SA doctor’s eye-opening expedition to Antarctica

2014-04-30 00:00

A FORMER Durban Girls’ High pupil’s adventure in the coldest, driest and loneliest place on Earth — Antarctica — has exposed her to just how far-reaching our unsustainability is, even thousands of kilometres from civilisation.

Dr Sandika Baboolal (28) last month became the first South African to participate in the Antarctic Youth Ambassador Programme (AYAP) for the International Antarctic Expedition.

Baboolal was one of 30 people chosen to go on the adventure with legendary adventurer Robert Swan as part of his 2041 project.

2041’s mission is to spread awareness and emphasise the importance of the year 2041, when the moratorium in place that bans drilling or mining in Antarctica, called the Antarctic Protocol Treaty established in 1991, comes under review.

Swan has dedicated his life to the preservation of Antarctica by the promotion of recycling, renewable energy and sustainability to combat the effects of climate change.

Baboolal, an ophthalmology medical officer, said the experience had taught her about the vulnerability of human beings. “I was expecting this epic landscape of wilderness and it is very difficult to describe. It is the last great wilderness on the Earth and wind and ice and snow has protected it from being exploited by human beings.

“It was a humbling experience and showed me how vulnerable humans are, but we are protected because we live in built environments.”

She said the challenges of living in Antarctica had also inspired her.

“It was a deeply transformative experience and you can’t help but be inspired and hear the Earth’s call for us to become stewards and protectors.

“We found bits of plastic in seals and penguins and we were literally seeing climate change happen yet we were thousands of kilometres from any climate change human activity.”

Baboolal said Sunday’s celebrations of 20 years of democracy should also have focused on environmental freedom, which is linked to freedom of the planet.

“People have removed themeselves from the connection to the Earth. We need to involve the Earth in the fight for freedom of equality and rights.

“At the rate that we are going in terms of consumption and fossil fuels, we need three planets to sustain us.

“If you think about our food and water security and land security concerns because of rising ocean levels then political freedom now becomes a secondary issue.”

Baboolal said she now plans on becoming part of the AYAP support team indefinitely and to help every year to find the people who want to make a difference.

She said Swan is flying to SA in May and has invited her to a high-level dinner. “He wants young previously disadvantaged South Africans to join the youth programme and I will be part of the team that facilitates that process.”

Baboolal was the lead facilitator in the AYAP and will now be involved with supporting the participants in their plan of action and projects across the globe. “Certain big corporate companies in South Africa have expressed an interest in the sponsorship of young previously disadvantaged South Africans to be a part of AYAP so I will form part of the team that facilitates that process. I also hope to develop my own leadership programme using the principles of Ubuntu, climate change and sustainable leadership with examples such as Nelson Mandela and Kumi Naidoo as case studies.”

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