Overall, I loved this book and the idea behind it. It took me a long time to read, mostly because I’m so busy but also because I felt the need to take time for reflection after each section before moving on to the next. That’s what they tell you to do — there are approximately five pages at the end of each section that are supposed to inspire reflection and compare the typical way of doing things with the “walk outs” way.
After being so engulfed in each journey, one has no choice but to reflect on it, and I didn’t read any of their reflection pages because I didn’t need to. I sometimes spent a few days on and off thinking about each journey. Plus, their message was sometimes very wordy and redundant, although I think they just really wanted to drive home their thoughts.
The stories were amazing and definitely made me want to go on one of these “learning journeys.” Basically, they go to problem areas and instead of fixing things by throwing money or foreign aid at them (which they have many strong words against, and some facts to back up their stance), they go to the elders and indigenous people of each region and find out how things used to be done before the rest of the world came along.
It takes a while to get into the meat and potatoes. They give you an invitation, then talk about leaving home, what the book is about and what to expect, how one might feel while reading it, a summary of each place they visit, an explanation of what “walk outs” are, diagrams, etc. But after I got through all of this, the excitement began.
The first stop is Unitierra, Mexico, a place where there are students but no teachers, no curriculum and no degrees. One chooses a self-directed path and learning partners and everyone proceeds at his own pace. “Learning is practiced for the sheer joy of it — rather than to acquire certification or a job.”
Entire communities re-learn and re-invent old practices such as gardening. In most of the stories, they talk about different methods of composting and how beneficial it is. One of the most important aspects of becoming self-sustainable is growing one’s own food. Inventions such as the bicibomba , a bicycle-powered water pump, have made their efforts so much easier. Instead of tapping electricity to access water for the rooftop gardens, someone goes for a spin on the bike to pump water up to the roof. Almost every community in the book harnessed the power of the bicycle to accomplish something that seemed otherwise impossible.
When these ‘helpers’ from the Berkana Institute or Warriors without Weapons get to work in these communities, they learn how to build with what they have instead of trying to replicate what they know from their own lives. The creation of a children’s garden in Brazil happened much like the book “Stone Soup,” in that members of the community who seemed to have nothing to offer and no hope, crept out of the woodwork and left random items to contribute to the garden’s beauty. Upcycling, the “practice of inventing beautiful, useful and surprising products out of waste materials” is a constant term used in the book.
I’m already getting way long-winded I know, but the concepts are so wonderful and seemingly obvious. They discuss viewing people as citizens instead of as clients. In Zimbabwe, they talk about permaculture. In India, they introduce us to the wonderful world of cycle yatra, an amazing journey that a group of people take on bicycles, out of the city and into the country with nothing but their talents to offer. It’s a wonderful section about material possessions and the importance of gift-giving and trading. These people will stop at a farm and offer to help out in exchange for food or shelter. It’s all about making oneself vulnerable and trusting that someone, somewhere will provide. Then they go into how to do your part, balance service with self-interest, community vitality with economic security.
In Greece, they talk about how democracy has moved from the rough hands of citizens to the polished gloves of professional representatives (in health, education, justice, security, etc.). The idea behind typical government intervention, whether here at home or elsewhere, is that the people need help and cannot help themselves. But, according to this book, statistics show that “aid” does not help; change requires the engagement of the individual.
I felt like I was right there with them in all of the stories (they document journeys to seven communities worldwide). For me, they accomplished exactly what they set out to — they pulled me into the experience and I wanted to make a difference, not only in far-off lands, but in my own life as well. Make the changes. Be the difference. There are ways in which my husband and I could be considered ‘walk outs’ and I would wear the name proudly. The book is great for community leaders and organizations, but it’s really for everyone. We can all make changes and there is always room for improvement. I loved it and am so grateful to have read such an inspiring book!