Our Homeward Bound journey

img_1513Last night I returned home to Canada, after the most extraordinary adventure of my entire life – the Homeward Bound Women In Science Leadership Expedition to Antarctica.

I was one of 76 women on the expedition. Homeward Bound was created by Australian business woman, leadership expert, and visionary, Fabian Dattner. Fabian had a dream. A dream of what could be accomplished if women had an equal voice at the leadership table, especially tables where decisions are made about creating a more sustainable future for our planet and its people. She shared her dream with Jess Melbourne-Thomas of the Australian Antarctic Division and with that, a dream became reality. Homeward Bound was born. A leadership development program for women in science, with the goal of having 1,000 women participate over 10 years.

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Fabian Dattner, contemplating the Antarctic landscape

After 2 years of immense work, planning and dedication by the Homeward Bound Team as well as a year of very busy pre-expedition preparation by the 76 women participants – juggling family life, work, and preparing for leaving it all behind for a month – Homeward Bound launched in Ushuaia, Argentina – known as the ‘end of the world’ and the gateway to Antarctica – on December 2, 2016.

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Our Homeward Bound adventure kits – our expedition jackets, a notebook/diary, touque, water bottle, pendant, and backpack – from our incredible sponsors

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Trying on our Homeward Bound expedition jackets. Thank you Kathmandu for your sponsorship.

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Boarding the MV Ushuaia, headed for the Antarctic Peninsula

We boarded our ship, the MV Ushuaia, our floating home for the next 20 days. The Ushuaia would take us across the Drake Passage – some of the roughest seas in the world – and then up and down the Antarctic Peninsula, going ashore daily to explore the magical landscapes of the frozen continent. While exploring Antarctica and learning about its polar ecosystems, the species that live there, the Antarctic climate and the history of humans on the continent, we were also learning about how to become strong leaders, influencers and change makers. Each day, the Homeward Bound faculty (consisting of leadership, strategy and visibility coaches and Antarctic science experts) led us through a program to bolster our leadership abilities. To receive this world-class instruction from experts in the field and with Antarctica as our backdrop, was an incredible experience in so many ways.

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Our first sighting of land in Antarctica

We ‘worked’ on ourselves, through analyzing diagnostic test such as the Lifestyles Inventory, 4MAT and MSCEIT. These tests helped us understand ourselves, how we operate – the good and the bad – and how we can take these qualities to bolster or change them to enhance our leadership abilities. We built personal strategy maps to pave the way for the lives we want to live, to carve out the path forward. After all, it’s hard to know how to get there when you don’t know where you are going. Kit Jackson’s strategy mapping really helped us figure out our priorities and how to achieve the things that are important to us. We learned, from Julia May, how to increase our visibility – a critical component of getting people’s ear on the issues we are so passionate about and affecting the change we want to see in the world. We watched short interviews full of inspiration and wisdom, filmed specifically for Homeward Bound, by notable women leaders such as Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, and Christiana Figueres, and others. We had small group discussions and one on one conversations about what leadership means to us. We formed triads as a way to help each other through the process of personal change, often sharing stories and experiences as encouragement.

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Receiving instruction in the LSI (Lifestyles Inventory) from Fabian

All of this happened on a ship in Antarctica. Our days were filled with a combination of leadership development work, excursions to the Antarctic landscape, and in the evenings, a bit of time to work on other things we were busy with, such as the Adopt A Scientist Program I am part of, which is a piece of my involvement in the Homeward Bound Education Project. But there was also time for drinks and conversation and a lot of fun.

While we were busy doing and exploring, we had our own film crew on board, filming for a documentary that will be made about Homeward Bound. Although we were supposed to ‘pretend they weren’t there’ so that the footage was authentic, like the crew of the ship, the film crew became just as important to us all as each of the 76 women participants. It really did become one big family for 20 days.

