Monday 27 December 2021

"Do not lose hope"

were the handwritten words on the bottom of a letter I once received. It came from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

He was responding to one of the many letters I wrote in an effort to get what became International Literacy Year off the ground.  It was one of the responses which gave me hope.

I need to explain here that I was not actually asking people to write back to me. I was asking them to support the idea by talking to other people in one way or another, especially talking to their United Nations representatives. I actually said in the letters I wrote that I was not asking for a personal response, even as I tried to make each letter I wrote a personal letter.  It still astounds me how many people responded. 

I did not keep the letters I received. It was a temptation but I still believe it would not have been right. It would have been too easy to give in and perhaps try to publish something - and that would have been wrong. 

What is right is to hold on to the memories of some of the very personal responses I received. The Archbishop wrote one of those. I certainly had no expectation of that extraordinary and extraordinarily busy man. He was Bishop of Lesotho and Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches when I wrote to him.  I was hoping he might get the message out to the churches in South Africa, a country where I was certain many people would support the idea.

The Archbishop not only did so on that first occasion but he continued to do so. By 1990 he was actively supporting a number of literacy projects. Although I never heard from him again it did not surprise me that he was still interested.  His letter to me was clearly a personal one, a letter to which he had given real thought. Yes, it had undoubtedly been typed by someone else. It was probably put in front of him with a pile of other correspondence to sign but there were the four handwritten words  underneath the typewritten words, "Do not lose hope".

Whatever our religious beliefs or lack of them, whatever we may think of archbishops or rabbis or imams or politicians or "influencers" anyone else, it seems to me that those four words are even more important now. 

I am still involved in some literacy projects, others have run their course. There will be more projects in the future. All of them will help people to understand our current world situation. All of those who have worked on them will have helped people understand the need for vaccinations, for basic hygiene measures, and so much more. 

I am trying to remember that right now. It isn't easy but Archbishop Tutu's words are there, "Do not lose hope."


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