In this special, edited extract from Tim Costello’s new book, he writes that hope can be found in unexpected places.
Hope by Tim Costello
Hope is a powerful and transforming force – it’s the liberating change that happens when people are able to imagine and believe in a future. It’s the driving emotional strength that sits beneath resilience and purpose. From demoralised and marginalised people in Australian cities to rural communities in Africa, I have encountered people being touched by hope, often in times and circumstances that are totally unexpected.
A year or two ago, I drove five hours south of Addis Ababa into the Ethiopian highlands – the region where coffee was first cultivated 3,000 years ago. With me were two philanthropist friends, the Australian actors Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness, and together we began exploring this ancient settled landscape and meeting some of the local coffee growers.
The farmers here are poor and 90 per cent of the trees are gone – cut down for firewood, the only source of fuel and energy for cooking. Of course, it is the women who must collect the firewood and, because of the scarcity of trees, they are venturing further from home to find timber. Their long journeys exacerbate their risk of injury, rape and abduction. The farmers’ cottages have thatched roofs and no chimneys or windows.
On the trip down, we saw smoke leaching through the thatched roofs of the cottages. The fires that burn in the centre of the homes, providing light and heat for cooking, also give respiratory illnesses to the children inside.
World Vision had provided some of the farmers with a methane digester. A simple trap to be placed over the rubbish-and-manure pit, it captures the methane produced from the waste and then pipes it into the hut. Immediately the family is cooking on gas, eliminating the need to cut down trees and breathe in the smoke, and the women are no longer putting themselves at risk travelling huge distances to collect wood.
For a few hours, Hugh stripped down and toiled with a farmer called Ducale. They wheeled rubbish into his manure pit, patting it down with a spade as they did so. All of this was done by Hugh in his Gucci boots, mind. Ducale did not speak a word of English and had no idea who Hugh was.
I watched as later they sat having coffee together in Ducale’s hut holding hands, laughing and hugging – all without a word in common. Thanks to the methane digester, Ducale has opened a coffee shop in his hut and has become an energy exporter to the village. His income has skyrocketed, his children get to study by smokeless gaslight at night, and they are doing better at school.
As Hugh and Ducale sat and drank coffee together after their sweaty work, I learned that physical work transcends words and culture. And it was refreshing to see once again that hope can pop up in the most unlikely places.
I have found it spring to life among people coping with homelessness and mental health challenges in St Kilda and in Aboriginal communities in outback Australia. And now on the rooftop of Africa it flowers too for a coffee grower named Ducale.
Hugh and Deb planted two coffee trees at the back of Ducale’s hut and named them after their kids, Oscar and Eva. They promised to bring them to Ducale’s farm in a few years. Two families separated by global extremes, so different and yet all part of the one humanity, celebrating joy and family.
Hope always springs to mind whenever I smell coffee.
Hope by Tim Costello was published by Hardie Grant August 2012.