Seeking a solution on foot

Sophia Cheng / 8 min read / Inspiring Activist
6 December 2017
Interview with Angelo Paolo Noviello

For the next instalment in the inspiring activist series, we meet Angelo. We had the luck of meeting Angelo in the forests of West Kalimantan in the Dayak village of Sungai Utik earlier this year. We had flown there from Jakarta, Angelo had walked there for 4 days from the Malaysian Borneo border as part of his 10 month trip walking through SE Asia. Completing the Ring of Fire by walking through North Sumatra to Flores on a previous trip, Angelo had walking from one end of Papua New Guinea through to West Papua he then took a boat and walked through Maluku and Sulawesi, a final ferry crossing brought him to Kalimantan. We shared 7 unique days in a Dayak longhouse, learning from and living with the indigenous community (more about that in another blog). You don’t often meet a soul like Angelo and I felt compelled to share his story.

Angelo Paolo Noviello - Inspiring Activist - With Many Roots

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m Angelo Paolo Noviello, I’m 28 years old. I left my village almost 10 years ago in search of my independence and work. I don’t come from a rich family, I can’t say I suffered but I did not grow up having what many of my peers had – and so I decided to go in search of what I was missing. It was the beginning of the economic crisis in Italy so finding a job was tough but I fell upon the realisation that I never really fit into society. I didn’t feel any desire to do as I was told: commute in traffic, sit at a desk, make someone richer and repeat day in, day out. It seemed insane to me, no life, not meeting new people, not learning anything new.

I chose to leave. I was able to travel and work in the tourism industry; working in Egypt, Madagascar, Greece, Cape Verde, in hotels, theatres, diving, snorkelling and even being a tour guide. It was great fun – but I reached a point where I felt restless. Despite having everything I thought I was asking for, money, friends, women, ego boosts – I did not feel balanced. I was still wearing a mask, I was still doing what others expected of me and acted how they wanted me to.

So I left again. I went east, with no work prospects and not much money. I just started walking, I cut out all the distractions, and acted on how I felt at any given moment.

I have lived like this for the last 3 years, walking on foot (sometimes by boat) through South East Asia until Papua New Guinea. So far I have walked more than 7000km . I carved a path like the crescent moon southward, now I’m completing the circle heading north. Then I’ll be heading to China and walking back west to Europe. I have learned that the less I need, the more I receive.

What worries you?

From all that I have seen and experienced in the last few years between Africa and Asia, I have been fortunate to see so many beautiful things but I have also realised how much is disappearing. Not even in one lifetime, animals that I have seen are now extinct, the nature where I have lived or swam in no longer exists and people no longer enjoy the same spaces. The world is definitely sick, mentally and physically. The desert is full of rubbish brought from the wind, the ocean now has islands of floating rubbish as big as two kilometres. Huge swathes of people do not have enough food and the situation is getting worse. Modern society does not care, it only sees business. In Indonesia ideological groups are convincing people that the world is flat and power houses in America are denying the existence of climate change. How can I think that the future will be easy? We are living on the edge of a precipice with the dangerous possibility that we may not come back from it. We should fight now, it is already very late to stop all of this happening. Everybody needs to be informed just how much is at stake.

I have spent months walking through Indonesia, illegal logging is rampant there, releasing more CO2. Mining in Papua has brought social conflict (labelled by some as genocide) that is also destroying forests, mountains and rivers and the pollution is floating into the sea. Palm oil is the great cancer of this planet but still in Europe we support it by buying products that contain palm oil. Society pushes us to go fast, faster, without thinking of the consequences.

Sungai Utik - West Kalimantan - Indonesia - With Many Roots

What is your positive contribution to the planet?

Of course it’s easy to just complain but is it difficult to do something concrete. I try to share my stories about the people I have met, the issues I have seen and encourage people to speak about it. I have noticed some of my friends and families are changing their minds and starting to help more and take more concrete actions. They are starting to see how much waste they create in their lives, how much electricity they are using, how often they use their car.

Most of all I try and do something on a daily basis with those I meet along the way. I don’t walk with more than I own, which right now is 1 shirt, 2 trousers and a 5kg backpack. I try and give away anything else. When I’m walking in remote areas I talk to people about modernisation and learn how it is impacting them. I listen to other people’s stories and try and understand their reality. I also end up picking up a lot of rubbish and talking about the impact of plastics for the environment, but also their livestock and water supplies. There is a lack of information, I try and address that in small ways. What I try to do is just be there, everyday, explaining what we could be doing better. It’s mentally tough and often depressing; people don’t care or don’t want to hear me.

Have you had to make sacrifices?

I don’t think I have made any sacrifices, but that’s my personal point of view. For some living alone, without stability or security, far away from friends and family can sound hard. I don’t usually know where I will sleep at night or if I will eat. But that doesn’t bother me at all, actually that’s the fun part! It’s harder to accept that so much more needs to be done, sometimes I feel useless even when I’m putting in as much effort as I can.

How do you stay motivated?

My motivations comes from what I see, the people I meet. I know there is still so much good to see and share, so many people that are helping others and trying to be effective. I still see amazing things in nature or the different cultures, I can always find extra motivation to fight for the world, to protect it.

I don’t think I can just go back to a ‘normal life’. I have deepening love for this planet and I receive its love back. I am able to walk off the road into the forest and sleep alone in nature and I know nothing bad will happen. I walk barefoot across rivers, I meet tigers, sharks, bears, crocodiles, orang-utan, rhino and pythons. I love them all. I don’t harm them and I feel there’s an understanding, they realise that I am not a threat. Honestly, I have touched a shark, I even sat on the back of a whale shark, I sat with a gibbon and we both watched the sunset, a macaque fell asleep on my lap while I was pretending to groom his back. All this pushes me to continue to explore everywhere possible – and to try and protect it.

Some of my hope comes from fellow humans. Good humans still exist. The poorest person I met was also the most beautiful. People who live in small huts, who I have never met before, have given me big hugs and told me to treat their home and family as my own, they always share their food with me. I learned how they share everything and only take what they need and protect the rest. There are still many cultures that are in balance with nature. We can learn a lot from these peoples.

Angelo Paolo Noviello 2 - Inspiring Activist - With Many Roots

What is your message to the world?

Realise how many things physical or mental we don’t need, and no longer serve us. Release your body, release your mind; we don’t need much.

Learn to leave behind what you don’t need, learn to use just what is necessary and share with others. Reciprocate; respect somebody and you will likely receive respect, help and you will receive help. But the same goes the other way, hurt and you will be hurt.

If you want a family and children, think carefully about their future and what world they will be left with, there is much to be done to provide a good future for them.

You can take a look at some of Angelo’s journey below and also follow him on his Facebook page:

Avatar photo Sophia Cheng With a decade of communications experience across the for profit and nonprofit sectors, agency and in-house, Sophia has made a habit of making ‘the hard stuff’ more accessible. Since 2018, she has reorientated her life around the climate crisis. She has forged her decade of communications experience into offering workshops, mentoring, blogging, and more, on the biggest issues of our time. View all posts
More from Sophia Cheng
Related posts