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Ithemba is the isiZulu word for “hope”, a concept well studied in the West as a cognitive-motivational state and a precursor to positive outcomes. However, historically and spiritually, hope has been understood to be a virtue that emerges from grief and perseverance.

This project will investigate the South African definition of ithemba/hope through a sequential mixed-methods design and track its longitudinal trajectory through an early child development (ECD) intervention. This project seeks to answer the big question of what makes hope thrive in adversity and how it develops and spreads through community and social change.

This grant will foster ithemba/hope by expanding a validated ECD intervention for the women who are raising children in the community with the world’s highest HIV infection rate. Hope is a salient feature of ECD interventions and overworked and under-resourced caregivers should be a priority group for virtuous hope interventions. This project will provide 600 families with a home visitation program, intergenerational support groups, and access to books and toys.

This grant also funds an isiZulu children’s book development project on the topic of ithemba/hope written and illustrated by community members. This will provide children with books in the caregivers’ native language. The research design utilizes a delayed control group and a randomized control trial accelerated group and will track families for 18 months to track the development, setbacks, and spread of ithemba/hope in the community. Virtues are context-specific; thus, improving the social context provides an in vivo opportunity ripe for application and generalizability.

This project will yield a novel measurement defining ithemba/hope as a communal virtue and will publish empirical articles showing how it is fostered through support networks, respectful mentoring, and a shared narrative of hope.