When I reflect on the meaning of hope my first thought is the Christian context of hope - that God is with us all the time. By having faith in Jesus when one dies, one has eternal life. That’s hope. Before one gets to the eternal part of life, I think hope is important in the living part of life. In countries like Australia we have an expectation, which goes beyond hope, that we will continue to have a good life. We take for granted where our next meal is coming from or being able to access medical care if our children are sick.

I believe many of the families Opportunity International Australia serves may not have very much hope because of the crippling poverty in which they live. However, when Opportunity gives them the tools to break the cycle of poverty, what strikes me most, is the ability it gives them to buy necessities for their children like shoes, pencils and books. Basic little things. It’s so important to the children’s education and growth. Or the ability to go to school at all. And it gives the families hope of a better future for their children.

India Opportunity International

BRINGING HOPE: Peter Cadwallader says through its micro-loans programs Opportunity International brings "immense hope" to families living in crippling poverty. PICTURE: Opportunity International Australia 

 

"Opportunity provides immense hope to the families it serves. Hope leads to self-respect. When I visited some of Opportunity’s loan recipients in India, I was moved by the huge lift in self-respect experienced by them. We know and almost take for granted, that the small loans help them build businesses and earn regular incomes. But until that point I hadn’t realised that Opportunity was being culturally and socially revolutionary."

Opportunity provides immense hope to the families it serves. Hope leads to self-respect. When I visited some of Opportunity’s loan recipients in India, I was moved by the huge lift in self-respect experienced by them. We know and almost take for granted, that the small loans help them build businesses and earn regular incomes. But until that point I hadn’t realised that Opportunity was being culturally and socially revolutionary. And that through this, the families Opportunity serves experience an abundance of hope.

What I mean by being culturally and socially revolutionary is demonstrated by a group of 20 women I visited in Chennai who were building businesses as a result of the small loans they received from Opportunity. The lead spokeswoman for the group recounted the story of how her village tap had broken and despite many requests for it to be fixed no-one had repaired it. So, these women got together and sat on the main intersection of the town to stop the traffic. They stayed there and said they were going to remain until someone fixed the tap. Sure enough, someone turned up almost immediately and the tap was repaired. This woman said she had never been listened to before and I thought what these women did was revolutionary for women in India who traditionally lack a voice.

Another story that illustrates my belief that Opportunity is bringing about revolutionary cultural change involves a group of loan recipients who formed a savings group to encourage one another to save small amounts from the profits of their little businesses. At the start of each loan group meeting, the women sang an Opportunity anthem, which they had composed themselves. It was amazing! The 20 women in the group stood up in a tiny room and sang their hearts out. It was immensely moving. After they sang the anthem they started their savings meeting. The first agenda item was to read out the savings balances of each woman. Everyone cheered and clapped as the savings balances were announced. We are talking about balances of 45 cents, 90 cents. So, in my view that is all part of what Opportunity offers to families living in poverty – the opportunity to earn regular incomes, purchase nutritious food, pay for their children’s education and save small amounts of money to provide them with back-up for emergencies such as illness.  And hope of a better future. Hope of being self-reliant. Hope of a future free from poverty.

Hope of a better future is a universal goal shared by families in developed and developing countries. A better future is not just material but it’s coupled with self-respect. It comes with achievement and providing for one’s self, which comes from helping your children to have a better life than you experienced. The women who protested about the broken tap and the women in the savings group reinforced each other, they were helping each other and not just financially. They gave each other immense hope! Hope of freeing themselves from poverty. Hope that their children will receive a good education and break the crippling cycle of inter-generational cycle of poverty.

Peter Cadwallader is executive chairman of the Intercontinental Shipping and Investment Group and an Opportunity International Australia council member.