From Disaster to Resilience: Making New Maps (February 2012)

Dear Friends,

We are approaching the anniversary of the triple disasters that struck Japan last year. The earthquake that hit Japan on March 11, 2011, and the subsequent tsunami and nuclear accidents it triggered, left more than a half a million people without homes or jobs or both. More than 25,000 died. Occasionally a news article reporting the latest bad news from Fukushima will surface, but mostly the world has moved on. Japan, however, will never be the same. Many people in Japan are working hard create a more healthy and resilient future.

The Berkana Institute has played a key role in launching the Resilient Japan initiative. We have been using many of Berkana’s ideas about strengthening communities and partnerships with individuals and groups in Japan who are determined to create a more viable future. This courageous work of slow rebuilding, healing and renewal are things we don’t hear enough about. How do we move from systems collapse and disaster to transformation? This is a question we suspect will be asked more and more frequently in the years ahead. It is in this spirit that we share stories of resilience in post-disaster and trauma situations–from my work with Resilient Japan, and from friends and partners with Tree of Life in Zimbabwe, the Art of Hosting community in New England in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, and from groups and communities processing the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf States.

Bob Stilger

Walk Out Walk On: Learning from the Field

Isn’t this evidence that humans are by nature compassionate, caring and generous?

Shortly following the disasters in Japan in March 2011 and a few weeks after massive protests in Egypt’s Tahir Square, Deborah Frieze shared a blog about the way that these kinds of disruptions shake away the transactional facade which characterizes many of our daily interactions. Deborah writes, “When the system breaks down, we seem to unleash on each other our innate human generosity.” This is not a new insight; it is something we’ve been noticing for many years at Berkana. But this post asks the question we are often left with: “Once the crisis is over, what is it that delivers us back into the arms of insecurity and distrust?” As a way of marking the anniversary of the events in Japan, we offer this thought-provoking piece from the archives of the Walk Out Walk On blog. Read more.

Experiments in the Berkana Web and Beyond

Youth Community Leader Dialogues

For youth across Japan, March 11 was a turning point. In the Tohoku Region, among other places, youth knew that nothing would ever be the same; their generation would face unprecedented challenges as well as opportunities. With support from Berkana, Miratsuku–a newly formed organization whose name translates as “emerging future”–began to convene three-day dialogues bringing together youth from across Japan together to envision and begin naming the future they wanted to build. Between May and November 2011, four dialogues took place in which more than 200 young people participated. They were able to release grief, find companions, discover a sense of purpose and begin to see what was possible that had never been possible before. Dialogue hosts used Art of Hosting practices and learning from Berkana to provide the framework. Learn more about this work in the Community Youth Leader Dialogue Report and visit the Miratsuku Website.

Entrepreneurial Training for Innovative Communities

Since 1993, ETIC (Entrepreneurial Training for Innovative Communities) in Tokyo has been helping young people all over Japan become innovators. Within days of the disaster, ETIC decided to send young people to Tohoku communities to work as interns and volunteers with organizations for 6-24 months. Resilient Japan steward Bob Stilger sees their work as some of the most promising in the region: “They’ve seen that they need to go in and be part of community, offering their answers and expertise as they listen deeply to what’s arising.” Working in 20+ communities on housing, entrepreneurship, learning opportunities and health–this group is emerging as a powerful network in Tohoku. Berkana’s community building principles are key foundations for their work.  ETIC 2011 Report provides further detail. Learn more.

Future Centers

How does one move from disaster to collaborative action? What helps a community come together to build a new future? What practices support people working on the same issues in many different places so that they can pool their knowledge and create something new? In 2010, the Knowledge Dynamics Initiative at Fuji Xerox started to look at the Future Center movement across Europe as one way to support innovation. Bob Stilger has worked both as a consultant to Fuji Xerox and with individual champions of Future Centers across Japan, focusing on the Tohoku Region in particular. A Future Center isn’t a building like a library or a conference center (although one of those might be used); it is a hosted space in which people build relationships, define needs, generate ideas, gather information, converge towards collective action, and communicate their results. It’s a powerful form, especially in Japan where organizers hope to create a network of 1000 Future Centers this year! Learn more.

Personal Message from Resilient Japan Steward Bob Stilger:

A new future is being built in Japan. The country is a developmental frontier for the whole world. Berkana’s living systems approach to leadership, the practice and theory of dialogue as developed through the Art of Hosting community, and Berkana’s learning from many other parts of the world about how to build healthy and resilient communities have made a huge difference in Japan. You can continue to follow the work of Resilient Japan as it evolves through my blogs at and New Stories, which will serve as our primary US partner organization in 2012. 


Come on Irene! A Story of Resilience and Community in Vermont

In late August 2011, within days of an Art of Hosting in Hartland, Vermont, Hurricane Irene swept through the Northeastern United States, leaving massive destruction in its wake. Irene forever altered the course of Vermont’s physical landscape, carving out huge swaths of earth from riverbanks and dumping silt for miles on end. But she also carved out a new path for the communities of Vermont, revealing their vibrancy and resilience, calling them to a new level of care and connection. In this blog by former-Vermonter and Berkana’s Sharing Our Learning Director, Aerin Dunford, we hear the story of the town of Pittsfield’s resilience in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. Weaving in reflections from her friend Traci Templeton, who lost her home, Aerin identifies the key factors that have made it possible for Pittsfield and surrounding area residents to rebuild and move forward after disaster. Read more.

