For Immediate Release
Singapore, 18 March 2020 – After six gruelling and brutally challenging days, which saw them push their limits to the brink of exhaustion on multiple occasions, the women of non-profit organisation HER Planet Earth have succeeded in becoming the first all-female team to fatbike across Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail in winter.
The objective of this pioneering winter expedition was to raise awareness and funds (a team total of S$50,000) for underprivileged women affected by climate change in the Asia region. In the past decade, climate related disasters have led to the loss of 700 thousand lives, 1.7 billion people affected and economic losses of USD 1.4 trillion. These effects disproportionately affect women and girls: multiple discriminations mean that women are more vulnerable in crises and post disasters situations. In view of this, the team chose to raise funds for UN Women UK, and their programmes supporting the economic empowerment of women in rural areas of Asia, more specifically, in countries most affected by climate change, such as Vietnam, Bangladesh and Nepal.
More specifically, the funds raised will have an impact on empowering new women leaders in those countries and will focus on:
1. Leadership and life skills training for women and women’s networks operating in disaster-prone areas
2. Piloting and scaling-up climate-resilient livelihoods projects supporting women to manage agricultural businesses in at risk areas
3. Promoting gender-responsive disaster risk management policies that address the gender inequalities of risk
Recent HER Planet Earth expeditions have taken teams sailing to remote islands in the Philippines, climbing new peaks in Antarctica, trekking across the largest caves in the world in Vietnam and climbing mountains in Iceland and North Kenya. For this recent expedition, HER Planet Earth’s seventh to date, the team chose Greenland, the world’s largest island, also known as the 'Refrigerator of the World', because of growing concerns related to global warming and rising sea levels.
What Goes on in the Arctic, Doesn’t Stay in the Arctic
The glaciers of Greenland are contributing to a rise in the global sea level faster than was previously believed and the women want to see for themselves the extent of the ice melt, while also meeting with climate scientists and local Inuit people to better understand the gravity of the situation. The big concern for the future is if the giant ice sheet in Greenland continues to melt, this would raise global sea levels by as much as 1 metre by the end of the century - and up to 7 metres if all of it melts. While all coastal cities will be affected by rising sea levels, Asian cities will be hit much harder than others given their population, economic activity and landmass. Many of the processes that control sea-level rise are amplified in Asia. As a result, about four out of every five people impacted by sea-level rise by 2050 will live in East or South-east Asia.
The Team’s Journey
The journey started in Copenhagen, where the international all-female team came in from Moscow, Hong Kong and Singapore and met up with expedition leader, Paul Spackman, part of UK-based company Secret Compass, founded by ex-British military officers of Her Majesty's Forces Parachute Regiment, who are pioneers in adventurous travel leading expeditions to some of the most remote regions on earth. The team then flew to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland and connected with their local crew and support vehicles from Sirius Greenland, before beginning their six-days biking expedition, from the Russell Glacier all the way to the coastal town of Sisimiut.
Along the way, they had to battle extreme and bitter cold conditions, with temperatures ranging from -20 to -40 degrees Celsius. Covering 200km, the team rode on all types of terrain, from hard packed and powdery snow, to slippery ice, mud and rock. Along the way, the women cycled up and down many hills and mountain passes and across vast frozen, crackling lakes and fiords. The days on the trail were long and tiring, with no shelter from the bitter cold and wind for up to ten hours each day, which sometimes even saw them reach their huts for the evening in complete darkness.
“This was by far one of HER Planet Earth’s toughest challenges. Given the extreme Arctic conditions, we were very careful to avoid any frost bite injuries and luckily, despite the multiple falls and wipe-outs, there were no broken bones, just a few sprains, bruises and aches & pains,” shared HER Planet Earth Founder and CEO, Christine Amour-Levar.
During their time in Sisimiut, the team also met with local female leaders from the community, to discuss the importance of gender equality and how climate change has affected life on the island. Greenland's strategic importance has grown recently amid increased Arctic shipping and international competition for rare minerals. Arctic waters are becoming more navigable because of melting ice, linked to global warming. The vast island is strategically located between North America and Europe, easing deliveries to many markets. Mining is expanding because Greenland's vast ice sheet has been retreating significantly in recent years. All these new economic opportunities bring added environmental and social challenges for Greenland’s 56,000 or so residents - the majority of whom are Inuit, whose ancestors migrated from Alaska through Northern Canada.
Next up for HER Planet Earth is a coral restoration diving trip to the islands of Palawan in the Philippines in partnership with the Sulubaaï Foundation. Ultimately, HER Planet Earth’s objective is to inspire people to leave their comfort zones, families and homes for a certain period of time, while pushing their limits in an effort to rally support for climate action. At the core of their culture is a commitment to empowering underprivileged women, a passion for adventure and a deep respect and love of nature. The group seeks to take participants on pioneering expeditions around the world, so that they can make new discoveries, flourish as individuals, but most importantly, contribute to society. By travelling in such challenging conditions, the team hopes to bring international attention to the need for societies, governments and corporations to get involved and help support climate action and female empowerment.
