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Meet Ludmila

"EVERY NOW AND THEN, I HAVE TO SHAKE THE TREE OF MY LIFE AND SEE WHAT FALLS ON ME"
First day in Timor Leste, making new friends

LIFE ON YOUR OWN TERMS

I was expected to follow a very ordinary path in life: go to the university, join the civil service, get married, raise a couple of children, grow old and die. This predictable life seemed narrow and suffocating to me. I decided instead that I would trace my own path, see the world and live by my own rules.

I'm a lawyer and started my career in a small NGO in Brazil, doing some ground-breaking work in urban law and policies. After 4 years, I was awarded a scholarship for a Master’s in Land Economy, in Scotland. It was the first time I left Brazil and a true leap forward. When I came back, I worked with the Federal Government in Brasilia on land reform. I traveled a lot inside Brazil and worked in the Amazon region for some time. Six years ago, I felt like pushing my boundaries even further and applied to international jobs. I landed in Timor Leste, and several years later, in South Sudan. Now I am based in Portugal, doing international consultancies.

Comfort zones kind of scare me. They are the places where you sit and wait to die. Every now and then, I have to shake the tree of my life and see what falls on me. Cheers to jobs that pay the bills, I have no problem with them! But living on my own terms means that my work has to be challenging, make my eyes sparkle and give me a sense of purpose, make me believe that I am putting my brick on the big wall of a better world.

ROOTS AND SEEDS

I'm from Brazil and lived in Timor-Leste, Scotland, the US, South Sudan and now Portugal.

WHAT WOULD YOUR FOUR YEAR OLD SELF TELL YOU TODAY

“Thou shall never surrender!”

Be bold and determined, keep your mind where your heart is.

Training on transparency and accountability of petroleum exploration in Juba, South Sudan

SUPERPOWERS

Empathy. Years ago, I had a meeting with a forest community in the Amazon region, where they told me their struggle for their land and the gross human rights violations they had suffered. After a couple of hours, I sprang from the chair and rushed out of the room, sobbing so much I was unable to speak. One of the elders came to find me and said: “If you feel our pain, you will fight our fight”.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH MOMENT

Within two years in what seemed like a “dream job”, I was travelling 25 weeks per year and ignored signs of burnout. I didn’t remember where I had been the week before, I could hardly sleep and didn’t know where I was when I woke up in hotel rooms. An external evaluation of our program revealed that all I had to work with was “my personal effort”. Soon after, I had a nervous breakdown and spent two days in tears. On the third day, I couldn’t recognize myself (I am not the whining type) and asked for help. A friend took me to the doctor, who diagnosed me with a stress disorder and recommended a couple of weeks away. I decided to quit and started working as a consultant providing legal advice on land and environmental law.

MOST EXCITING HIGH

Coming back from the forest in the Amazon region and receiving an email informing me that I would go to work in Timor Leste!

MOST CHALLENGING LOW

The two times I was in real danger, working in the field. The first time was in Dili, Timor Leste. I had to drive in the middle of a riot in the city with a friend through a rock-throwing storm in search for safety. The car was completely destroyed and we were covered in shattered glass.

The second time was in Juba, South Sudan, in June 2016. Our guesthouse street became a battle ground and after 6 very scary days under the sound of mortars, gunfire and screams, we were evacuated. I am grateful to everybody who spared me from the horrible news about the attack at the Terrain Hotel until I was safe in Nairobi.

BEST PIECE OF ADVICE

It's actually two pieces of advice:

More important than where you go is who you go with.

Always make friends.

WORST PIECE OF ADVICE

Stop fooling around, settle down, enter civil service and think about your future.

BOOK OR PEOPLE THAT HAD AN IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE

“The Razor’s Edge” by Somerset Maughan.

BIGGEST LEAP OF FAITH

When I decided to leave Recife, the tropical beach where I grew up in in Brazil, for the grey, cold and rainy Aberdeen, in Scotland.

Ludmila with her family in Brazil

FEAR OR BELIEF YOU LET GO OF

The stress diagnosis taught me that to be truly independent, you cannot let money rule your life's decisions. Now I say NO to well paid jobs that may cost my health or my principles.

IF GIVEN A CHANCE WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY

I would have studied medicine, instead of law. Doctors are in high demand all over the world and being a doctor would have made my way into the aid/development sector much more straightforward.

RESILIENCE TIP

Let go of material possessions. Create and keep a routine wherever you are. Practice sports, read and enjoy your own company. Keep in touch with your loved ones and friends. When you have time off, go somewhere you have never been to and disconnect.

HARDEST PART ABOUT BEING A PERSON WHO LIVES ON THEIR OWN TERMS

To leave and say goodbye so often. Having to deal with instability, the feeling of not belonging and always being “the weirdo”.

I have a loving family. My parents have been married 53 years and my only sister and I are very close. Most of my school and university friends still live in Recife in Brazil and I keep in touch with them. My family and friends make me feel loved and safe, I know they will always be there for me, no matter how far I go. They will also continue to ask me why I have this urge to leave when everybody who loves me lives there.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO LESS/MORE?

I need to improve my networking skills and learn more languages. I would also love to acquire practical skills, like mechanics and survival in the jungle. You never know when it comes in handy.

WHAT'S NEXT

After a short course on Peacekeeping Operations and Humanitarian Action and a post-graduate course in Human Rights, I am enjoying my time in lovely and peaceful Portugal. I am looking forward to a new professional challenge.

WORDS OF WISDOM

Every now and then, I have to shake the tree of my life and see what falls on me.

Comfort zones kind of scare me. They are the places where you sit and wait to die.

“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” Oscar Wilde.

WHERE TO FIND HER

Website: www.caminhabarros.com.br

With colleagues from the course on Peacekeeping Operations and Humanitarian Action