Monday, May 25, 2015

Expedition to Antarctica

Tata Docomo, the unified telecom brand of Tata Teleservices (TTSL) has taken a noble step towards building a sustainable society, promote recycling, and create awareness about climate change.

A Gurgaon resident, Anjali Birla just got back from an expedition to Antarctica as a part of the International Antarctic Expedition 2015. She was among the 2 Indians selected for the expedition.

The expedition which began on 13th March 2015, was organized by 2041 a globally renowned organization founded by explorer and environmentalist Sir Robert Swan. Anjali was part of a 90 member team travelling from 28 other countries.

Tata Teleservices supported Anjali during the 13 days expedition. The objective of the whole initiative was to understand and support the environmental issues that are prevalent around the globe. Our ecosystem is composed of a fundamental and delicate balance of various elements.

I got the opportunity to interact with her, I have mentioned below what she had to say.

1.              How was the experience?

Antarctica is an experience like no other. There is nothing in this world that can prepare             you for it and when it happens you will have no words to define it. My journey started    from New Delhi and it took me 57 hours of flying to come face to face with my fellow           participants, at the southernmost tip of South America in Ushuaia, Argentina.

On day 1 of the expedition we were acclimatized and prepared for our days ahead. Day 2 and day 3 were spent preparing for the Drake Passage (one of the most tumultuous        seas across the world) and the sailing that lay ahead of us. Braving the rough waters of the Drake Passage over a period of 3 days and maneuvering through massive icebergs, we finally arrived at the Antarctic Peninsula. Our ship was anchored a few meters from the land.

Our days during the expedition was filled with life lessons on leadership, team building   and personal unique wildlife experiences, all while building lifelong relationships with   teammates. We were up by 6 am each morning and embarked on our rafts to get to the Antarctic shores. Greeted by plenty of penguins and variety of seals, every day promised to be an adventure of a lifetime. Two visits lasting 2-3 hours each occupied most part of our day. We spent time on the island understanding the changing landscape and the effects of climate change.

When not confronting the temperatures of -5 to -10 degrees and gusts of wind as strong             as 100 kmph on the continent that is considered to be the highest, driest, coldest and windiest on earth, we saw interesting documentaries on sustainability and Antarctic’s       history on the ship. There were thought-provoking talks and discussions with various leaders in the group every day. On one of the nights, we even dug trenches to spend the night in sleeping bags at the magnificent Antarctic.

I believe that this experience has reinvented me completely. As a true environmentalist,             I have taken a pledge to make a difference. At my level, I am going to spread awareness            about this issue and reach out to more and more people in schools, colleges and work places and drive the message of sustainability as far as possible.

2.              When did you decide that you want to go for this expedition? Why?

I have always been a climate enthusiast and when I heard about the opportunity that this expedition offered, I just wanted to be on that ship. After all how many people on the earth can claim to have set foot in the Antarctica? It was in 2013 when I heard about this opportunity, and about the Project 2041, about Sir Robert Swann and the incredible mission that he and his team are working on, for all of us. I think I was onboard instantly

3.              What did you take back from the entire expedition?

I have come to realize that if each one of us contributes towards sustainability we can make a big difference. Before the Antarctic Treaty was signed, whales had become extinct. But owing to this treaty, a complete stop was put to their hunting for commercial purposes. Over the years, they have grown in number again and it is amazing to see them in their natural habitat. If the flora and fauna of the region is not disturbed, it can co-exist in harmony.

I strongly believe that this expedition has made me a facilitator of community involvement in taking responsibility for the environment. This expedition has provided me with a platform for integrated and holistic thinking on the interconnectedness of nature’s systems. I have made a       pledge to make a difference. At my level, I am going to spread awareness about this issue andreach out to more and more people in schools, colleges and work places and drive the message of sustainability as far as possible.

4.              What thought kept you going on this difficult expedition?

I believe that Passion drives an individual in most circumstances. I have always been passionate about nature and environment and I believe that’s what kept me engaged and motivated. While I was aware that the weather conditions will be far from easy quite frankly no amount of training can fully prepare you for the temperatures as low as -5 to -10 deg and winds as strong as 100 km an hour on the continent which is considered to be the highest, driest, coldest and windiest on Earth.

