April 29 ~ Notes from Japan #11: Zimbabwe

It was ten years ago that I journeyed to Zimbabwe for the first time.  Today is the 40th birthday of my dear friend Marianne Knuth.  We were both younger then!  Marianne was beginning a journey that would take her home to Zimbabwe where she would begin to create Kufunda Learning Village.  I still recall those early conversations:  I want to teach people in Zimbabwe important things like Appreciative Inquiry, I remember Marianne saying.

Neither of us fully understood the difference between teaching to and learning with.  I certainly didn’t.  But a decade ago I got off a plane in Africa for the first time and my life, once again, began to change forever.  Thirty or so of us spent an incredible week in the deep beauty of Zimbabwe and each other’s company.  Many seeds were planted then.

In this ten years, because of Otto Scharmer’s work, the word “prototype” has enter many of our vocabularies.  I don’t think Marianne used the word then.  But that was what she started doing.  Or, more exactly, she started.  I recall how a bit more than a year later, at a Berkana Institute Board meeting, trembling, Marianne said I’m ready to begin, but I still need money to buy straw for the roofs of the buildings we must construct.  The hat was passed and there was enough money to begin.
Marianne began a journey of working with what she had, and with who she could find, to construct a new reality.  For the most part, she couldn’t see beyond the next step.  When she got too far ahead of herself, she had to return, correct course and continue.
Why am I writing about this from Japan.
Well, first, because today’s her birthday and I want to honor her.  And I’d do that from anyplace on the planet.  Second, because those of us who have worked with and around Berkana for this past decade have learned a lot about how to build healthy and resilient communities and much of what we’ve learned seems very important in Japan right now.  In this interconnected world of ours, lessons from Zimbabwe may be quite helpful in Japan.
We’ve looked for core principles that guide healthy and resilient communities.  Each of us talks about them a bit differently.  On my Resilient Communities website I write:
  • Every community is filled with leaders
  • Whatever the problem, community itself has the answers
  • We don’t have to wait for anyone. We have many resources with which to make things better now
  • We need a clear sense of direction AND we need to know the elegant, minimum next step
  • We proceed one step at a time, making the path by walking it
  • Local work evolves to create transformative social change when connected to similar work around the world
Those were the words I came up with a year ago as I tried to simplify some of my language for when my daughter, Annie Virnig, and I presented at TEDxTokyo (English – 日本語).  Annie later returned to present solo at TEDxTokyoyz, but that is another story — same roots, however)
All around the world people are learning how to create communities from the inside out.  When spaces are created — like Kufunda Learning Village in Zimbabwe and like a Future Center in Japan — they are, in their essence, a hospitable space which invites people into a new quality of relationship based on curiosity, respect and friendship.

People build community again, discover what they have, and also access resources from beyond their communities on their own terms.  When these local spaces are connected with each other, a whole new ecology of learning and action becomes possible.  This is where, I believe, change occurs.  This is how resilient communities are built.

Yesterday I spent several hours with an incredible family who are spiritual guardians here in Japan.  The matriarch of the family looked in my eyes with both kindness and clarity and said we caused this crisis  there was no back pedaling, no trying to blame the government, not blaming TEPCO (Tokyo Electrical Power Company).  We caused this crisis.   And I knew exactly what she meant.  Our dual lusts for more and more control and for more and more material goods are why nuclear plants were built where tsunamis have occurred before and where they will occur again.  Destroyed homes were on land in the direct path of past destruction.  Since the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and especially since World War II, Japan has pursued the path of consumer society and it’s Shinto roots have been set aside.  Those roots are being remembered now.
Same thing in Zimbabwe.  I remember one of Marianne’s stories from early last decade when she and a team form Kufunda had gone into a nearby village.  She notice there were no gardens. She asked why?  The answer was that the seeds and fertilizer had not come from international aid agencies.  Zimbabwe was beginning to unravel as the world and Mugabe engaged in a stared coldly at each other.  Marianne asked do you expect them to come?  People stared at the ground and shook their heads.  Marianne asked what did you do before the international aid agencies came? People said they didn’t know.  Marianne said let’s ask the elders!  And they did.  And the started to remember a way of growing food that was healthy and sustainable that looks a lot like what we call permaculture today.
Remembering.  Remembering.  Re-membering to create a new world.
A deep bow and much love to Marianne for who she is and how she has chosen to live her life (ten years later, with husband and twins, Marianne has moved back to Zimbabwe after a brief journey in South Africa).
A deep bow and great respect to the people of Japan who will create something new, now , because it is needed and it is possible.

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