Watch highlights of their trip captured via drone footage by teammate and HER Planet Earth Partner, Sandra Lim:
NOTES TO EDITORS
About HER Planet Earth
HER Planet Earth is a non-profit organisation headquartered in Singapore that aims to empower women as a way to mitigate climate change. One of its core objectives is to inspire more women to become policymakers and agents of change in order to achieve social and economic equity and a healthy and thriving planet. HER Planet Earth organises challenging, often pioneering, and self-funded expeditions around the world to increase awareness on environmental degradation and raise funds for programmes that empower and educate underprivileged women affected by climate change - ultimately helping them build climate change resilience. The organisation partners with nature lovers, environmentalists, scientists, polar explorers, adventurers, women’s rights advocates, corporates, tech entrepreneurs, feminists and charities that have programmes and structures in place dedicated to building a deeper connection between gender equality, genuinely sustainable development and the protection of the environment.
About UN Women UK
UN Women UK is the UK arm of UN Women, the global organisation for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Founded in 2010, UN Women works at every level to create change, from working with governments to change policy and legislation, to empowering business leaders to create inclusive workplaces, to delivering programmes on the ground for women entrepreneurs and survivors of violence. For more information, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The team of this HER Planet Earth Greenland 2020 Expedition is formed by 10 intrepid women of diverse nationalities and backgrounds. While they are all incredibly well accomplished in their careers, they are equally passionate about protecting the environment and empowering underprivileged women. Teammates include: Katrine Friis Olsen, Sandra Lim, Victoria Great, Loreto Rincon, Sharlyn Stafford, Fleur-Eve Le Foll, Patricia Jones, Judith Von Prockl, Fanny Lecarpentier and Christine Amour-Levar. To read the team bios please click here.
To donate to the mission please visit the team’s fundraising page here.
To see pictures of the team’s journey please click here.
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By Muriel Bauer
An Endless Field of Broccoli
This is the first thought that enters my mind as I am flying in a tiny plane over the Ecuadorian part of the Amazonian rainforest. I am on a two-week trip with a charity called the Pachamama Alliance, and will be visiting the Sapara and Achuar indigenous communities.
Our wonderful group made up of about 20 people from all over the world is united by a common goal: the preservation of this pristine natural wonder. As days unfold, we succumb to the beauty and mystery of the rainforest and its incredible inhabitants.
I have been on many amazing adventures before but this one is different: it is a journey into a deeper relationship with myself and our planet- the Pachamama.
After a few days in the forest, my senses are in turmoil: I start to see, hear, smell and feel more vividly. As I spend time meditating and soaking up the environment, visions and dreams show their faces and my consciousness expands. Stripped bare from all links with my modern life, I turn inwards and have access to deeper layers of my inner self. This feels raw and exhilarating.
Learning About the Achuar Cosmovision
Here, dream interpretation is an integral part of life, in the same way that we might use a GPS to find directions. Each morning at dawn, dreams are deciphered for their valuable insights which guide the life of the dreamers and their family members. Everything that surrounds us (trees, animals, the water, the earth, the sun) is Spirit and as such, demands the deepest respect. In every community, we are welcomed by powerful shamans who share their ancient wisdom, provide spiritual cleansing and invoke the powerful spirit of the forest (Arutam in Achuar language). Listening to local men and women, we are struck by an almost visceral realization that we all belong to this interconnected web of life.
The Largest Pharmacy in the World
Following the Sapara Chief Manari through the dense forest is a lesson in ecology, bio-diversity, and humility. This calm and grounded man can describe the medicinal virtue and function of each tree, plant, bark and leaf in the forest. Some leaves can apparently cure Hepatitis A while others can help with fertility or digestive problems. Listening avidly to his teachings, we understand we are standing in the largest and most potent pharmacy of the planet and feel the urgency of conserving this magical place.
Trekking for hours through the forest is indeed magical; there is no path, and we bless our dedicated guides without whom we would be completely lost. They navigate primarily through smell rather than sight and can spot any insect or danger very fast. Even though I am in the thick of an immense rainforest, I feel an unexpected sense of belonging and security, even when we spot the fresh marks of a (nearly extinct) jaguar!
Breathing the incredible pure air, bathing in pristine water, listening to the myriads of birds at dawn is like a long-lost luxury. For me, this trip has been transformative on every level. As an eco-therapist, I have deepened my conviction that healing our soul and healing our planet are deeply interconnected. I feel immensely grateful for the incredible warmth of all the people I met on this journey, and remain in awe of the majestic beauty of the rainforest. The spiritual insights I picked up will stay with me as I come back to my urban life with a renewed sense of purpose and responsibility.
Why this trip is Important
This trip is a heartfelt plea to protect the Amazon forest, and by extension, the areas of our planet that are still pristine and undamaged. The Indigenous Tribes live in complete symbiosis with the fauna and flora. If this fragile ecosystem is ever even slightly disturbed, their very survival will be compromised.
The major threats are oil extraction, logging, mineral extraction and, road construction. When we arrived, the clan leaders were alarmed as they had heard rumours of a project to build a road through the Achuar territory. They know this would bring disease, pollution, and the ultimate destruction of the forest and their culture.
The fight seems enormous yet the message is simple: let’s just not touch this part of the world. The aim is to create a massive protected area, free from oil mining, logging, mineral extraction and touristic development.
What is the Pachamama Alliance?
Since 1995, the Pachamama Alliance has worked with indigenous partners in Ecuador to stand for the rights of indigenous people and Nature, safeguarding the rainforest and working in the industrialized world to shift the culture of overconsumption that threatens their Amazonian home. The Pachamama Alliance has launched a large campaign calling for the protection of the Sacred Headwaters (the rainforest part of Ecuador and northern Peru) and a complete ban on all industrial-level extractive activities.