Fri. Mar 31st, 2023

Stephanie Johnstone and Tamar Kobakhidze come from two different worlds – one hails from Germany while the other from the Republic of Georgia. But, when Johnstone put out a call for a traveler interested in aiding her on a several-month expedition through much of Central Asia, following along the ancient Silk Road route, Kobakhidze would turn out to be the perfect fit.

The two females will travel for seven months and more than 8,899 kilometers through some of the remotest corners of our world to shine a light on remarkable human stories to give viewers a window to a kinder and more compassionate world.

“When we look beyond our culture and religion, where we live, upbringing, and preferences, we realize that we are all citizens of this beautiful planet we call Earth,” says Johnstone. Additionally, each week, the expedition will be paired with a global call to action for kindness.

I sat down with them to learn more about Expedition Silk Road and the stories they’ll be sharing along the way.

Breanna Wilson: What is Expedition Silk Road and how does it tie into your A Million Voices initiative?

Stephanie Johnstone: Expedition Silk Road is a visual storytelling project that will take you on a beautiful journey of what it means to be human. It’s about connecting humanity, shedding the binds of cultural conditioning, and inspiring individual and community action. I started A Million Voices in June 2021 with the hope of sharing thought-provoking human stories to inspire change and to turn judgments and preconditioned ideas into kindness and compassion.

Imagine what the world would look like if we embraced our differences and expressed care for each other. By expanding A Million Voices and sharing stories from around the world, I hope that we will realize that we are not separate from each other and nature and begin to build a dialogue around change.

Wilson: What is your background and how did you get into this type of travel documentary filmmaking?

Johnstone: I’ve been obsessed with cameras from a very young age, but the books I read, the conversations I had, and the stories I heard along my travels started my passion for visual storytelling. In 2015 I left behind my conventional life and career as a Forensic Psychologist to pursue a more meaningful life. I set off on a journey around the globe, which radically changed my perception of myself and the world.

Travel and adventure led me on a road of self-discovery, shedding years of cultural conditioning and finding my true self. After returning home, I was filled with so much passion to share what I had experienced and give people a window to what is possible if we see the world and each other through a different lens.

Tamar Kobakhidze: I believe that stories connect, create change, and heal. They stimulate our senses and involve us both emotionally and intellectually, very much like travel. Traveling is a storytelling experience in a way. You are either the narrator or the listener. That’s where every moment has the potential of becoming a story, touching and unique. I guess that’s why travel and visual storytelling have always been equally close and dear to my soul. In today’s society, adopting a positive outlook and open mind on the differences and similarities of humankind found all around the world is invaluable. The more I traveled, the more I understood the value of my skills in documenting and sharing compelling stories from the local people I met and befriended.

As a teenager, I became a part of the production team of the only youth television program in the South Caucasus. That’s where it all started. Internews was the first ‘school’ opening the door into the journalism and documentary world. Followed by almost a decade of work as a digital communications producer for the World Bank in Europe and Central Asia. This year I decided to become self-employed to have enough time to travel.

Wilson: What is the main goal of the expedition?

Johnstone: Where do I start? I have so many hopes for this journey. My ultimate wish for Expedition Silk Road is that it will remind people of our shared humanity and inspire us to move towards a sustainable and better future. I believe we are all interconnected, and I hope that the stories along the road will open our hearts and empower us to build bridges and not walls.

I suppose my final hope is a more personal one. Many countries along the Silk Road are often presented as not safe by the mainstream media, particularly to female travelers. I hope that Tamar and I can change that story.

Wilson: Where will you be heading during this journey?

Johnstone: Depending on current border restrictions, the plan is: Georgia, Iran, Pakistan, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan.

Wilson: What destination are you most excited about?

Johnstone: That’s a really tough question. Every single country offers something exceptional and unique. Being able to travel again feels magical.

I’m looking forward to every mile of this adventure to truly immerse myself in the local cultures, broaden my horizon and understand more about the country, the people, and their daily lives.

