My Sheep Story connects with local students

Terry Nichols takes her My Sheep Dog Story on the road to local schools

Terry Nichols

Terry Nichols book My Sheep Story is being well received in schools across Quesnel. Terry has been invited by dozens of classroom teachers to present her book and assist students to understand the story behind the pictures and the words.

My Sheep Story tells the tale of a flock of sheep who contentedly graze in their lush, protected pasture, never giving a thought to who is protecting them. Just beyond that pasture are dark and dangerous woods filled with vicious wolves ready to attack forest animals.

The faithful, loyal and brave sheep dogs willingly leave the safety of the pasture to battle the wolves to keep the forest animals and the sheep safe.

Terry begins her power point presentation by talking about her husband Paul, a contemporary veteran who found transitioning to civilian life difficult. With Terry at his side, they faced the challenge however, Paul was keenly aware of veterans who are still struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological effects of their service including transitioning back to civilian life, often with acute failures along the way.

She talks about how they searched for a way they could help and finally developed the Communities for Veterans Foundation: Ride Across Canada where they spent a year raising awareness of the plight of contemporary veterans seeking those veterans across the country to participate through riding a horse through their community (Terry taught the basics of horsemanship prior to the veterans riding if they needed it and Paul rode his horse Zoey along side local veterans for the majority of the cross-country journey). They have developed a program of equine therapy which they offer to veterans at their ranch south of Kersley.

She then went on to explain how the book came about and all that she had to learn to make the project a reality.

As the story unfolded and the students see the images, Terry spends time discussing the symbolism. This includes the big-hearted sheepdogs who willingly leave the pasture to not only protect their beloved sheep but also the other forest animals threatened by the wolves.

Terry depended on Paul’s input in her depiction of the sheepdogs, not only what they did but even down to military formation which every sheepdog would have adhered to. The sheepdogs are also depicted in every size, shape and colour. There are even retired sheepdogs who remain with the flock. The sheepdogs, like the veterans, form a brotherhood through their shared experiences but this is often fragmented as they each return to their communities.

Perhaps the most powerful message in the book relates to when the sheepdogs return home from their battles with the wolves. They have lived and some have died in unrelenting danger, always on alert, ready to battle. The sheepdogs are proud of their service to the flock, but they look different than when they left and they behave different. Often the sheep just want everything to return to what it was before they left. Many were unable to speak of their experience and some who did, were rebuffed by those they confided in. Terry spoke of some of the conditions the sheepdogs endured during their tour of duty and the pain and suffering they witnessed to give the students an idea of why the sheepdogs were so changed by their experience.

The book also addresses how civilians at home can help the contemporary vets (sheepdogs) with understanding, appreciation and patience.

At each presentation, Terry is amazed at the students responses and their willingness to help these brave sheepdogs back home.

“They dig deep to understand and they do,” Terry said.

Sarah Guest, Kersley elementary Grade 5/6/7 teacher said her students are exploring the concepts of global conflict and resolution in Social Studies this term, so Terry’s book added another dimension to our learning.

She added it helped dispel some misconceptions about veterans such as they are all elderly or after serving abroad, everything goes back to normal for veterans.

“It reinforced the idea that Canada’s Armed Forces are voluntary and those men and women make a selfless choice to serve their country during peace-keeping and combat missions,” she said.

“On these deployments they don’t just leave their experience there, but after returning, a personal battle often can reside within our veterans who return to their communities and day-to-day life, often to little fanfare or public understanding of how these traumatic events may have affected them.”

After presenting at Guest’s Grade 6/7 class in Kersley, students were inspired to take action. They are preparing letters to be sent to contemporary veterans to say thank you and show their appreciation.

“Our intention is to honour their experience by showing our understanding of what we believe life was like for Armed Forces during and after deployment,” Guest said.

“Most importantly the message is we are trying to understand you are not forgotten after Remembrance Day.”

However, as was made evident on the Ride Across Canada, contemporary veterans are sometimes difficult to find. They could be your neighbour, your co-worker or a person you see at the mailbox and Communities for Veterans Foundation (CVF) would like to connect these students with contemporary veterans.

If you are a contemporary veteran or know of one, contact Karen Powell, volunteer with CFV, horseskep@hotmail.com or call 250-992-9757 or email Sarah Guest@sd28.bc.ca.

With the initial success of her presentations, Terry is optimistic they can develop a downloadable resource for discussion in conjunction with the book, so teachers and other community members can present the book and all its concepts.

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