Even though it happens every year, the arrival of autumn is always a little surprising. Almost as if on a switch, one day you feel it - a subtle crispness in the air and before you know it, it's hot-crossed everything everywhere. As kids, my sister and I used to long for Easter Sunday, because that was when all our cousins came around and we got to go on our annual Easter Egg hunt. The tradition involved being forced to stay in the lounge room, whilst sneaking peeks through the curtains as the grown-ups hid mini eggs all around the garden. The thrill was in the chase, but in the end, we made sure everyone ended up with roughly the same amount. It's a tradition that continues today, but sadly I've come to find that Easter eggs and what they represented to me as a kid, don't taste quite as sweet as they used to.
Traditionally, Easter has been a celebration of growth and freedom, of family and friends, and of new life. We have also come to love the indulgence in chocolate and the additional public holidays added to the calendar. However, there is no doubt that in the last year we have witnessed major shifts in the economic, political and environmental forces that shape the world as we know it. We are currently experienecing challenging and outdated attitudes about ourselves and our environment, and future generations will look back on this time as a turning point in human history - and not necessarily for good reasons.
But the last 12 months have also seen several positive shifts - giant pandas are no longer endangered, the inaugural AFL Women's league was announced, and Opportunity International Australia is now reaching 4.2 million families in Asia. I have been moved and amazed by the strength and power that these small wins have achieved and on reflection as Easter time approaches, they have been a timely reminder to me of the importance of hope.
"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things." - Andy du Fresne.
In a powerful scene of one of the my all-time favourite films, The Shawshank Redemption, Andy du Fresne explores the theme of hope with his friend Red. Andy was been imprisoned for murder and is serving two life sentences. During his time in prison, he faces a lot of hardship and a number of horrible situations. There are times when he experiences despair and depression, but it is hope that gives him the will to live and drives him to try to gain his freedom.
Andy's determination to escape is not just about the result of escaping from prison; it is equally about maintaining his self-worth through commitment to the pursuit of his freedom. I have witnessed a similar sense of determination and commitment with my own eyes in families living in poverty who are working hard to leave poverty behind. Not only are they changing the course of their future, they're doing it with dignity and purpose.
To me, there has been no better demonstration of hope than these individuals. As humans, when we find ourselves faced with difficult decisions or situations out of our control, it can be hard to avoid the feeling of hopelessness. I have no doubt that families trapped in the cycle of poverty have experienced similar emotions. These are families who have been through situations I can't even imagine. Some have lost loved ones, many can't afford to send their kids to school and most are so poor they can't afford to feed their families one meal a day. However these are also families who have gained incredible strength from their hardship. They are families that look at what they still have and not what they have lost. They are the families that are still hopeful.
Hope is a belief that what we do might matter, an understanding that the future is not yet written. Hope looks forward and its presence gives us perspective and purpose for life. Many of the women that opportunity reaches with financial services, did not grow up in a world where they were given the chance to thrive. But they have resilience, and they have purpose and they have been given the chance to be hopeful. Through small loans, these families have been given the mental space to think about more than just scraping by. They have been given a reason to believe they deserve and can achieve a better life. And whilst their actions may only start to benefit their family during their lifetime, their children, and their children's futures provide reason enough for them to hope and fight for that new life.
So, as I am peeking through the curtains this weekend, trying to contain my hope and excitement for adventures to come, I'll also take a moment to think of those whose lives, through Opportunity, also peek through the curtains, in hope for a better life.