When sisters AlDana and Reem Al Alawi learned they had been chosen to join the 2041 International Antarctic Expedition they could not believe their ears.
The AUD alumni, and engineering student Amna BaniHashem, had written daily to Robert Swan, a renowned polar explorer, environmental leader and public speaker, whose personal leadership and sustainability program Leadership on the Edge, sends participants to the end of the Earth.
The women spent 16 days between Ushuaia, Argentina, the world’s southernmost city, and the Antarctic Peninsula, visiting incredible sites rarely seen by travelers.
There, they learned about the continent’s fragile ecosystem, experienced its unique wildlife and observed the magnificent landscape of Antarctica.
When the team arrived at the Antarctic Peninsula, they had dinner on the ship before continuing to the island. Sleeping bags were the only item allowed during their stay inland. When they arrived they faced a freak downpour – rain is very rare in Antarctica.
They said weather was so cold and stormy it was hard for the ship to retrieve them. But, despite the tough conditions, they initiated a solar powered conference.
TEDxAntarctica, part of a global set of conferences, was run on renewable energy – the first event of its kind in the region.
For the women, traveling from a very hot to an extremely cold desert was strange, but they said being prepared and wearing the right outfits helped them to adapt. One of their survival tips was to get heat packs for their hands. No matter how bad the weather was, they said that nothing would stop them from repeating the experience.
Reem said they saw ice break and fall, describing it as a shocking sight revealing the level of the damage being caused to our planet.
At that exact moment, she said, she thought that drastic action should be taken and awareness of climate change should be raised across the world.
Impressed by the diversity of people who were involved in the expedition, she added: “Everything was great, from the program to the people and the place. We met experts, environmentalists, and many other interesting people. No matter who you talked to there was always something new to learn. Most of the participants were geologists, underwater photographers, people who have worked with National Geographic. We were constantly exposed to knowledge, so we came back with a lot of information!
Their biggest challenge was returning to real life after visiting such a different and beautiful part of the world. They kept in contact with the people they met, all of whom faced similar difficulties.
Now, they all want to go back to Antarctica.
The team came back from the trip with many environmental ideas to share in the UAE and at AUD in particular. They believe that simple changes to our daily habits can make a big difference. AlDana said: “Having the privilege of visiting the farthermost, most beautiful place on Earth definitely did not leave me unchanged. Other than the fact that Antarctica’s beauty still haunts me, the experience itself was an eye opener, to say the least – a life changing one. It was the perfect setting in which to learn about looming issues of sustainability, renewable energy and climate change. Being a part of such a diverse group of people was very enriching and super-educational. I learnt that it is a must to take care of our planet, to respect our surroundings and use our resources wisely, because we do not inherit our time here on Earth from our fathers but borrow it from our children.
“I think that Antarctica should be on everyone’s destination map. Its beauty, its magic and lessons cannot be seen or experienced anywhere else.
AlDana said she came back from the trip a changed person. She can no longer sit and watch the environment being mistreated because she feels she has a duty to intervene. She added: “Even when I take a shower, I feel responsible.
The team said their parents were very proud of them. They are preparing to join future ecological projects with Swan, this time in the Gulf region.