Perseverance: Lost in the Gulf of Mexico

Written by Meg Wheatley in June 2010 in the middle of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (also known as the BP or Gulf of Mexico oil spill), this piece invites us to think about what these kinds of disasters mean for us as human beings in these times. In the face of tremendous devastation or all-out systems collapse, and little to no clarity around a solution or recovery, it can be easy to feel hopeless. How do we move forward without getting consumed by fear, sadness or anger? Meg calls for perseverance in the face of seemingly unsolvable problems and reminds us that only by acknowledging that we are lost can be begin to create new maps. Originally published in Yes! MagazineRead more.

Climbing PoeTree and Hurricane Season Tour

Climbing PoeTree is “the combined force of two boundary-breaking soul sisters who have sharpened their art as a tool for popular education, community organizing and personal transformation.” With roots in Haiti and Colombia, poets/musicians/activists Alixa and Naima “use art to expose injustice, heal from violence and make a better future visible, immediate and irresistible.” With their show, “Hurricane Season: the hidden messages in water,” Alixa and Naima examine the response to and events surrounding Hurricane Katrina as a way of helping us process them in the context of global power dynamics similarly affecting many other communities across the globe. Hurricane Season is a brave show about unnatural disaster; an empowering, interactive experience for audiences; and it has already reached well over 500 crowds in 70 cities worldwide. Watch the Hurricane Season trailer or a video on Climbing Poetree. The spring tour begins February 29 in Eugene, Oregon. Learn more.

Engaging Community: A Toolkit for Building Healthy and Resilient Communities

At Berkana, we believe that community is the best resource to get through difficult times. We support the rediscovery of community. Inspired by community building efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, The Berkana Institute and Neighborhood Centers Inc. of Houston joined together to create this rich, multi-faceted toolkit. It contains a variety of approaches for engaging community: information and processes in both English and Spanish. We want to make it possible for every community–large or small, defined by geography, ethnicity, beliefs, shared pain or shared opportunity–to know how to engage their members to resolve their current challenges and create the futures they desire. Learn more or purchase. 

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is an initiative that uses a group-based approach to healing for survivors of organized violence and torture in Zimbabwe. The workshops use the metaphor of a tree to provide the framework for understanding trauma, employing approaches such as storytelling, circle, bodywork, ceremony and personal reflection. Sessions are facilitated by survivors who have been trained in the methodology. Participants go through a process of reclaiming: reclaiming personal power, reclaiming their sense of body, reclaiming connections with nature and reclaiming connection to the community. Team members have now established community circles in seven regions in Zimbabwe and the process is being welcomed by councilors, traditional leaders and even police officials. These communities have boldly decided to invite their perpetrators into these circles with amazing results. Tree of Life steward, Bev Reeler says, “The resilience and astonishing ability to forgive still take my breath away.” Watch a Tree of Life videoLearn more.

Community Events

Walk Out Walk On News and Events

Meg Wheatley and Deborah Frieze continue to be busy offering interviews and writing articles in connection with Walk Out Walk On. Visit the News page on their website to learn more. And they are continuing with their book tour, heading to Denver, Colorado
(April 16) and Boulder, Colorado (April 17) with more dates to follow. On May 17 at BALLE’s Annual Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Deborah Frieze and Tuesday Ryan-Hart will offer an interactive “Leader As Host” workshop. Learn more about the conference. Visit for more information. 

Learning Societies Unconference | Mumbai, India | February 28-March 4

Friends from ShikshantarManzilSwaraj UniversityEarthCare Designs and others have organized another “Unfolding Learning Societies Unconference” for those working to dismantle the monopoly of factory-schooling, decolonize knowledge, build diverse learning communities and learning ecosystems and support deep intercultural dialogue. The theme of the unconference this year is “Healthy Lifestyles and Healthy Communities.” It is happening now at The Hideout, two hours outside Mumbai, India. Download the invitation. Stay tuned for harvests from this gathering from Swaraj University and Shikshantar.

Warriors Without Weapons | Santos, Brazil | July 2012, Exact Dates TBD

The first month-long winter Warriors Without Weapons program will take place in July in Santos, Brazil. Warriors Without Weapons is an experiential training for youth from around the world, ages 18-35. The program awakens and cultivates a cooperative spirit by emerging participants in a local community facing its own set of unique challenges. Participants work hand-in-hand with the community to plan, design and build something together, such as a daycare or park. With this new cooperative spirit, the Warriors return to their own communities armed with the tools they need to catalyze changes in their local context. Download the Warriors Without Weapons brochure.  Watch 2011 Warriors Without Weapons videoLearn moreRegister.

Upcoming Workshops in the Transformational Inquiry Process, The Work

With Caitlin Frost, Certified Facilitator of the Work, Art of Hosting Steward
Byron Katie’s The Work is a simple yet profoundly powerful process for working with your own limiting beliefs and stressful thinking in places you are experiencing fear, stress, despair or where you are stuck in your work or life. As a practice for challenging times, it offers a skillful and accessible way to access your deeper wisdom and compassion and open to new paradigms of possibility and wise action, whatever life brings. These workshops are open to all levels of experience, and to anyone wanting to open the mind and heart beyond fear. “Your most valuable leadership tool is an open mind.” Learn more about Being Peace | April 13-15 | Saltspring Island, British Columbia; Beyond Belief | May 4-6 | New Germany, Nova Scotia; The Work @ Work – Leadership with an Open Mind | May 26-27 | Edmonton, Alberta. 
Images courtesy of Bob Stilger, Traci Templeton, Climbing PoeTree and The Tree of Life.