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Soraida’s Story (Video)

She keeps very poor health. Her doctors recently informed her that apart from all her other problems, she also has Multiple Sclerosis.

But, the woman I met seemed anything but unwell or inflicted with a painful disease. She greeted me with the cheeriest ‘hello’! Her eyes were bright and she seemed genuinely glad to meet me.

A tragic childhood incident triggered her life long concern and dedication for these gorgeous animals. Soraida Salwala was traveling with her father and happened to cross a large Elephant breathing its last after being hit by a truck. She asked her father, what had happened to the ‘Uncle Elephant’ and why couldn’t they take it to the hospital- a place Soraida knew well, as a sickly child.

Her father told her, the elephant is too big to be taken to any hospital. And as they drove away… nine year old Soraida had found her calling.

Starting and running the Hospital hasn’t been easy. Soraida says, that “I’m the only Thai citizen who has to carry her passport with her every time I travel, even if it’s just to Bangkok!” Though Soraida was born in Thailand and is a citizen, she’s actually of Philippine origin. Add to that the suspicion she arouses when she tells people that both her grandfathers are of Arabic origin. People don’t miss an opportunity to discredit her. If it’s not her ethnicity, it’s her gender that’s a problem. But, she’s been through enough to see the humour in the banality of all the accusations and attempts at defamation. She prioritises her hospital and its over-sized patients over everything else. It helps her find her balance I imagine.

Whether it’s people questioning her motives or her ability, Soraida powers on. Her hospital has saved the lives of thousands of Elephants that would have otherwise been euthanized.

When I arrived at the FAE center, I felt a sense of calm. It was lush green, clean and very quite… apart from the odd happy resident tooting it’s horn. Even the staff seemed genteel and eager to show me around. The place has a culture that has Soraida’s stamp all over it.

I met many of the residents. My favourites (I’m sorry, but some were just cuter than the others!) were Motala, Baby Mosha and Tantong. In the early 90s, Motala made headlines when Soraida and FAE, rescued her after she stepped on a landmine and lost her left foot. The good folks from Prosthesis Foundation stepped in and built the world’s first prosthetic leg for an Elephant. Motala is still around and looking mighty fine, even though she’s a foot short!

Seven month old baby Mosha has a similar story; she lost her right foot and had emergency surgery to amputate the devastated leg. She’s almost five now and even has a custom built stand in her enclosure where she rests her amputated stump for balance. This excitable and affectionate girl is completely unaware of her handicap and is incredibly agile.

But, my absolute favourite has to be Tantong. The 80 year old is the senior most resident of the hospital. She’s completely blind in one eye and has slight blurry vision in the other. She’s such a heartbreaker- all wrinkly, slow and utterly adorable. She’s the only one I really wanted a picture next to. Aren’t we quite a pair? I’m the one in blue if you’re wondering. I swear it’s the Thai food. A week ago I was skinny and then BOOM! (Not really, but the Thai food isn’t helping!)

It’s love at first sight with this lot. And to imagine that if it wasn’t for Soraida and FAE, none of them would be alive today. Elephants are such a crucial part of Thai culture and history. You see them everywhere. In the fountains, on the walls of government building, tattooed on people’s bodies. It’s also a working animal in Thailand. They’re used for logging, paraded around as festival sideshows and of course as key tourist attractions (day long training to be a Mahut is a very popular activity among western tourists). But, the owners are usually poor peasants and when one gets sick or injured, this primary income source turns into a massive burden.

Fortunately, now there is an Elephant hospital that’s willing to rescue these sick or injured gentle giants. And that makes me really happy.

Soraida lives at the Elephant Hospital in Lampang, about 80 Kilometers from Chiang Mai. I spent a day at the hospital and some quality time with Soraida and the residents. Here is a short video. It’s my first, I know the audio is kinda crappy… but I was in the middle of a forest and no matter how many times I shouted ‘Action’ or ‘Rolling’ the freaking crickets wouldn’t shut up!

UPDATE: Trying to upload a higher quality version.

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31 Responses to “Soraida’s Story (Video)”

  1. Nandita says:

    Looking forward to that video…and the elephants are just waay too cute

  2. nardell says:

    what a rockstar! hat tip!

  3. Yoan Bernabeu says:

    good work my friend !

  4. Amgad says:

    waiting for the vdo!

  5. kiran says:

    Truly a labour of love. Kudos to the elephant lady!

  6. Jody says:

    Beautifully done, Soraida is a hero. Thank you!

  7. Drew Olanoff says:

    kudos! great story!

  8. Matt Thomas says:

    Soraida’s small effort will surely go a long way!

  9. Andrew says:

    nicely done girl, i couldnt really hear the crickets!

  10. Andrew says:

    Protection and conservation are vital pillars of supporting the future of this magnificent animal. Soraidas work is commendable indeed!

  11. RayPatt3 says:

    MIKE “Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants” is another initiative i follow. amazing story!

  12. Eddie says:

    read about your project, really inspiring. as samuel goldwyn would say, stay on course for the journey for the entire year, and you will be an overnight success! :P

  13. Eric says:

    Never doubt that a small number of individuals who are thoughtful, committed people can change the world. thanks for the story

  14. Norman says:

    great story! look forward to more

  15. Mohit says:

    Soraida is a rockstar!!!

  16. Mike Nolan says:

    the hospital is surely a source of inspiration

  17. Abhishek says:

    awesome story, truly inspiring

  18. Shamit says:

    great post tithiya. respect.

  19. Dhruv says:

    these are the real heroes! great work!

  20. Kirti says:

    really excited that you are doing this! love your posts. looking forward to the next post

  21. Preeti Gupta says:

    nice! where are you headed next?

  22. Craig says:

    amazing story!

  23. Mehul says:

    kudos tithiya!!! great pick!

  24. Anuradha says:

    Most of us serve our ideals by fits and starts. The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication. hats off to Soraida!

  25. manu says:

    we want to see you in the video too! Can’t believe you found the time to edit that while traveling…

  26. Ayesha Sharma says:

    Fab job on the edit Tithi! Love the music… the interview is sharply cut and I love the way it starts with the POV driving shots!
    Why can’t I see even a glimpse of u? U have to put ur self in it… That’s the trigger to watch babe!
    And where can I write to u .. where u will actually respond?!
    Miss u in Delhi… but, super proud of what u’r doing!

  27. Ira Madan says:

    Hey sweetie, amazing stories….
    good job!

  28. Barbara says:

    What a lovely story and video! I’m very impressed with Soraida and her work. She is indeed a hero.

    Sadly, Tantong passed away yesterday. You were lucky to meet her, and thank you for featuring her in your video.

    Soraida’s Story is the first I’ve seen of your project and website, but I’ll be checking out more of your stories. Great idea and great job!

  29. Jody says:

    Unfortunately Granny Tanthong died.
    Update 10/14/2010
    ‘Granny’ Tanthong collapsed and died today.
    6.35 a.m.
    Tanthong is gone but she will remain in our hearts forever. RIP :’(

  30. Jody says:

    To learn more about Soraida and Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital please start here.

  31. Can I just say what a relief to find somebody who actually knows what theyre speaking about on the internet. You undoubtedly know the best way to convey a problem to mild and make it important. More folks have to read this and understand this facet of the story. I cant consider youre no more popular because you positively have the gift.

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