Hope Project: Putting yourself in a position that changes your perspective, awakens your gratitude and offers hope to the less fortunate, was exactly what Travelee’s present project involved. Volunteering is a great way of achieving this, so through an organisation called IVI, off I went to a women and children’s shelter in Fiji.
My mission was to see what kept these women pushing forward despite going through life’s toughest hardships. I had one question for them. What do you hope for?
Each day I went from hut to hut, sat on the floor with them and gained an insight into their lives. As my compassion and empathetic nature went into full swing, I soon realized that this project was going to cut to the core of who I am and was going to change my perspective dramatically. And that it did.
Meet beautiful Mili. She is an 80 year old widow and the longest resident in the Shelter. With tears in her eyes, Mili told me her story. She was forced to live at the shelter 20 years ago after the death of her husband and one of her children; when they found her she was homeless, struck by grief and had no money or belongings.
I asked Mili “What do you hope for?” She replied: “I want a place to call home so I can live out the rest all my days in peace”. Each month Mili receives a bare minimum welfare which leaves her with hardly anything to live after all her expenses have been paid. Although she can’t see a way out of her poverty, her hope is what keeps her grasping at survival.
After leaving Mili, she insisted on weaving me a big mat to take home to Australia. She gave me the biggest kiss you could ever imagine and said thank you. I could see my visit had increased her hope for a better life.
The best classroom in the world was to be in the presence of this elderly lady Monika.
Monika is illiterate, owns nothing and doesn’t know how old she is. Her story touched my heart. Her husband and only son died 20 years ago and soon after, unaware of what she was doing, her family made her stick her thumbs in ink (because she was illiterate) and thumbprint papers that allowed them access to all of her belongings.
Mili had just unintentionally given away everything she owned, after which her family abandoned her in the streets where she was found begging and starving and was forced to go to the women’s shelter where she has been since.
God is her best friend and although she has nothing, she assures me God is all she needs. She can’t do much anymore because she has swollen legs and health problems, so she just prays all day whilst stroking her crucifix beads. She is very grateful despite her unpleasant life circumstances.
When I asked Mili what she hoped for she said: “My days are numbered, but I hope for support, I want people to visit me in my room so I can tell them how good God is”.
Monika humbled me, scared me and inspired me. I left her company with the biggest dose of life gratitude and a new hope – that one day like Monika, I will have faith to move mountains.
Karalaini is a 50 year old, disabled single-mum, at the shelter. She has been living in those four walls for the past 11 years after her husband left her homeless with 2 young boys.
When I sat down to talk to her, I could see she had health problems. When I asked her about it, she told me she had a tumor the size of a clenched fist in her stomach (possibly cancer), she is going partly blind because of cataracts growing on her eyes, and she can’t walk properly because of bad knees. Because of this she can’t work so she is on a very small amount of welfare that isn’t enough to pay for her operations or to look after her boys’ education. Instead of asking me for money to help her, she asked me if I could send her story-books that she could read to her boys.
Dazzled by her situation I asked her what she hoped for, she answered: “I just want to live a long time so I can look after my boys and see them grow up”.
Like in a lioness, I could see the determination in Karalaini’s eyes to keep pushing forward and provide the best life possible for her boys. I could feel Karalaini was special, she had willpower and was never going to give up despite very bad health.
Mariam’s story haunted me for a few days after meeting with her.
Mariam is 29 years old. She is a single-mum of 3 boys and was a victim of domestic violence for years. She was so badly beaten-up by her husband when she was pregnant that one of her sons was born disabled and another with learning difficulties. After a final vicious beating of her and her kids where they were left with bleeding, swelling and bruises, there was no denying domestic violence any longer. Her husband was charged and put in jail. Despite this, all four live in absolute fear. They all have scars on their bodies and minds from the violence. Mariam has nothing and can’t work because she is deeply depressed and incapacitated by it. You can see in her eyes the pain she has endured. She feels she’s alone in the world for her family doesn’t support or visit her. When I asked her what keeps her going and what she hoped for, she answered: “Love”, something no human should be deprived of in my opinion. ?
Now it might seem like a hopeless situation but one day, I assured her, her story will become a breathtaking mosaic of the battles she’s has fought and won.
The last story was very close to my heart and during the story telling, it was hard for me to stay detached from the emotions that it aroused in me.
Kelera is 39 years old, has 3 children and was struck with post-natal depression after the birth of her first child. She had two more children but her husband abandoned her because he couldn’t cope with her depression. Kelera was deeply depressed, homeless and owned nothing. Imagine on top of this having three children to look after in the streets. This was a situation that nightmares are made of. At her absolute worse, she was found and taken to the shelter where she was seen by a doctor and was put on medication to help her with her depression.
Since that day she has been living with the dark cloud of depression, which, she says, the people of Fiji don’t understand and therefore she gets no support for it.
With only one life to live, I couldn’t quite fathom Kelera suffering from depression for that long but perhaps by now she doesn’t know any better, so when I asked her what she hopes for, she gave me a simple answer with not a so simple solution: “To be rid of my depression”.
Having lived and breathed depression myself and escaped it somewhat unscathed, I gave her the only advice I knew how: “Kelera, you are on a very special spiritual journey called depression. To heal, you need to accept the journey and the bad circumstances you find yourself in. You have to forgive the people in your past, understand what depression is, and find purpose in life, even in the smallest of things, like smiling at a stranger for instance”. Kelera looked at me with a blank stare and I could tell that living with depression for 17 years had made her numb and empty. Somehow, her story poured fuel into my desire to help women like her and it reminded me that depression is a nasty soul destroyer that you need to befriend in order to heal – an unnatural relationship to try to nurture even in the best of cases. I was able to give her some hope by telling her she will be getting better and that to help in her recovery, I will be sending her my book “Out of the Ashes” once it is released.
A few more Ladies
Below are a few more women from the shelter that I got to spend time with. They all have incredible stories of hardships and survival and when you look at their photos I ask you say a little prayer in your heart that hope may come alive in them and that they may find peace during the storms they face.
Grandma Tulia 65 and Granddaughter Mela 12
Lanieta, 60, single mum
Unaisi, 17, Granddaughter of Lanieta
Nanise, 49, Single mum
Mereia, 47, single mum
What I have seen, heard, heart-felt and holistically experienced in those two weeks in Fiji has prompted some real changes within me. I have learnt that being around those amazing women was the best teacher to spit-polish my soul and that without hope, raw survival is the only option we all have.
I feel braver after this experience. It reminded me that the world gives you pain not to hurt you, but to make use of it. Now I believe that the core of the world’s pain is caused not by poverty alone but by a lack of hope. What is my hope? It is to eradicate hopelessness in the small parts of the world where I leave my footprints.
If you share the same hope and want to change lives and change yours in the process, volunteering abroad is the most adventurous, moving and surreal experience you will ever have. You will return home with gratitude swirling in the depths of your soul and forever changed.
Get excited – get in contact with our new partners IVI here They have a huge range of projects and destinations to choose from and all moneys raised go back into those projects.
If you want to know more, want to help, or make a difference in other ways, get in contact with me via my email firstname.lastname@example.org