DASSY is proud to be a sponsor of Athletes for Hope again in 2023. At the end of last year, the marketing team visited the AFH rehabilitation meadow in Wuustwezel. From the moment they walked through the inviting entrance, they felt like they were in an oasis of peace. Despite the constant rain, it was a glorious day. Surrounded by miniature horses and donkeys, volunteer Jan Ruts told them all about this heart-warming project.
Jan Ruts works at the AFH rehabilitation meadow on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He does this alongside his job as a supervisor for people with mental disabilities at a day centre in Antwerp.
Jan: ‘The rehabilitation meadow has been up and running for nearly two years now. Young and old people alike come here for physical or mental rehabilitation. We also welcome pupils from special education schools. It’s the perfect place for them to rest their minds. The hustle and bustle of the classroom can often be very overwhelming for them. Here they really enjoy looking after the animals and being outdoors.’
Rehabilitation in a unique setting
Jan: ‘We fund the rehabilitation meadow with proceeds from the Athletes for Hope programme. Marc coaches young athletes in cyclo-cross, road cycling, BMX and triathlon. If they win, they receive a tidy amount of prize money – which they choose to put in a piggybank. One of the things we have done with this money is buy an Innowalk Pro for the rehabilitation meadow. This cross-fit trainer makes a stepping motion that helps stimulate the circulation in children with spinal cord injuries or muscle diseases. It also has other benefits: it helps to strengthen muscles, maintain muscle flexibility and increase children’s energy levels. Pictured here is Stan enjoying his first experience on the Innowalk, accompanied by Lotte. In the future, we would also like to buy a walking robot for children. Hopefully, we will soon be able to see lots of smiling kids walking along the path in the middle of the meadow with the help of the robot.’
Self-development and personal fulfilment
Jan: ‘We do all kinds of things at the rehabilitation meadow. Together with our guests, we groom, brush and cuddle the animals. We also muck out the stables and make sure the meadow is well kept. There’s also space to take the horses for walks in the area. These walks help to build the children’s confidence. At first, they can be a bit scared of the animals, but here they learn to control them. This builds up their feeling of independence.’
Three questions for the founder, Marc Herremans
1. What makes the AFH rehabilitation meadow such a success?
‘Here you get to escape the hospital or rehabilitation centre for a while. You’re surrounded by animals and nature. The philosophy behind it all is to rehabilitate surrounded by nature and animals, to make the rehabilitation process more enjoyable. At the AFH rehabilitation meadow, you can relax with the therapeutic horses and donkeys. And it’s completely free. The possibilities are endless here. So come and enjoy it!’
2. What’s your favourite AFH rehabilitation meadow story?
‘A woman came to us with a boy. They hadn’t communicated in two years because the boy had become completely withdrawn. At one point, the woman started crying uncontrollably: for the first time in a long time, the boy had spoken. He said he wanted to have his photo taken with me and a horse. For me, that’s proof that the project is really making a difference.’
3. Can you tell us a fun fact about the AFH rehabilitation meadow?
‘Absolutely! Both Kirby and Spirit, two of our horses, are pregnant at the moment. We’re expecting two new foals in the spring. The pregnancies are going very well. All the children are really looking forward to new life on the meadow.’
Would you too like to experience the therapeutic benefits of the AFH rehabilitation meadow? Then be sure to pay a visit! Check out the website for more information.
P.S. Marc Herremans and his team are big fans of our Nordix. The jacket is designed to protect you from the elements – perfect for braving the cold and rain.