For the Love of Elephants… The Eyes of Thailand

For the Love of Elephants… The Eyes of Thailand

For the Love of Elephants… The Eyes of Thailand

The Eyes of Thailand

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile you know I have a special place in my heart for elephants, particularly after volunteering with them in Thailand. A powerful documentary on Asian elephants, The Eyes of Thailand, has its world premiere this Saturday 4/28 at the Newport Beach Film Festival (purchase tickets here).  

In this moving documentary, after losing their legs from stepping on landmines, two brave elephants are given a second chance to walk through the use of innovative prosthetics as a result of one courageous woman’s strength, determination and perseverance.

The film was directed and produced by award-winning filmmaker Windy Borman and produced by award-winning producer Tim VandeSteeg.

I had the opportunity to speak with the passionate and determined Windy Borman recently about how this documentary came about. Windy was in Thailand in 2007 on a different film project when she stumbled upon the hospital. Moved by the work they were doing there, by the founder of the hospital, Soraida Salwala, and by the untold story of the elephant survivors, the film was serendipitously set in motion.

Soraida Salwala’s love for elephants started at a young age. When she was 8-years old she saw an injured elephant lying on the side of the road after a truck hit it. As her family drove past, they heard a gunshot. Soraida asked her father what happened. He told her, “Uncle Elephant is in heaven now.” Young Soraida asked “But if he was dying, why couldn’t he go to the hospital?” 

In 1993, Soraida opened the world’s first Asian Elephant Hospital, operated by Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE). FAE is a 200-acre facility that includes elephant infirmaries, an operating area, and a nursery for baby elephants. After treating everything from knife and gunshot wounds to car accidents, they faced their biggest challenge the first time they received an elephant who had stepped on a landmine.

Motala

The Eyes of Thailand

This 50-year old Asian Elephant stepped on a landmine in 1999 while she and
her mahout (owner) were logging along the Burmese border. She walked for 3 days
on her severely injured leg to arrive at the Asian Elephant Hospital.
After 10 years of surgery and rehabilitation she received her first prosthetic
limb built by a human orthopedist in August 2009. 

Mosha

The Eyes of Thailand

Mosha stepped on a landmine in 2006 when she was just 7-months old.
Her young age helped her heal quickly and in June 2008 she received her first prosthetic limb.
She needs to receive a new prosthetic every six months because of how quickly she’s growing.
Mosha’s sassy personality and quirky antics quickly stole director Windy Borman’s heart. 

Soraida said she fights for these elephants against all odds because “the elephants cannot fight, they cannot speak, so I am speaking on their behalf.” Soraida herself lives with several debilitating illnesses and walks with a cane so she knows what it means to suffer in this way.

As Motala received her first prosthetic leg, 10 years after she stepped on a landmine, Soraida said to Windy “Some people say we wasted our time, to save just one life. But to me, no. It’s been 10 years and every second of it has been so valuable.”

As tears fill her eyes she says “I don’t want any elephant to be hurt. I’d rather have an elephant hospital without any patients. I hope that day will come.” 

The Eyes of Thailand Trailer

The Eyes of Thailand was awarded the prestigious ACE Film Grant from the Humane Society of the United States, who said “The Eyes of Thailand is an inspiring and unique documentary that will open up hearts and minds about the amazing veterinary work being performed at the Asian Elephant Hospital.”

Windy Borman hopes that The Eyes of Thailand will not only highlight the plight of Asian elephants and the wonderful work being done at the elephant hospital, but also encourage countries to sign the Mine Ban Treaty requiring the removal of all land mines, the destruction of stock piles, and the end of landmine trading. Actress Ashley Judd lent her voice in the narration of the film to help make these goals a reality.

Lessons from the Eyes of Thailand

Soraida Salwala shows what one woman can do in the face of insurmountable obstacles. As Windy Burman said to me during our chat, “Soraida’s determination was a personal lesson on perseverance and sacrifice… I looked at my own life and asked, what am I willing to dedicate my life to? What do I think is impossible that’s actually possible?” 

Well Windy applied that lesson and did the impossible in the creation of this film. She served as the director, producer, writer, camera woman, fundraiser, grant writer, and more to make this film a reality (eventually gaining a team along the way).

Windy and Soraida both prove that when you really set your mind to something, nothing can stop you.

Actions You Can Take to Help The Eyes of Thailand

1. Purchase tickets for the world premier event this Saturday 4/28 at the Newport Beach Film Festival - PURCHASE HERE

2. Join their newsletter so you can find out when a screening of the film is coming to your neighborhood. Click here to sign up.

3. Social Media: Join their Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/eyesofthailand and follow them on Twitter at www.twitter.com/eyesofthailand  

4. Help spread the word! 

Sample Tweets:

10 years. 2 souls. 1 amazing feat. Witness @SoraidaSalwala & Motala’s journey in the powerful @eyesofthailand film http://ht.ly/6kJKc

World’s first #elephant hospital. World’s first elephant #prosthesis. A story of love and passion http://ht.ly/6kJQs

Sample Facebook Posts: 

Save the Asian Elephants. Help us bring their plight to light. @The Eyes of Thailand  www.eyesofthailand.com

Wow! Just watched “The Eyes of Thailand” trailer. It’s truly inspirational. @The Eyes of Thailand  www.eyesofthailand.com

10 Years. Two Souls. One Amazing Feat.  

The Eyes of Thailand

Mosha using the world’s first elephant prosthesis

The Eyes of Thailand

Motala with her prosthetic – the world’s largest prosthesis

The Eyes of Thailand

Motala getting fitted for her prothesis

The Eyes of Thailand

The Eyes of Thailand

The Eyes of Thailand

Motala taking her first steps on the prothesis on the tenth anniversary of her landmine accident

The Eyes of Thailand Soraida Salwala & Motala
Copyright: Julia Ferdinand

The Eyes of Thailand Soraida Salwala & Motala
Copyright: Julia Ferdinand

 All photos courtesy of The Eyes of Thailand 

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9 Responses to For the Love of Elephants… The Eyes of Thailand

  1. MollyG says:

    Beautiful and Sad. I’m crying at my desk! You always know how to get me, Liz!

  2. David Bernazani says:

    Liz- do they have a similar volunteer program that the ENP does? Is it possible to visit and maybe volunteer at this hospital?

    • Liz says:

      Hi Dave, I just sent them an email to see if they accept short term volunteers. I’ll check with Windy as well. I don’t see anything about volunteers on their website but maybe they have a more informal process than ENP. Will get back to you once I get more info!

  3. David Bernazani says:

    Ok, thanks Liz!

  4. Talene says:

    Wow, what an amazing story. I can’t wait until the film comes to NY. It really does highlight the fact that nothing is impossible. Thanks for sharing! P.S. Not surprising, but I’ve always had a secret “crush” on elephants…I am just fascinated by them :-)

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