Martina Buchal is a human rights activist, trained peace practitioner and an ambassador for One Young World in North America. She recently completed a world tour for World Merit, where she spoke at the Summit of the Americas, the United Nations, and many other conferences; facilitated workshops and mentored young social entrepreneurs and changemakers towards becoming the change they wish to see in the world. A large focus of her work is addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals from a #startwithin approach.
What made you decide on your voyage?
My decision was made before I even knew I made it. I had been in a job that wasn’t quite checking off on the “fulfillment” box and I was also doing a lot of volunteer work around causes I cared about deeply, then I felt it was time for a big step in a different direction. I applied for a 1-out-of-60,000 chance at winning a global leadership competition called Your Big Year, to try my shot at becoming the World Merit Global Ambassador — a one-year role full of travel, and doing some serious social good. By the time I won the competition, I was more than ready to pack up my things and leave Ottawa, Canada and just go. A month later, I was already off, I left Canada to start my mission. It was back in 2013, and I haven’t really stopped moving since!
Why did you use that particular time? What stopped you before?
I had just finished University, studied Law — a program I loved, but wasn’t sure if being a lawyer, in the end was the right thing for me. As someone who grew up in a low socio-economic class, and faced quite a few challenges on the home front, my commitments until that point were simple: get through the challenges of life at home, leave the house, finance my way through university out of town, and get the degree I would have never thought I could get, if you asked me at age 11. Once I accomplished that, it was like a new blank page. I knew that I had gone through a lot in life, had been resilient, had pushed through, so anything else that came my way, was my choice — and I would be able to do it. I knew I had it in me. This was my time to paint the first strokes of the picture that has only recently really started taking shape.
What are some lessons you have learnt along the journey?
There are good people absolutely everywhere in the world. Yet, there is so much hate out there on our news feeds and in the media. So much violence. That’s the stuff we hear about. We are constantly told to fear this group or that country, and frankly, it’s nonsense.
I visited 30+ countries, and every single one was welcoming in it’s own way, delightful, and my experiences with locals were predominantly (I’m talking in the 99th percentile) positive. I recognize that it wasn’t a typical travel experience, and that things might have been very different had I not been a white North American female, but that is the truth of my experience. I smiled, and the world smiled back.
What’s more is that what we often think about places we haven’t been to but only read or hear about, can be totally wrong. We make a lot of assumptions from a distance — that’s easy, but getting to know people, opening up, trusting, and hearing their stories, was an incredibly rewarding experience for me. It’s one of the things I’ve learned to foster regularly in my life.
Does your voyage end? Is this a lifelong journey? What’s your next move?
There isn’t an end for me. I can find an apartment (in fact, I just have) but it’s a nest, not a settling down and rooting. At least, not yet. That could change. I’ll find out as life goes on and as I see fit. What I do know is I already have 4 flights planned before the end of 2016- and that’s only the beginning. I don’t see that pace slowing down any time soon.
What message are you trying to relay to the world through your journey?
So many of us think we have to wait for this thing or that thing to go out there and make a difference and do some good. That’s not the case. There’s a great saying out there “do what you can with what you have, where you are.” I believe that applies to travel too. You want to make a positive impact? Make that your motto. Give what you can wherever you go — but do it mindfully. Use what skills you have, hone those, and ask before “giving.” Be present with others to know what they want and need — and sometimes that may very well just be a listening ear, or absolutely nothing at all. Even that can be seen as doing good by others, for others.
I say, leave a trail of good behind you wherever you go, open some eyes, share with others through their experiences, by showing them — that foreigners can be great people too, that you can share in experiences together, and all come out of the situation more enriched.
What are some highs and lows of your trip?
Highs: There are SO many. Greece was a full-blown all-senses experience of food, local hospitality, dancing, the glowing blue waters of the Aegean and the start of incredible friendships. It will always have a place in my heart. Kenya and Tanzania are next — for the vibrant and resilient natures of it’s peoples, for their generosity; and for the therapeutic heat of the African sun.
Nepal mesmerized me with it’s mountains, it’s deep culture, fantastic food and pleasant friendliness which felt truly authentic. And lastly, although I was in Panama to be a speaker at the Summit of the Americas, I slipped and fell into an adventure that took me off to a private island off the coast. I never thought I would ever be able to check “sleep under the stars on a private island” off my Bucket List, but I’m so glad I did!
Lows: I don’t know if it was really a low, but once I got stuck in Malaysia on my way to the Philippines from Nepal, haha. Essentially, I was transiting in Malaysia and at the airport they told me I couldn’t leave the country because I didn’t have an exit ticket out of the Philippines. Welp, no one told me that when I booked the flights, aah! Ah well. I spent some time at the airport trying to solve the problem, calling around to see if I could have the flight out of the Philippines booked asap so I could still make my flight out of Malaysia…no dice. Surprisingly, it wasn’t stressful though. I was lucky that I had friends who were diplomats and happened to be posted in Kuala Lumpur. I ended up staying at their luxury condo in downtown and basked in their pool for a week while logistics got sorted out. Not a bad end to a potentially bad situation!
What kept you going?
No, seriously. That and the adventures and positive social interactions. But mostly, naps.
What would you have done differently, looking back any regrets?
There are many issues conflicting regions around the world, which issue would you say is the most important to change?
This is such a hard question. They all need to be addressed. All of them, with an understanding of the complexity of the world, and I encourage everyone to try to pick at least one and make a step toward addressing it.
For me, personally, I think the greatest issue, and I hope you’ll forgive me for being this specific, is our disconnect from one another and our collective humanity. We so easily forget that our neighbors, the people in the country just across the border, etc., are human, just like us, imperfect just like us, and simply trying to survive and thrive…just like us.
Where was the last place you expected to experience kindness?
I expected to find it everywhere, and indeed I did.
Written by: Martina Buchal, Edited by: Bayo Hassan Bello.