From Kenya to Winnipeg: One sailor’s journey to the RCN

Navy News / March 10, 2022

When Sailor 1st Class (S1) Martha Mbuyi-Kanyinda arrived in Winnipeg with her family at the age of nine from Kenya, she was terrified.

“No one really prepares you for a big lifestyle change like that,” she says, remembering that her biggest challenges were adjusting to the cold climate and learning English.

Fast forward to today and she is a 23-year-old reservist with Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Chippawa, Winnipeg’s Naval Reserve Division, with six years of service in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and many accomplishments to her credit.

Her family is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and were en route to Kenya when she was born in Tanzania, she recalls. They lived in Kenya for nine years before coming to Canada seeking a better future.

“The way of life in Kenya was quite different than the westernized life for sure. Instead of playing with toys as a kid I was taught to hunt and gather.”

When she decided to join the military in 2016, her brother encouraged her to enlist in the Navy rather than the Army. She is glad she did as she has made a lot of friends and good memories.

“The different types of people you get to interact and work with has been one of the best things about the RCN. Everyone has a different background, especially reservists, so having the opportunity to learn and become friends with these people has impacted my life positively.”

Along with her work as a naval communicator, she has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and criminology, and will soon be starting a Master’s degree in criminology. Her ambition is to become a police officer or detective once her schooling is complete, but she also wants to continue working part-time in the RCN.

Having just finished her undergraduate degree, S1 Mbuyi-Kanyinda deployed on Operation Projection West Africa in HMCS Goose Bay, a strategic deployment that promotes maritime stability and security in the Gulf of Guinea region.

She was eager to go, partly because her life experiences have given her a sincere desire to help others, and because interacting with people from different countries appeals to her.

“I’m pretty excited. It’s the first time I’ve done a long deployment like this. I’m looking forward to it, especially as we’ll get to do some hands-on stuff, working with children there and helping out. Things like that are really close to my heart.”

S1 Mbuyi-Kanyinda enjoys her work in the RCN, and encourages other young women to join. She likes that opportunities for women are increasing and there are more women in higher ranks and in command positions.