Monday, 22 July 2013

Frostbite 25 times?!


It is getting pretty chilly here in Sydney but I am not talking about me with the frostbite thing!

I am talking about the amazing, globally renowned National Geographic photojournalist and conservationist Paul Nicklen.

Paul works mainly in the Arctic Circle and is passionate about taking beautiful images that speak to environmental causes, images that will draw people into a story.

Check out his new Sea Legacy organisation and gorgeous images on instagram.

This weekend I listened with an open mouth and unblinking eyes to his talesof adventure at the Sydney Opera House and was blown away by the risks he takes to get the perfect wildlife shot!

Paul has been knocked out by emperor penguins flying out of the water, has crashed a sea plane and has had hypothermia after spending over an hour diving with whales at 40m depth in below freezing temperatures.

Although he frequently falls through the ice, his worst moment was when he really did plunge ‘into the icy realms’ and fell through the middle of two rolling icebergs each the size of a car. He grabbed the rope attached to his sled as he fell and became trapped underwater, which dislocated his shoulder. Luckily a local hunter pulled him out before he had ran out of breath. Despite it taking two hours to pop his shoulder back in again, he was grinning the whole time as they had just got some incredible narwhal images that they had been waiting for over two months for. The 'long wait' is not uncommon and includes camping in a very cold tent and eating raw mutton and seal meat that is kept cold and cured by the outside saltwater air.

I loved Paul’s story of a leopard seal trying to make friends with him by repeatedly offering penguins for him to eat, and attempting to force feed him when he did not eat them.

During his fantastic talk, I learnt about how ring seals are the only animal to give birth actually in the ice and are crucial to the polar ecosystem. The ice is like an inverted garden with 300 species of microorganisms contained in it. Polar bears also need ice to live and are the best animal to use to communicate about sea ice melting as we as humans can relate to the personas captured in their faces.

When you are staring into the face of a 15-20m bowhead whale that was born in 1760 (!), Paul states that “you’re looking at art, science and conservation”. This incredible creature has survived the industrial revolution, whaling and world wars, but now its biggest threat is sea ice loss.

I was reminded that the speed of sea ice melt accelerates because the albedo of water is lower than the highly reflective ice, so as there is more melt and therefore more water, more of the sun’s heat is attracted to the area, melting any ice there much faster.

Paul, I applaud you for your bravery in pursuit of communicating messages of environmental degradation to the world. I truly hope that your hard work helps speed up global climate change mitigation processes and preventative actions against sea ice melt.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Indigenous Talent in Australia

We have come to the end of NAIDOC week, but the work to improve the lives of the indigenous population continues.

For my latest article in Ethical Corporation on overcoming the challenges of sustainable Australian indigenous employment, Part 2 in a two-part indigenous talent series, I had the pleasure of speaking with Sean Armistead.

“Where’s your mob from?” is a question regularly asked to Sean, the Indigenous Employment Programme Manager at Crown in Melbourne, the largest leisure complex in Victoria. With ‘mob’ referring to one’s extended family in Australian Aboriginal English, Sean usually responds that his mother is from an old traditional station in South East Australia called (Potaruwutj) Padthaway. 

When talking to Sean, his passion for improving the prospects of not only his mob but the wider Australian Indigenous community shines through and his own story led him to this. When Sean finished school and up until the age of 26 he went from job to job. Whilst he built up a broad skillset, he was harbouring much larger ambitions. However, Sean quickly came to realise that there was not enough help available to connect such life aims with jobs.

After studying law and commerce, Sean co-founded the not-for-profit CareerTrackers, which aims to help create career pathways for Indigenous university students through structured internship programs. The best thing about it, says Sean, is that it emphasises the individual and what they want to do in life.

This kind of passion is taking Sean to great places: he is currently running for election in Melbourne.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

A Royal Baby Girl?

As we excitedly await the arrival of a British bundle of joy, I would like to stick my neck out there and predict that the baby will be a girl.

If the privileged baby is a girl, she will be born into a developed society where she can potentially become queen one day, where the fight for equal rights for the sexes continues, but where much progress has been made. She will be expected to undertake public duties including engaging in philanthropic and community-based development.

My hope is that she (or he, if it is a boy), will feel compelled to support women in less privileged positions.

Earlier this week I went to a fantastic talk organised by UN Women and the Australian Institute of International Affairs- the first in a Youth Event series. A wonderful and truly inspiring young woman of only 25 years old named Preethi Sandaram spoke of her two years volunteering through Indicorps in a village of just 25 houses on the Indo-Pakistani boarder.

Like Preethi, I have seen how some women live in developing countries through my three months volunteering with Raleigh International in Borneo. For one third of that time I was part of a team installing taps in remote village houses so that everyone in the village could benefit from clean, fresh drinking water from a gravity-fed water filter system. All of the village men worked in palm oil plantations during the day, leaving their wives at home to cook, clean and look after their (often many) children. A few weeks into the project, we discovered a situation where a male village elder was taking advantage of the fact that these women were on their own at home during the day without their husbands around. He had been threatening them with a perang (a large knife), demanding that they pay him a week’s worth of their husbands wages if they wanted a tap installed. Of course, this was dealt with as soon as it was discovered. It was explained to all villagers that no one was to be victimised in such a way and that everyone could have a tap for free.

This gender discrimination that I experienced was small-fry compared to Preethi’s experience in a small Indian village. In her hour-long talk she described how women barely left their homes at all and certainly did not leave the village. The biggest barrier to their movement in this post-conflict area was the high threat of violence- especially sexual violence. Over the two years that Preethi was there, four rapes, including one gang rape occurred. Speaking to the village women, she discovered that ‘domestic violence’ was not a concept that they understood there, because it was so much the norm.

Baby girls born into that village are certainly not Royal Babies.

Baby girls born into that village are born into a society where women have a very low status; growing up as young girls they cannot go to school for the risk of attack, cannot be seen out and certainly cannot be seen interacting with males. Another factor is that the village is a known through-way for heroin from Afghanistan- a country that produces around 90% of the world’s heroin. Many village men are addicts, or alcoholics. Drug smuggling is one of the highest paid industries men can be in (much better paid than taxi driving) so the young village boys have that as their greatest aspiration.

Preethi’s work and level of dedication are nothing short of incredible. During her two years (which in itself is unbelievably impressive), she set up many schemes to alleviate some of the issues faced there. At the age of 23 and undertaking the project work largely alone, Preethi established a new education system where boys and girls could learn key subjects and sports together. Preethi also established a new fashion business using the village women’s existing sewing skills. For the latter, Preethi worked hard to set up bank accounts for these women (which took three months in itself) and to negotiate with the women’s husbands so that they could be allowed to travel into the next town to buy textiles and to sell their garments. Her schemes have gone from strength to strength and have made a huge positive difference.

With regards to the rapes (this was the most shocking part of Preethi’s story for me), work is being done to encourage women to report them, for example through having more female police officers and educating both male and female officers in handling rape cases appropriately.

Of course, this village is just one of many facing similar difficulties not only in India but across other post-conflict areas around the globe.

My message to the British Royal Baby, male or female, is: "Welcome! The world is beautiful. Please, as you grow and learn about our world, make use of your privileged position to help alleviate the pain felt by less privileged women and girls around the world".