Amna Burki joined The Certificate in Community Storytelling Training Online in 2022 from Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada. “I guess I should just start by saying that I grew up in Pakistan to parents who were refugees from India during the Partition when the British left India, and the subcontinent partitioned into two different countries. They landed as refugees there, so growing up I’ve heard a lot of stories about what happened during that time where people were all getting along and suddenly there was a flare up of “us” versus “them” that resulted in the need to have a new country.”

Later in her life, when Amna arrived in Canada, she saw how the indigenous people were resisting ongoing colonization, “That really piqued my interest because ours was the opposite experience where we want to learn English and we want to give up our culture. And here I saw a lot of resistance to that, even a revival of the languages that have been lost through the centuries.” It helped her reflect on who she was in this new country.

One of Amna’s first forays into storytelling was a pilot project for newcomer seniors (older adults immigrating to Canada). “This was a Families Canada project that had eight Canadian cities participating in creating a sense of belonging for newcomer seniors. They faced many barriers, English might not be their first language, they didn’t know how to use new technology. They might have children here or they’re refugees. So, the point of this project was to create a family away from family.” While working with this group of immigrant seniors, the pandemic started and Amna had to pivot to find a way to offer their programs online. Within two weeks they were using WhatsApp or Zoom, but it was hard to engage with many of the seniors through a screen. When faced with this new barrier, someone suggested Amna use oral storytelling with them. “Instead of reading from a picture book to practice their English, why don’t you tell them folktales so they can see your face and engage with you easier?”

“I enjoyed that experience so much, and I could see that they were with me, you know, the children, the parents, and these seniors. It’s multi-generational. And since that time, I was hooked, I wanted to find folktales from their culture to open up conversations. Story is the common thread that helped me understand who I am and what I experienced as a child. It wouldn’t have happened without that.”

As Amna searched for online workshops or trainings to continue her deep dive into storytelling, she found The Hearth’s Online Certificate in Community Storytelling Training. When she was signing up, Amna remembered wondering, “will they even accept me? I’m a visible minority, and sometimes things can be tough in terms of whether the group is okay with someone like me. Definitely with the stories you hear about people like me, right? So, I decided to take that Art of Storytelling, a one day workshop and I really enjoyed that experience. It was amazing to see a different form of storytelling and I still see the power of it. I signed up for the 6-month training after that.”

When it came time to choose a community storytelling project, Amna drew upon her previous experience with pairing storytelling to museum artifacts. She curated artifacts from the museum and set them on tables. She specifically picked people to be facilitators that came from diverse backgrounds such as Somalia, Myanmar, and Brazil. They all brought their friends from different faith groups and different ethnicities. Each table had a theme with story questions to go with it. The event was called CommuniTEA and was complete with beautiful tea display from a local Syrian business who spent hours setting up the room.

During the event, in a conversation about belonging, Amna could see that the exchange of experiences between the BIPOC folks in the room and the White Canadians was eye-opening for those who had taken their feeling of belonging for granted. “It really opened their eyes to some of the things that we deal with as people who may look different than the norm. And I think that was really, really important. Even though it can be difficult for people to process, the story allowed us to get into it without making it political.” After her project, Amna has continued to pursue applications of storytelling. “Storytelling is my Ikigai,” she said. Ikigai is a Japanese term which means “where your unique skills, mission, passion and earning intersect.”

Since the training, Amna has created her own organization called StoriesMatter. She’s brought storytelling to women shelters and libraries, traveled to Morocco last year to be part of a storytelling festival, and developed workshops such as Intercultural Storytelling for Newcomer Parents. “A lot of my work with stories is about creating spaces for people to share their stories and allow for an exchange of intercultural stories and folktales to appreciate our collective wisdom. I love how stories help us make sense of who we are and bring our best selves forward to create communities of belonging for all Canadians, and really challenge the negative stereotypes we have of those different than us.”