There was hope in the air

“Find your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground underfoot.
The world is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them”.

Extract from: A poem on hope by Wendell Berry

I have been troubled by the bareness of winter and the harshness of reality for women in this month. The feeling is as if the sun has been struggling to harness itself onto the earth and let new things grow. I arrived at work on Tuesday and there was hope in the air.

On Tuesday, the Jesuit Refugee Service, South Africa, celebrated the graduation of 152 women from its skills training program. Refugee and South African women came adorned in their best outfits and their faces glowing with pride. The class of 2020 graduated in a year stalled and disrupted by COVID-19 and ongoing changes to their training schedules. It involved attempting to stay on top of their training while facing the harsh realities of COVID-19 and being a woman and a refugee in South Africa.

Many refugee women in the skills program have come to South Africa to seek safety and a more hopeful life for themselves. Their expectations usually outweigh the brutal reality they are faced with. The skills training equips women in nails, hair, beauty therapy and massage. They are also put into savings groups so that they can start small enterprises during and at the end of the training.

Two of the women shared with me:

“Personally, this is a big achievement. As a woman, I can stand by myself now. For me, this has given me wings to fly. I am going somewhere today. I am celebrating myself.”

“COVID-19 could go on for five years, and you realise you haven’t done anything in this time. But we have got something. We are here doing something for ourselves.”

For a moment on Tuesday, there was a sense of excitement and achievement as women celebrated this milestone. Despite the uncertainty and unending nature of despair in this time, I stood amongst the cheers of celebration. I realised that there had been hope here this whole time. I just wasn’t looking.

I encourage you to look for the hope under your foot, hiding. Look up. Look around and notice. Is there something that has happened or you have witnessed that gives you a sense of continued hope.  Take a moment to be quiet, to glimpse hope in the day that has passed or that which dawns.

Abigail Dawson

Abigail Dawson holds a Masters in Development Studies, Sociology, from the University of Witwatersrand. Her activist and academic interests have focused on migration in a South African context. She is a qualified social worker and has provided counselling for migrant women and children. She hopes to bring change to the current public and global narrative on migration through effective and creative communication, networking and advocacy to ensure equitable communities for all people living in South Africa.
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