Atlantis, Western Cape is an area battered by social deprivation, with many young people in a poverty cycle turning to drugs and gangs. But some manage to rise above their circumstances – one of them being Joshua Swarts. The animal lover started a non-profit organisation called Horse Pals Atlantis to rescue horses – Swarts couldn’t stand to see injured or abused horses not receiving the care they needed. He told BizNews that religion and his passion to save horses helped him through addiction, as well as how young people in the area are benefitting. – Linda van Tilburg
Joshua Swarts on his love for horses:
I was a small boy when I felt a connection between myself and horses. 20 years later – when I moved to a new area – I realised I was in love with these animals. But the environment where the youth are growing up is a negative one. Many gangsters recruit them, for example. I decided I’m going to use the horses and children, to start the Horse Pals Atlantis.
On animal cruelty:
What I noticed is that there’s intentional and unintentional animal cruelty. A lot of children, for example, adore horses. But they didn’t have guidance on how to treat these beautiful animals. If they had the opportunity to be near a horse, they’d use sticks, for example, to make the horse move. It made me realise that I need to do something for the kids and for the horses – to save them from getting hurt, abused and going through that sort of cruelty. God told me to start this organisation so that I could help the youth and horses.
On his organisation, Horse Pals Atlantis:
The only place I can keep these horses is at a smallholding, so I can treat them and keep them safe. I started a petting zoo where I buy different kind of animals and invite the community to come and see them for some money. This allows me to feed the horses and pay for other expenses.
On his motivation for Horse Pals Atlantis:
Atlantis is surrounded with many areas that are overpowered with gang-related activities. In the last couple of years, I see the youth growing [up] – and the way they are growing is negatively. They fall into gangs. So many come out of good houses and they throw their lives doing and these things. Something needed to be done. I know there’s a bond between animals and people. That’s the other reason I started Horse Pals Atlantis – to teach the youth how to take care, how to be responsible and how to love. The main thing is to change their mindset from negative to positive.
On his past:
I was a drug addict for nine horrible years. I started [doing] drugs nine years ago – and it was the biggest downfall in my life. But I realised [that] sometimes God puts you on a path to make you a stronger and a better person.One day while I was sleeping in the bush – I was sleeping in the bush for a few months with nowhere to go – I realised [that] if I’m not going to do something drastic with my life, I’m going to die. I started to speak to God and said him, “if you give me another chance in life, I will do whatever you ask me to do.” That’s why I’m a strong believer. God helped me.