Kobakhidze: I see Persian letters in my dreams. They are so beautiful but also so hard to remember. At least, I am now capable of differentiating letters from numbers. I started learning the language earlier this year because before meeting Steph, I was already planning to travel there in my van and stay as long as possible to make deep connections with people and enjoy the country’s jaw-dropping landscapes. Persia played a significant role in the history of the Georgian people. It has a significant influence on our culture and literature too. No surprise that it has long been on my bucket list.

Wilson: Who will you be interviewing along this journey?

Johnstone: We have so many wonderful individuals and organizations whose stories we can’t wait to share. From earth guardians, local schools, tribes and nomads, disability advocates, female adventurers, and change-makers to ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Wilson: How do you decide which stories are worth sharing?

Johnstone: I believe we all have a story that is worth sharing. I often hear people say that they think they are not special because they haven’t experienced some kind of hardship in their lives, but I disagree. We are all unique, and each of our stories can be of great value to someone. There are so many things we don’t openly talk about, so many insecurities that we keep hidden away. It’s also hypocritical for me to make this statement when I haven’t dared to share all of my personal stories. Still, I do know that every time I read someone else’s story that resonates with me, I feel understood and one step closer to being able to share my story with the world.

We don’t have to come from hardship or have achieved everything we set out to do to share our story, and we don’t need to be superheroes with capes. Our stories are worth sharing because we are human. We are all unique, and every single one of us has the power to inspire the hell out of someone. I want us all to get to know each other on a deeper level so we can see our shared humanity. To make us realize that we are the same despite our differences, and that is precisely what Expedition Silk Road is all about. I hope we can all find the courage to be unapologetically ourselves, share our most vulnerable stories, and help someone else in the process.

Wilson: What do you anticipate the hardest part of this journey will be?

Johnstone: I do not doubt that seven months of travelling will bring us many challenges. Tamar and I are two strangers who are still getting to know one another. We will have our highs and our lows and all the wonderful moments in between.

This journey will test us physically and mentally. Every story we hear will mark us. All our experiences will push us to look inwards, but I’m looking forward to all the insights this adventure will spark.

Wilson: You mention that each week you will be pairing your journey with a global call to action. What does that mean and what will these calls to action entail?

Johnstone: We often talk about climate change and taking action. We know that we are facing a massive crisis. We talk about kindness and compassion. Mental health. But what does any of this mean? Is a yearly call of action enough? And what do kindness and compassion even mean?

I believe every action, every conversation we have, has the power to create a positive ripple, and together we can turn tides into waves. To have an impact, we will need your help. I hope you will join us every week to share your act of kindness with us via social media, in a story or post, using the hashtag #amillionactsofkindness, and nominate three other people to do the same.

Let’s share our hopes, desires, and fears and challenge each other to look inward. If we can make the world a bit more about us and a bit less about me and learn to work together, I believe we can solve our challenges.

Wilson: Travel documentary filmmaking like this can get expensive – how are you funding this journey and these short films?

Johnstone: That’s sadly true. Since starting A Million Voices, I have self-funded every aspect of the Project using my savings.

For the expedition, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have the incredible support of some great brands behind me who are sponsoring Expedition Silk Road, such as Craghoppers, Soulbottles, Insight Guides, Hummingbird Travel, The Jetram Partnership, Komoot and Life Saver Power, to name a few.

Wilson: How many videos have you shot so far? How many do you hope to release by the end of this trip?

Johnstone: So far, we have filmed nine extraordinary individuals in Georgia and two in Iran. It’s honestly difficult to say how many stories we will end up with. I’ve never really focused on a specific number. I want to take the time to connect with the people whose story I’m sharing and get to know them. I think that’s the most important thing to me. It’s not the end product. It’s the journey and forming genuine connections.

Wilson: How can people follow along and tune into the content that you’re creating?

Johnstone: Sadly, A Million Voice’s website won’t go live for another few weeks due to technical issues with the membership area. Still, in the meantime, you can follow us on the following social media channels. We would love to hear from you, so please leave us a comment and say hello.






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