Hope as a practice: Creating it with others by Jocelyn Avigad, Zohreh Rahimi and Jane Fisher of Freedom from Torture
An edited version of this report appears in the current Context magazine.
Standing at the conference reception scanning the timetable, deciding which events to attend, I was attracted by the word “hope” and was rewarded by a powerful and stimulating workshop.
At the heart of it were extracts from a DVD made with service users of Freedom from Torture answering four questions:
What is the word for hope in your culture?
What does hope mean in your culture?
Who or what is the controller of hope in your culture?
Was there a time when hope nearly died, what kept it alive?
We heard from a group of Albanian women, a couple from Bolivia, a family from Cameroon and another African man.
These excerpts were deeply moving, thoughtful and illuminating. They demonstrated both the enormous resilience of human beings in extreme adversity and the power of hope. The opportunity of hearing these voices was in itself one of the highlights of the conference for me.
One of the Albanian women said: “we are allowed to think of the dream”, the word “allowed” seemed to me to be echoed by the idea that: “the regime was controlling our hope”.
The Bolivian man said: “in my heart it’s light in a dark room” and saw women as “the strong root and trunk” which enables hope. His partner said that when she was younger hope was controlled by: “school, my family but after that my family, my husband”
They both talked about their son and how their love for him and his for them was the thing which had kept hope alive when it nearly died.
The Cameroonian family talked about God and also about particular ceremonies in their culture bringing the community together to share bread and reflect on proverbs from their ancestors: “the person will be lifted up, filled with energy”
The African man also talked about God and his parents and that he thought of hope in five languages.
The workshop also included thoughts from the presenters on how hope is nurtured in different cultures, that sometimes hope can be almost seen as disloyal to those who did not survive. We also heard about one of the presenters returning to South Africa from voluntary exile and witnessing hope made real when she saw a black girl wearing the uniform of her old whites’ only school.
There were opportunities to talk about our personal and professional relationship with hope. These parts of the workshop were also moving, reminding us that difficulty and distress comes into all our lives.
I was struck by the calm way in which the people in the DVD reflected on their relationship to hope, a witness both to their strength and also to the power of the therapeutic context. As one of Cameroonian family said “I cannot talk about hope without talking of desperation”
I was also left wondering about culture and politics. It seemed as if the Albanian women had struggled most to name and find hope and saw the regime, and the war the regime had launched, as the controllers of hope.
For others hope was controlled by family, community and god and I can easily see that it may be easier to find hope in those places than in “the regime”.
The final contributor on the DVD said “Therapy has strengthened my belief and power to work in my direction” – deeply comforting and hopeful for a room full of therapists.