Posted 08 September 2011, by Rym Ghazal, The National, thenational.ae
ABU DHABI // Antarctica gave Dana Al Hammadi a new lease of life. Now the first Emirati woman to visit the South Pole wants to repay the frozen continent in kind.
Video:UAE National visits Antarctica
UAE National Dana Al Hammadi shares footage from her trip to Antarctica.
After returning from her trip in March this year Mrs Al Hammadi, 38, has been travelling across the Gulf as a dedicated voice for the environment, and urging women to take their place in the great adventure that is life.
“I saw with my own eyes the impact of climate change – the way the ice caps were melting, the snow mountains were breaking with thunderous sounds, and changes to the waves and water level,” the Etisalat business development manager and mother of five says.
That experience led to her joining the campaign for the 2041 initiative, founded by the polar explorer and environmental campaigner Robert Swan.
The initiative raises awareness about preserving the Antarctic after the international treaty banning mining and drilling in the south polar region expires in 2041.
Mrs Al Hammadi will meet with government officials to try to convince them to sign the international 2041 treaty and she has set a personal deadline of this December.
“You just wait. The UAE will be the first Arab country to sign this treaty,” she says.
It was Mr Swan’s words, “anyone can go”, during a lecture that gave Mrs Al Hammadi the courage to approach him and become part of the team for the 2041 Expedition.
“I wanted to know the real world and do something different, something that would make my country proud,” she says.
Despite objections from family and friends, but with the full support of her husband Abdul Rahman, and their two sons and three daughters, Mrs Al Hammadi joined four Emirati men on the journey south after three months of intensive training.
They travelled with 66 environmental enthusiasts from around the world as part of the annual expedition.
Their enthusiasm was sorely tested in the first two days of the journey, when they sailed through Drake’s Passage between the southernmost tip of South America and the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula.
“We all vomited and were sick but in the end it was worth it,” Mrs Al Hammadi says.
That experience was wiped away by one of her favourite parts of the 14-day journey, when the group was welcomed to the continent by a party of dozens of penguins gathered to meet the rubber boat that dropped them off from the mother ship.
“It was as if they came to welcome us,” she says with a smile. “They kept peeking at us, coming closer, curious to see what we were doing.”
Mrs Al Hammadi says that on landing she could not resist grabbing some snow and eating it. “It was so refreshing.”
The team spent 10 days on land and the Muslims among them prayed together on the snow.
Mrs Al Hammadi says she will never forget the moment when she climbed one of the highest peaks in the South Pole, holding the UAE flag and shouting: “I did it! I did it!”
Her inspirational talks of her experiences to women carry the message: “Do the impossible.”
“Don’t waste your life shopping and sitting at home, do something meaningful in your life,” Mrs Al Hammadi says.
It has not fallen on deaf ears. In the coming weeks, she will introduce a Saudi Arabian woman who plans to follow in her footsteps.
“When I interviewed Dana and saw the photos of her trip, I decided I wanted to go,” says Sahar Al Shamrani, 33, an interviewer and producer at the MBC morning show Sabah al Khair Ya Arab.
Through Mrs Al Hammadi’s help, Mrs Al Shamrani was accepted for the same voyage in February.
She will document the journey for the sake of her daughter and for all Saudi women, she says.
In November, Mrs Al Hammadi plans to launch a competition at local universities and colleges. The four Emirati students – two women and two men – who write the best essays on the environment will win a chance to explore Antarctica.
Her strivings for the environment have had the full support of her husband. “I have complete faith in my wife,” Mr Abdul Rahman says.
“She has courage and is determined to make a difference.
“Her journey opened a door of discussions never before discussed inside people’s majlis.”
“This is just the beginning,” says Mrs Al Hammadi, who plans to visit the North Pole next year.
And the adventure has made her even stronger and more assertive, she says.
“If I can do it, anyone can. No excuses.”