By Ayanthi Philip
Sharlyn Perera Stafford, Entrepreneur and Co-founder of Stafford and Chan training and coaching organization based in Singapore and Sri Lanka, has become the first Sri Lankan to participate in the Pioneering Greenland Expedition organized by UN, HER Planet Earth in March 2020.
Sharlyn in an interview shared her inspirational and gruelling journey to the Arctic Circle.
What was the main aim of the Expedition?
In the past decade, climate-related disasters have led to the loss of 700 thousand lives, 1.7 billion people affected and economic losses of USD 1.4 trillion.
The primary objective of this pioneering winter expedition was to raise awareness and funds for these underprivileged women affected by climate change in the Asia region.
According to the World Economic Forum's Global Risk Report 2019, various coastal cities will be affected by the sea-level rise, especially Asian cities given their population, economic activity and landmass. The team, therefore, chose to raise funds (a team total of SGD$50,000) for UN Women, in aid of programs that support the economic empowerment of women in rural areas in some of the countries most troubled by climate change like Vietnam, Bangladesh and Nepal.
For this Expedition, HER Planet Earth's seventh to date, the team chose Greenland, the world's largest island, also known as the 'Refrigerator of the World'.
Greenland is 80 per cent covered in ice, and the melt from its glaciers is among the major contributors to the sea level rising.
How did the Expedition begin?
The journey started in Copenhagen, where the international all-female team of 10 fearless ladies came in from Moscow, Hong Kong, Singapore and myself, representing Sri Lanka. We met up with expedition leader, Paul Spackman, part of UK-based company Secret Compass, who are pioneers in adventurous travel leading expeditions to some of the most remote regions on earth.
The team then flew to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland and connected with their local crew and support vehicles from Sirius Greenland, before beginning their six-days biking expedition, from the Russell Glacier all the way to the coastal town of Sisimiut.
Tell us how the Expedition was conducted?
This pioneering Expedition braved one of the most barren, most isolated regions of Greenland.
Covering 200km amidst bitter cold temperatures ranging from -20 to -40 degrees Celsius, we rode on all types of terrain, from hard-packed and powdery snow to slippery ice, mud and rock.
We cycled up and down many hills and mountain passes and across vast frozen, crackling lakes and fiords. The days on the trail were long and tiring, with no shelter from the bitter cold and wind for up to ten hours each day. We would reach our huts for the evening in complete darkness.
What are some of the challenges you faced during the Expedition?
Led by Christine Amour-Levar, the founder of HER Planet Earth, I and the nine other ladies were pushed to the brink of exhaustion on several occasions across vast distances. Advancing across snow and ice using fat bikes with oversized tires was not an easy task. Each morning we would wake up, get on our 13kg fat bike, carrying a six kg backpack, we would traverse 30km each day. At the end of each day, every bone and every muscle in our body would hurt.
It was clear there was no room for error as the risk of frostbite was all too high. I must confess, as does the rest of the team, the Greenland expedition was the hardest expeditions experienced, both physically and psychologically.
Gruelling, challenging, limit-pushing, exhausting and exhilarating are the words I use to describe this once in a lifetime experience.
How long have you been cycling for?
I am a rider, and I have been cycling for a long time. I started with triathlons and have completed more than 30 Olympic distance races. Every year I do at least one bike tour. In 2019 it was Greece, and we plan to do Portugal in October 2020. Two weeks before the Greenland trip, I rode with a team of cyclists for 400 Km from Colombo to Arugam Bay. We were led by Gerald Simon from Ride for Charity (RFC) in support of Women in Need (WIN), a local charity that supports children and women of abuse. There were tough moments, and this ride gave me the experience and fitness for Greenland, except I was in tropical conditions.
What leadership and management lessons from this expedition can you bring to the boardroom and to your workshops?
Lessons learned of life and leadership! Focus, presence (now I know what it means to be mindful). Resilience and Self Leadership (I practised so much self-talk to stay focused and positive) as well as supporting the team and working together to arrive at our destination.
It wasn’t about how fast each of us were. Instead, it was about how much we helped each other, each one of us taking different roles at different times. We reached our final destination, and this was ‘Our’ success. It was the journey that took us to the destination, achieved by every individual of the team for @Her Planet Earth - a global women’s advocacy movement for gender equality and environmental conservation!
All of these learnings and more can be brought to the boardroom, to coaching and the workshops we conduct. I want to make a difference with passion and purpose in whatever I and my team choose to do!
Queen Rania of Jordan once said, ‘if one girl with courage is a revolution, imagine what you can achieve together.’ This is what I experienced!