Alaa said he would continue to employ people from the surrounding areas to help to feed the animals, cleaning, building, repair, etc. in the facilities. This work helps these people (many of whom are refugees from different parts of Syria) to regain their self-respect. Helping his neighbors is very important to Alaa.
He hopes to employ the services of a trained child psychologist who can give counsel and support to both local and refugee children and use “pet therapy” to enhance the lives of both the children and the animals. Alaa says this will reinforce his desire to educate the Syrian population about the love and care that pet animals need and the positive benefits that being with animals have on children. This is something that he learned when he had his sanctuary in East Aleppo.
ORPHAN HOME AND SCHOOL PROJECT
For the distant future, Alaa’s dreams are even bigger such as establishing a home for young orphans near the Paradise of Ernesto that would have fully trained staff to care for the children. Alaa is also dreaming about building a school near the Paradise of Ernesto: “The school would be for the children from the orphan home and also free for other young children in the area. The school would have fully trained teachers who would give the children a basic education and also vocational skills. All teaching would be integrated with pet therapy. I hope that one day these children will be able to lead in the rebuilding of Syria.”
Photo credit: Facebook group of Il Gattaro d’Aleppo
Building a hospice for the disabled near the Paradise of Ernesto is Alaa’s another plan. “The hospice will have a fully trained staff of caretakers. I have seen that those who are disabled also gain great benefit from pet therapy and obtain joy by associating with young children,” he added.
I asked him about the situation in Aleppo now and if he is hopeful for the future. “Of course, the war continues,” he said, but Alaa is always hopeful and he will never give up. He believes that one day there will be peace again in Syria and his country will be rebuilt. Alessandra added: “This is his dream and my dream and also the dream of all of the members of our group. And, as I said, so many of Alaa’s dreams seem to come true. These are Alaa’s words that guide us: Someone who has mercy in their hearts for people has mercy for every living thing.”
A YOUNG VIOLINIST BECOMING HOPE FOR ALEPPO’S CHILDREN AND ANIMALS
Alaa’s projects could only be realized thanks to his encounter with Alessandra Abidin. I asked Alessandra her side of the story and how she started collaborating with Alaa, she told me: “At the end of 2015, after I saw a news story about Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel (Alaa) feeding abandoned cats in East Aleppo, and because I speak Arabic, as an animal lover I contacted Alaa to ask how I could help him. After that contact, I started the Facebook group, Il Gattaro D’Aleppo (The Cat Man of Aleppo) and we began to raise donations for Alaa. Thanks to the generosity of the first members of the group, Alaa was able to open his East Aleppo cat refuge called ‘The House of Ernesto’ named after my beloved cat, Ernesto.”