Asha (hope)

On the wall of Jane Austen’s house in the village of Chawton in Hampshire there is a quotation from Sense and Sensibility:

“I was filled with that anticipation of happiness that is happiness itself.”

I remembered that quotation recently while listening to Kirin Martin talking about Asha, a world-leading NGO. The occasion was the University of Melbourne graduation of Mahinder, a remarkable young man from one of the settlements in which Kirin works.

The Asha organisation that Kirin established has transformed the lives of some of the poorest people in Delhi. Kirin described the dramatic improvements in infant mortality, school enrolment, health care, and infrastructure that Asha has achieved.

Kirin emphasised the role that young volunteers had played in this transformation. Young people who have benefited from Asha’s work are in turn acting as role models, motivators, and guides for the next generation – including Mahinder himself. They are running health programs, tutoring children, and assisting their peers. Asha means hope in Hindi.

Listening to Kirin, I was also reminded of the young people with whom Jane Dyson and I work in Uttarakhand. Many youth in the Uttarkhandi village of Bemni have encouraged villagers to become involved in microcredit schemes, improved local schools, and repaired village infrastructure.

These young people in the Himalayas of India emphasise the component parts of hope: the ability to envision a distant future (foresight), plot goals in relation to that future (planning), and remain convinced at some level that those goals will be met (optimism).

It is not just a question of hope springs eternal. I am struck by the intellectual and emotional work on the part of organisations like Asha and young people in Bemni. Hope, like happiness, is a process not a quality.