Today will mark my 25th Canada day. That’s how many years I have been enjoying all the great things about this country, since my family immigrated here in 1991.
Canada has always been a special place for me, and even after nearly 3 years of travel including a world tour as Global Ambassador for World Merit, I have to say - the sparkle seems to have become brighter. Time away made me realise many of the great things we have going on here in the place I am proud to call home.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Canada is not a perfect country. Like most new countries, we have some downright deplorable aspects of our past and present. Our treatment of the aboriginal communities in Canada meant that for many years aboriginal youth suffered in residential schools that worked to change them, and harm them. It means that today, we have to work that much harder to repair the damage of colonisation, and the hurt we inflicted on our fellow citizens. Fortunately, we have already started.
Our historical record for protecting the environment has been shaky as well. We didn’t even ratify Kyoto. Imagine. We are literally a country of trees and water (have a look at a map - Canada is the second biggest country in the world and mostly uninhabited!)- and yet, we weren’t protecting our Mother Earth. Ironally, this is something we could have learned from our aboriginal populations. Fortunately, we have made steps towards repairing this harm done as well. I believe we are making progress.
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What I truly love about coming back home, and the thing that makes my heart well up when I land back on Canadian soil and breathe the fresh air, is the overwhelming feeling of what I can no better describe than “welcoming.” We, as a nation, have over the years since colonisation, continued immigration, and growth, and developed a culture that is receptive, kind and open to old friends and newcomers alike. We smile at each other, and say “hello” to strangers often. We help our neighbours shovel the snow from their “drive ways” and donate our change to refugees and other causes when we buy our coffee at Tim Horton's. We ask people about their culture and heritage, and celebrate our differences openly. Many Canadian cities hold festivals to celebrate the various nationalities and cultures that live in our communities. We see this as an immense strength to have diverse, kind and collaborative communities full of people who look out for one another. We respect everyone’s right to openly be their own person. In fact, we welcome it.
I have been to 30+ countries, and when I come home to Canada and see smiles at the airport; that each person employed there seems to be of a different race, maybe different religion, but still all very much Canadian: it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s that feeling of “aaaah, we are all one after all, aren’t we?” that I love to come home to. It makes Canada a country I am proud to call “my own.”
But, beyond the obvious patriotism is something I love much much more. I love what this kindness to strangers, and openness to new people could mean as a beacon of hope for many of the world’s ails.
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We as a global community know well what faces our world today: the politics of fear mongering, wars that rage on and terrorism. It seems that all points to us becoming more and more divided; more and more different, and more and more afraid of our differences. As a global community, there is much more work we have to do to be able to see others as one of us too. And I believe that Canada could lead the way, by example.
So this Canada Day, I’m choosing to celebrate the things I love truly about my culture; all the progress we have made as a relatively new nation, and I commit to something more than just celebrating. I commit to taking values that we so appreciate in Canada. My international friends, in the hopes that we can build a better world together. I will celebrate today the future that we can make together; one where we are more understanding of each other than ever, not as Canadians or Americans, French, Japanese, Kiwis, Kenyans, or Colombians; but as global citizens acknowledging that our differences, when brought together with kindness, can quite possibly change the world.
Martina Buchal is a Coordinating Ambassador for Canada, and a former Global Ambassador for World Merit.