Survival is largely about not being caught out in the worst weather, not getting lost in whiteout conditions and not taking unnecessary risks. This means you must be well-trained to carry out your activities, careful about how you dress and work in a team where each member watches the others for signs of "frost-nip" and hypothermia.

We wrapped up ourselves in layers of clothing. It's very important to cover feet, ankles, hands, wrists and your head. Mainly synthetic fibers these days, not forgetting insulated footwear too. Clothes need to be kept dry and clean to maintain their best insulating qualities.

UV (ultra-violet) radiation is fierce in the summer so wearing wrap-round goggles and sun screen on any exposed skin is just as important as keeping warm in the winter. It can be quite a surprise to get sun burnt under your nose from the light reflected from snow and ice.

5.              Would you like to talk about the environmental issues that you got to know about?

There is just so much wrong that we have done with our planet that I don’t even know where to start from. The mining stations that were used to skin the whales, industrial waste that is being dumped there, pollution that’s causing icebergs to melt which in turn leads to disastrous consequences for inhabitants of that continent.

Penguins, Seals and Bears look very cuddly on celluloid and as stuffed animal toys for our children but they have a very real life which our indiscriminate industrialisation is taking away from them.
Up until now, I had only heard about climate change but in Antarctica, I got to witness the reality as well. From crashing icebergs, tabular ice shelves breaking off, to our ship getting stuck in an untimely ice floe... climate change was right there for us to experience and is much closer than we think.

Going forward we face some real challenges as a generation and we will have to take some hard decisions on what kind of planet, do we want to leave for our future generations.

6.              What is the selection procedure and criteria?

I was selected through a structured application process which required me to outline my inclination towards the initiative, my past experiences and how I would like to contribute in making a difference. I then underwent a telephonic interview conducted by Robert Swan himself before being shortlisted for the expedition. I think that any cause demands passion from the followers which the organisers found in me.

7.              How did you intend to contribute towards the growth of the environment?

I believe that this experience has reinvented me. As a true environmentalist, I have taken a pledge to make a difference. I intend to fulfill the purpose of Mission 2041 and in that regard, I am going to build a team of ambassadors who want to take responsibility for a greener and cleaner environment. I will drive the message of sustainability as far as possible by:

·         Spreading awareness: Going to spread awareness about this issue and reach out to more and more people in schools, colleges and work places through personal meetings, videos, blogs etc.
·         Participating in more such expeditions: To participate in more such expeditions. I feel extremely fortunate to have been nominated by Robert Swan for another such expedition to South Pole which will be organized utilizing renewable energy.
·         Building more ambassadors of change:  I hope to build more ambassadors of change like myself who will drive the message of sustainability across every nook and corner of the world.

8.              How are corporates giving their women employees an opportunity to experience newer adventures?

Take the example of my employers, Tata Teleservices Limited. When my seniors heard about the expedition they were very encouraging and even went to the extent of funding my trip. The organisation is part of the legendary Tata Group which has earned country many plaudits for their people practices.

At Tata Teleservices, sustainability starts from within. Sustainability means doing every single thing to create value over time hence all the employees volunteer for community development programmes. We collaborate with fellow colleagues to discuss sustainability in terms of our job functions and define our roles in achieving the business’ sustainability goals. We strive towards making our activities ecologically sound, socially acceptable and economically viable. At TTSL, we aim at meeting the needs of our present generations without jeopardizing the needs of future generations. As a representative of Tata Teleservices and advocate of sustainability, I would like to spread more awareness on the issue.

9.              Tips of how Indian women can make a difference in sustainability

There are a lot of ways in which women can contribute to the cause of sustainability. First and   foremost is by way of taking a lead in household and at their respective places of work. Whenever and wherever you see a light bulb that doesn’t serve its purpose switch it off, discourage usage of plastic, use renewable energy and educate others.

You can check out the video as well

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