Honoring the Process: What Progress Looks Like

When elephants first arrive at sanctuary, it is easy for humans to slip into a fairytale ideal of what we want their new life to look like. As much as we’d like for elephants to run out of their crates, embrace the outdoors, and make friends right away, not only is it unrealistic, but it also diminishes what an individual’s life has been like prior to sanctuary. With Pocha having known little and Guillermina knowing nothing of the world outside their concrete enclosure, it is important to honor any needs each of them might have as they move forward on their healing journey. True sanctuary with autonomy recognizes what has come before. Sanctuary heals: that’s not just a catch phrase. But it doesn’t always look the way we might want in our own minds. 

During a recent EleFact Friday, we talked about Pocha and Guillermina needing a “safe space” to go to in moments of uncertainty. Because Pocha and Guille have access to other areas outside of the elephant treatment barn, they have freedom to explore larger spaces. But, if they need to return to the barn for comfort, that is okay; we must recognize that the two will not heal overnight. They often return for short moments, which seem to be enough for them to feel renewed in their confidence. At this point in their journey, the gates will remain open. 

It’s also important to remember that healing isn’t linear. The idea of taking baby steps forward every day is a comforting one, but sometimes an individual steps forward, then steps back, then decides to go in a direction no one could have anticipated. Whatever Pocha and Guillermina’s paths take, we need to be supportive of what healing looks like for them; they need to be allowed to choose and experience things at a rate that makes them comfortable. That doesn’t mean that we don’t encourage them to expand their comfort zones – as you’ve seen when they were introduced to some of the other elephants, or when they shared time with Rana at the mud wallow. But their comfort is essential to the process, since natural curiosity and emotional growth are keys to overall health. 

We must also remember that, though the two elephants are mother and daughter, they are also individuals who are healing at different rates and in different ways. Each has her own comfort level for the amount of interaction or exploration she wants to embrace on a certain day. That makes for a delicate compromise, weighing the importance of each moment and how it will impact one elephant differently than the other. Pocha seems more comfortable interacting with some of the other elephants, and appears to want to explore new areas more quickly than Guillermina; but we still have to take into consideration that Guille may not be ready to expand her horizons as quickly as her mother, and we let the two of them make some of those decisions together. 

Ultimately, what Pocha and Guillermina need is not always going to be the same as what we want for them in a given moment. Until now, their entire lives have been about the wants of others and have been subject to people’s expectations. Although it can be incredibly difficult to not have ideas that things will happen in one particular way, our personal longings for them to wander and go farther is another one of those unfair expectations that they shouldn’t have to bear. By stepping away from our own desires, we can make sure they have the space to learn about the new world they live in. We can never dismiss the decades spent in an underground concrete pit. Assigning the two a timeline disregards the trauma they faced and must continue to work through each day. And entering into this relationship with no expectations always means that each step leaves us impressed with their resilience and ability to flourish after decades with no room for growth. 

In this video, you can see Pocha and Guillermina hesitantly approaching Yard 4 – stepping in for a few seconds, then out again. It’s just another short moment of progress to be celebrated.


  1. REPLY
    Patricia Richardson says

    So wonderful! Thank you for a beautifully written narrative of what is happening in these moments for Pocha and Guilleramina in their new sanctuary life! My heart swells from both reading an watching! Thank you!

  2. REPLY
    Alejandra Enquin says

    Lo mas importante es que ellas se sientan bien a su modo a su tiempo 🙌❤️❤️🐘🐘por sueete porvprimera vez en la Vida las respetan!! Gracias Santuario

  3. REPLY
    Sherry says

    A brand new world!!!!

  4. REPLY
    Nicole says

    Very well said! Thank you for reminding us all that this is a sanctuary – a place where healing and growth happens at their pace not ours.

  5. REPLY
    Katherine says

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. All too easy for us too project our own desires onto the elephants. Time, space and making their own choices will ultimately yield positive benefits for both of them

  6. REPLY
    Kayle says

    Such a heartfelt commentary and absolutely inspiring video. Thank you so very much!

  7. REPLY
    Cathe Cracknell says

    They are such brave girls! I can’t imagine what goes thru their minds as they explore their new home. They have had so much to deal with since they left the pit….so much new and exciting sounds and smells. I love and am very proud of them! Thank you to all of GSE for rescuing elephants and making their lives happier and brighter! You are all truly angels!

  8. REPLY
    Wim says

    Strong and important story. They are just like us.

  9. REPLY
    Nancy says

    I hope people aren’t being negative about the girls care and progress. You are the experts and by other five girls at ESB, you do an amazing job. I think the girls are doing unbelievably well. I can’t imagine how scary it was to go from the small concrete environment to this brand new world. I love watching them walk and imagine how good the earth feels on their feet. Thanks for sharing daily about all the girls.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      We just think it’s important for people to have reasonable expectations. It’s natural to get excited, but in the end it’s not about us.

  10. REPLY
    Kelejan says

    I an happy that they have each other. Do you think it would have been harder if they did not have each other?

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      It’s impossible to know how they would have reacted. But it’s positive that they have a support system. Who knows how they will grow and change with time?

  11. REPLY
    Tammy says

    Amen 🙏

  12. REPLY
    Kelejan says

    Thank you for you superquick response. You are all so amazing the way you look after your supporters as well. You never belittle us.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Thank you. We are always learning, too – as are Pocha and Guillermina!

  13. REPLY
    Pam says

    Thank you for this wonderful article! Whatever P&G need, that’s the most important, far beyond any human agenda or timelines. So grateful to everyone at ESB, for your sensitivity and elephant knowledge, and your commitment to these girls.

  14. REPLY
    Pat says

    Happy to hear your loving care for these two girls, I love watching your videos and seeing them, adjust to a beautiful new life. God bless all, for your unending work , and love.

  15. REPLY
    Bonnie says

    Everything is so new to them

  16. REPLY
    Lila says

    This post is so moving, so wise and sensitive. Thank you!

  17. REPLY
    Terry says

    I just so love and honor their courage! I love them both so…❤️❤️

  18. REPLY
    John says

    It’s such a beautiful story – the transformation of these two wonderful and amazing creatures. Thanks for sharing each step, literally, with us. I feel blessed.

  19. REPLY
    Lynne Russert says

    From where these girls have come from & gone thru, they’ve come a long way in a relatively short time. I applaud their bravery & tenacity to strive ahead & do it at their own comfortable pace. They are rock stars!!!!❤❤

  20. REPLY
    Marcia says

    At any point in time did Guillermina ever react with wide-eyed amazement that she could see a horizon? I heard them making a lot of noise the night they arrived at Sanctuary, but somehow my expectations included Guillermina jumping up and down with wonder when she finally realized what “earth” looked like. Your videos and descriptions have been wonderful, but can anyone please take a moment to explain in more detail how the two each reacted when they saw open space for the first time? Thank you.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Neither elephant has had a reaction quite as dramatic as that. Both clearly seemed to enjoy dusting themselves when they both arrived, and they still do quite a bit. But Pocha and Guillermina didn’t really know to look up and out for a long time, though they are getting better at it. Years in the concrete pit had taught them not to expect anything new. They seem to approach all new things – new sights, smells, sensations, open space – very carefully, but with curiosity. They increasingly want to know more, but aren’t ready to throw all caution to the wind.

  21. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman-Eaton says

    We have to remember it is a new world to them every day. It is so easy to expect too much of them too soon because we want so much for them. To them it is most likely a giant, courageous step, and to us it may look like a baby step. So very proud of Pocha and Guillermina. So very proud. Thank you GSE

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