect, can often look quite unfriendly and a bit intimidating and yet they are the perfect example that you just cannot always judge a book by its cover. They show their gratitude and that is such a gift and makes it all so worthwhile as it is a concrete step in the right direction for our never ending mission to instill some compassion in their hearts and minds. It would be so easy to look at those men and feel fear and apprehension yet I look at them and feel overwhelmed with emotion. Despite my own current hardship and strain I see them and think, what do they have in their lives? Every day for them is an endless battle to try to earn some sort of living in the most uncertain, difficult and constrained circumstances, so they can try to provide for their families, hence why their animals play such a critical role for them.
When I hear them call me by my name 'Lucy' and then, mumbling in Arabic and a bit of broken Hebrew, they lead me over to check something on their little donkey or horse, it moves me beyond words and I wish at that moment that I was in a position to give them everything possible to help them with their precious animals. And when some of the smaller boys practice their few words of English with me, eagerly telling me their names and gathering round to help me fill the hay nets with hay or treat the horses and donkeys to a juicy apple or carrot as I teach them to do it holding their hand flat... it is just heart-warming.
It is extremely hard at the moment because we are trying to do everything that is possible to help, as much as we are able with very restricted funds and yet those owners value every, and any little thing we can do to help them. We need to fundraise of course to be able to sustain our current projects – mainly Qalqilya, Al Razaz and our new, soon to open Haven and Education Centre in Qalansuwa. I will update regarding more specific budgets in due course and I have the utmost faith that all we need to be able to continue to help those desperate animals, will be provided