Munk One student Abhay Sachal
Munk One, Munk School

From global adventure to local impact: A summer changed by a pandemic

I hear loud noises outside my room and decide to get out of bed. 


It’s very bright outside, which means I’ve definitely slept through my three alarms. 

I grab my glasses, put them on, and pick up my phone. 

3 PM. 

I immediately realize I’ve slept through two lectures. 

The voices outside my room become louder. 

I open my door and see three of my friends talking to one other. 

They take one look at me and start laughing –  it’s evident I just woke up. Then, I ask them what the fuss is about.They tell me that school is cancelled

I’m very fortunate to be back home in Surrey, BC with my family during this unprecedented time.

I’ve grown to love Toronto as a city and U of T as a new home. First-year was already flying by, and before I knew it, I was on a flight back home. Once I arrived home, I completed my last few assignments and exams online and then came to wonder what I would do with my summer.

I initially seemed to have it all figured out. I planned on travelling to Cambodia and Vietnam to work on a project surrounding improving a floating village’s access to clean energy. After that,  I would be going to Israel, to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem alongside a few other Munk One students.

Learning that all my plans would change was tough, but I think it definitely improved my ability to adapt to new circumstances. The first few days of being back home, my days were filled with sleep and binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix. As time went on though, I began to figure out ways to remain involved in the community. I’ll be working for a local environmental charity on resource development and working as a medical temperature checker for a local warehouse. I’ve also been volunteering with my high school’s engineering department to 3D-print parts of face shields for hospitals.

Abhay Sachal holding a bag of medical equipment.Perhaps the most fulfilling experience thus far for me has been volunteering with a local charity to deliver meals to those who need them. Amidst the chaos of the world, I’ve found that it is human connection that I crave the most. Needless to say, I miss my friends. But what I find more intriguing is that I miss meeting new people. There’s this newfound rush I now experience when I see someone new at the grocery store – even if it’s from six feet away.

Through a nonprofit project I started in high school, Break The Divide, I’ve created a competition open to students across the globe to use art to express their thoughts and emotions around mental health, climate change, and other community issues. Our team at Break The Divide has also been facilitating conversations between students in Bolivia, Russia, and Canada to foster empathy and create a sense of community.

Ultimately, COVID-19 changed my summer from being one of adventure and global travel to one with family and local impact. I’m grateful for the time I have at home with my parents and brother, with whom I play badminton every evening.

COVID-19 has also given me perspective on the workings of our world. Moreover, this quarantine allows me to reflect on the activities I’ve been involved with for the past few years. This crisis has strengthened my commitment to tackling the health effects of the climate crisis – a global catastrophe much like COVID-19 – whose impacts could be mitigated through comprehensive planning and governmental intervention. Likewise, I’ve realized that issues such as COVID-19 are analogous to climate change since they both affect the most vulnerable disproportionately.

Overall, COVID-19 has helped me reaffirm my commitment to local action and aid for those who need it the most. I’ve taken a lot of solace in the fact that there is a lot of good in the world right now. There are ordinary people risking their health and wellbeing for things to get better. They are heroes. And as we navigate this new world, we must remember that we are all inextricably connected. We are all experiencing the effects of a global pandemic together. I am a firm believer that this spirit of connection will guide us in the new world.

Abhay Sachal is a student of the 2019-2020 Munk One cohort and the founder of Break The Divide, a non-profit that seeks to connect youth across the world to foster empathy and understanding. In this blog post, he shares how he has continued to maintain a sense of community during the COVID-19 outbreak in his home province of British Columbia.