Alum wins global leadership contest

Carleton alumna Martina Buchal was chosen from 60,000 people to be the 2014 World Merit Ambassador. (Kristy Strauss Photo)

Martina Buchal’s parents did everything possible to make sure she didn’t know they were poor.

As immigrants from the Czech Republic, the family had big dreams of life in Canada – but it wasn’t the reality when they arrived.

“The only house my parents could afford . . . I would call it a shack,” says Buchal, who graduated from Carleton with a Bachelor of Arts honours degree in law. “It wasn’t insulated and we lived through one of the coldest winters without any heating.”

While she doesn’t remember much from those early days, she does recall the stress it had on her stepfather who turned to alcohol for comfort.

“My household went from poor, to poor and violent,” she says.

This experience ignited the spark and drive for change that brought her to where she is today – chosen out of 60,000 people to be the 2014 World Merit Ambassador after winning a global leadership contest called Your Big Year.

As World Merit Ambassador, Buchal will travel the world over the next yearto learn about the challenges that exist, and meet those people who are working to solve those challenges.

“For me, it was like I could feel the puzzle piece going into place. It felt right,” she says about winning the competition.

While earning her degree at Carleton, Buchal worked for the Senate of Canada and also volunteered in her community. But when she was wrapping up her degree, she was ready for the next step, and decided to apply to the competition.

She credits her time at Carleton and particularly professor Lawrence Buhagiar in her fourth-year Criminal Justice reform class, who taught students how to think critically.

“Lawrence’s course had a huge impact on me,” Buchal says. “He would give us a question, and we had to research it ourselves, and formulate our own opinion. It was really liberating and empowering and makes you realize you’re smarter and more resourceful than you really think.”

Buhagiar is proud of his former student but not surprised that she has achieved so much success.

“She has done a remarkable job outside of Carleton, and she has the toolkit and the ability to help others,” he says.

Buchal’s first stop as the 2014 World Merit Ambassador is New York, where she will take part in the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women. She will then go to Liverpool, England to work at the World Merit headquarters, and afterward, begins her journey around the world.

“I hope my story will inspire other people to understand that it doesn’t matter what your background is – if you have a goal and pursue it, you can succeed,” she says. “We have a spark in all of us and if I can inspire another person in the world to go and pursue their dream, I think I’ve done a good job.”

This entry was written by Kristy Strauss and posted in the issue. Tags applied to this article are: , . Leave a comment, bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media:

Kristy Strauss

By Kristy Strauss

Kristy Strauss graduated from Carleton's journalism program in 2009. She is a regular contributor to Carleton Now. She has worked as a reporter for the Kemptville Advance. She currently reports for EMC Ottawa South.

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