An all-woman team on an expedition to engage people on water conservation
On her first trip to the South Pole, she started at Hercules Inlet at the southern end of the Weddell Sea, and completed the journey of 1,200 kilometres in just 50 days.
According to her, it was perseverance, patience and grit that enabled her to successfully finish this hazardous, yet, “dream trek”. A self-made teacher and “typical” mother-of-three, Liv Arnesen lives in Norway, a country well-known for its progressive systems.
In fact, this Scandinavian nation ranks number one on the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index and even holds the top spot for progress made on issues of gender equality.
Liv Arneson has inspired many lives with her diverse roles as a polar explorer, educator and motivational leader (Photo: WFS)
Nonetheless, a glass ceiling for women still exists, and Arnesen has been shattering it for more than two decades now. She has incorporated environmentalism and education into her latest adventure, an expedition along India’s Ganges River, from Gomukh to Bay of Bengal, along with exploration partner, Ann Bancroft, and a team of five women from different continents.
A woman on a mission, she is using this experience to increase awareness around the planet’s decreasing supply of fresh water. Indeed, the group’s goal is to reach out to 50 million youth with their educational curriculum on the importance of water conservation.
Incidentally, this journey is just an extension of the work that Arnesen and Bancroft do through their Bancroft Arnesen Explore organisation, which is dedicated to motivating people, especially women and girls, to reach for their own dreams. In this one-on-one Arnesen recalls some of her greatest challenges and shares the reasons behind combining exploration with environmental protection.
Q: What were some of the greatest challenges that you faced in the early years of your expeditions?
A: As I was preparing for my first expedition, skiing to the South Pole, I felt that I was moving into the men’s arena. Norway [is no stranger to women in positions of power as it] has had two women Prime Ministers and several female politicians. But even then, it felt like I should leave the poles to the men.
I didn’t get one Norwegian sponsor [to cover my trip]. Of course, things are changing now [but when I decided to taken on this exploration] I was asked all sorts of questions: ‘Have you served in the military; have you pulled a sled?’ And this was 21 years ago! I just explained that I had been embarking on long expeditions in Norway, had crossed the Ice Cap, and was an experienced person.
I think they wanted to … make me insecure. [But] I am stubborn; it didn’t work. And I had been dreaming about the South Pole since I was eight years old. This was my childhood dream and I realised this was my chance, so I took it.
Q: How does it feel to be one of the few women trekkers in the world? How do you cope with the difficulties that come in the way?
A: It is hard for women to get funding for certain projects in Norway and in other countries as well. We still struggle to put together the money. I think the men probably have a different network for fundraising. Moreover, women, at least the women I know, work for companies that are more human-oriented and may not have so much money to give [for such activities]. There are a lot of macho men out there that don’t like women doing these things. But I persevere.
A boat on the Ganges (Photo: FreeImages.com/ Subhadip Mukherjee)
Q: How did you come up with the idea of combining expeditions with educational curricula?
A: When I started on my first expedition, I simply wanted to fulfil my childhood dream. Halfway through, I was thinking about how doing this was giving me more and more energy. Then, I thought about my students, wondering how to inspire them. I started writing a book for students, but then realised some of the kids who would need the book might not read it. Later, when I got an expedition partner, we decided to create a curriculum and post it online. Since then, the educational element has been integral to our expeditions.
Q: What do you believe is your greatest contribution to society?
A: I think my teaching is my greatest contribution. I take the duty of being a role model seriously. I am inspired to do more when I think about all the messages I get from children, thanking me for showing them that it is possible to do these things. When you pursue your goals, you may hit a wall or meet people that don’t support you.
It is important to be patient. I was a high school teacher, and I feel so fortunate to reach even more young people now [with our curricula]. I [have] also adopted three girls. They are grown-ups today and good friends; and I have five grandchildren, too. My parents were a large part of this [success]. I learned from them to be independent, get an education and to earn my own money. I had parents that supported that sort of thinking.
Q: What message do you have for young girls today?
A: Chase your dream. Listen to your heart and your intuition. If there is something that makes the blood run in your veins, makes your heart beat faster, then it is important for you, even if your parents and friends don’t like it. Be patient. Make a plan. It might not happen in a year, it might happen in three or even five years. I waited from age 8 to age 41 to accomplish my dream. It was worth it.
ACTIVISM BY THE GANGES
Liv Arnesen is currently on an expedition along River Ganges to engage with people on the critical issue of water conservation. Here are some quick facts about their journey.
* Polar explorers and educators Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft are leading a team of six women, from six continents. The group includes Olfat Haider from Israel, China’s Cindy Jiaojiao Hu, Chilean Marcia Gutierrez, Kim Smith from South Africa, Lisa te Heuheu from New Zealand and Mumbai-based mountaineer Krushnaa Patil.
* The adventurous women will traverse 2,525 kilometres in 60 days following the river from its source, Gaumukh, to the Bay of Bengal. Notable halts along the way include Rishikesh, Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna and Kolkata.
* Why water? Because 1-in-8 people lack access to potable water and more people die from lack of clean water and sanitation each year than are killed by all forms of violence, including war. Within just 15 years from now, nearly two billion people will live in areas of severe water scarcity
* Through observations and experience sharing the Access Water Expedition will lead a conversation with 50 million youth to raise awareness on access to clean water and inspire them to formulate an agenda for action. The team will link up with local schools, farms and industrial businesses that are working to improve water conditions in the area.
(This article is part of U.N. Women’s Empowering Women — Empowering Humanity: Picture It! campaign in the lead-up to Beijing+20.) - Women's Feature Service