Over the years of working with refugees from Burma, I have often wondered what their most important possession is. We have even made lists of the things that they bring with them as they flee the attacks of soldiers: a machete, cooking pot, tarp, lighter, rice and salt. All those things are essential for survival in the jungle. The same with medicine and warm blankets. These are possessions that give life.
People forced to run from their homes try to make sure that all these items are in the baskets on their backs, since they know they will depend on them in the days to come. But often the attacks are so sudden that they don’t have the time to gather even the basic essentials before fleeing. My organization, Partners Relief & Development, first and foremost tries to get help to people who have fled with nothing.
But there is something more important still: hope. Over and over I have talked with people who have lost everything — sometimes many times. They have seen loved ones killed. They have held their sick children in their arms when there was no medicine to even lower the fever. They have lived in the jungle, eating only what they can find. And yet they have smiled. They have not given up. They have made it back to their destroyed villages to rebuild them — again and again. What makes them do this?
I think that, along with a huge portion of resilience and courage, these people are able to continue their lives because they have hope. They hope for peace. They hope for a better future for their children. They hope for a chance to continue to live in their villages again. It is only when their hope is taken away that they truly have lost everything. I have met people who have lost this last part of themselves — their hope. These are the people who stop caring about getting out of bed in the morning, who stop taking showers, who stop trying to look nice and make their environment the best it can be. The ones who lose their hope are indeed lost.
But the ones who can hold on to it have a reason to continue living, no matter how harsh life is.
How easy it is to hope when things are going our way! When the stars align in our favor and fate is our friend. “I hope for nice weather,” we will say or, “I hope I can find a nice outfit for the right price.” “I hope I can go on a vacation.” It is easy to hope for a bright future, for good health and for prosperity in all the areas of life when the circumstances are in our favor.
But what if you lost everything? Would it still be easy to keep the flame of hope burning then?
From the displaced people of Burma I have learned that it is those times when you have lost everything that you need to embrace hope more than ever. Hope becomes the medicine that helps us survive.
I think we all need to hope for something, and that something needs to be outside ourselves.
We asked experts, authors and readers like you to share their stories of Hope. Every day for the next month, you’ll find new tips for optimism on Gaiam Life, the Stream of Consciousness blog and our social media sites: Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. And don’t miss GaiamTV.com’s Hope Film Festival, with FREE films all month long.