THE BLOG

Hope - Little Word; Big Aspirations

23/10/2015 16:04 BST | Updated 22/10/2016 10:12 BST

Are you travelling hopefully or hopelessly? Is your idea of hope getting a seat on the train home or securing a loan?

Hope is a very small word with a very big remit of possibilities. For everyone, everywhere it means something different and that 'different' can change every minute of every day.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary - hope is a noun - "a feeling of expectation and a desire for a particular thing to happen." In the Cambridge Dictionary online it's a verb, meaning to "want something to happen or to be true and have good reason to think that it might."

But for the charity I work for, Send a Cow, hope has a very specific meaning. It's about helping people in Africa, who are living in extreme poverty, to realise that with the right support they can find the hope within themselves to change their future.

That's why we have called our latest fundraising campaign Planting Hope, and it's already had an amazing boost from the UK government which is match funding every pound we raise between 1 October and 31 December 2015.

But thinking about hope and the hopelessness so many people experience, I realise that living without hope has to be one of the most destructive feelings in the world. The longer it goes on the more paralysed people can become.

Just how hopeless do you have to be to place your child in the hands of strangers in the hope that as a migrant they will find a secure future in a land far from home? Just how desperately hopeless do you have to feel when your neighbour is able to support their family right alongside you, but you can't see how to do it yourself?

We recently witnessed this in Ethiopia where friends and neighbours Ammanuel and Abebe are leading sharply contrasting lives. Ammanuel says: "I'm thinking of going to work as a daily labourer in Addis Ababa or Zeway town. My land is not fertile, I have no hope for this land. I don't have hope here... know people around me are living better because they grow vegetables with the support of Send a Cow. My case is different because my soil structure is so soft that I cannot dig a well, like others, to water my garden."

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Yet his friend Abebe, just a few yards away, has a cow, a heifer, an ox which he shares with another farmer, three sheep and three chickens. He says: "Before I joined Send a Cow I was a daily labourer, working for better off farmers in the community and eating one meal a day of bread, potatoes, enset [false banana] and cabbage. Now I have a different story...my backyard is full of different vegetables. I have started getting income from sales of surplus vegetables and started saving against future shock."

Abebe is a good example of how smallholder farmers working with Send a Cow start to pull together as a group, and provide emotional and practical support in times of crisis. In fact our research shows that 55% of groups emerge from shocks stronger than before and 41% bounce back.

Send a Cow knows, from nearly 30 years' experience, that the very poorest people in Africa don't want to live their lives hopelessly. But we also know that the feeling of utter hopelessness is all too common on a continent plagued by natural disasters, political strife and conflict which makes the hope of brighter future all too unlikely; living day to day rather than have the luxury of hope for tomorrow.

But the word hope isn't just a wish, it's an aspiration so instead of letting hope float idly around us, we have to make it an active, doing word. For us, hope is a verb - a word synonymous with positive action. It's not enough to cross our fingers and hope good will come, expecting someone else to make it happen. We have to make hope a reality so everyone can benefit. Even though many of us can't physically deliver hope on a daily basis, we can support the people who are tackling hopelessness at its heart.

Donating to Planting Hope would be wonderful, especially as the value of your donation will be doubled by the UK government until New Year's Eve, but helping any of the myriad of charities bringing hope to those who need it has to be a great thing. Charities have been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons recently and the hope they deliver all too easily forgotten.

In a world of seemingly endless misery, we have the power to bring hope through our deeds and enable the hopeless to be hopeful. And that's a definition of "hope" I hope we can all sign up to.