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Dale and Gary, two of the wonderful members of the 5 person film team

Spending 20 days on a small ship with about 90 people in close quarters. Sometimes that can lead to friction, especially when battling tiredness, sea sickness or the cold and flu that swept through our ship like wildfire. But considering our close quarters for many days, the difficulties were few. And where they did happen, open and respectful conversations were used to try to resolve differences.  I was so impressed by how everyone not only got along, but in many cases, took on the role as each other’s caregivers during times of stress, difficult news coming from home via our limited internet connection, colds, flu, sea sickness and other challenges. I witnessed some of the most incredible examples of caring, compassion and support amongst people who mostly began our journey as strangers, united by a common purpose and passion. If we could only see communities and nations come together in the way we all did on that ship, our world would be a far, far gentler, more compassionate place.

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The stunning landscape of Antarctica

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Duelling Chinstrap penguins

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Penguins hitching a ride on an iceberg

Our Homeward Bound Antarctic Expedition is over. But our Homeward Bound journey together has only just begun. Most of us are back home and some, such as me, are beginning to struggle with reintegration into day to day life. I have always been adverse to habit and normalcy. I need change. I get bored. I need to be challenged. I have a restless soul. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life in so many ways! I have the most incredible friends and family who constantly support me and cheer me on. I live in a beautiful little house in the woods in a place I dreamed of living. But to go from spending days zooming in zodiac boats to  visit penguin colonies, explore volcanic islands, and soak in the dramatic Antarctic landscape, well, for me this will be a challenge. There is a part of me that is still in Antarctica. And I think it always will be. I left a part of my heart there. I don’t know when or how, but I will get back to Antarctica. I have to. I feel it tugging at my heart. In the meantime, I will find ways to leverage my Homeward Bound experience to enhance my work in environmental education and conservation. My passion in life is connecting people to nature and inspiring them to care enough to protect it. After Homeward Bound, I’m more determined than ever to execute my life’s mission. It does mean things will need to change – how I earn my living and pay my bills, and possibly even where I live. But I’m more determined than ever to realize my dreams and fulfill my life’s mission, to feed my passion. A big part of that dream, passion and mission is taking people, especially youth, around the world on environmental learning expeditions. I will find a way to make this a reality. And I know I have 76 incredible women and the entire Homeward Bound Team, cheering me on.

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Here I am soaking up Antarctica. Photo by Sarah Connelly

Time to reflect on our Antarctic journey

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Overlooking the Beagle Channel in Ushuaia, Argentina. Watching the sun set on the day, but also on our Homeward Bound expedition. Although our expedition together has ended, our journey together has only just started. [photo copyright Shelley L. Ball]

It’s nearly 11pm on December 22nd. I”m sitting here in a hotel, high on a hilltop overlooking Ushuaia, Argentina, the End of the World, as it’s called. The sun has set behind a dramatic array of clouds, with the mountains across the harbour as their backdrop. The lights of Ushuaia are twinkling in the town below and I feel a sense of stillness and peace, something that has eluded me until now. Finally, the time has come for reflection. It has been an indescribably busy three weeks on our Homeward Bound Women In Science Leadership Expedition. But also an indescribably transformational and unforgettable experience. The version of me that stepped off our ship, the Ushuaia, a few days ago is not the same version of me that stepped onto that ship on December 2nd.

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It is hard to find the words to describe the Antarctic landscape. [photo copyright Shelley L. Ball]

It’s been very difficult to find the words to describe what I have been experiencing, seeing, and feeling during our Antarctic voyage. Between the stunning, almost surreal landscapes of the Antarctic Peninsula, the massive amount of work we’ve done during the expedition around leadership, vision, and strategy and the shear exhaustion of long hours of work with little quality sleep, and the discussions, connections and sharing of dreams and visions with the women on this expedition,  it’s been nearly impossible to process what’s been happening and even harder to find the words to describe it. But I am back in Ushuaia, Argentina, the place of our departure to Antarctica on the very southern tip of South America and the southern-most city in the world. Our 20 day expedition has ended and we are left to say our final  ‘see ya later’ to the amazing, incredible, inspiring, courageous, and determined women on Homeward Bound.

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Gentoo penguins in Antarctica. Seeing penguins with a snow gently falling felt like being inside a snow globe. [photo copyright Shelley L. Ball]

 I had hoped to write a blog post per day during the expedition, but for some strange reason, I couldn’t find my voice. The words were simply not there. Gone. No matter how hard I tried, I could not conger up any words to describe what we were seeing and experiencing. So now, with the time to pause and reflect, the words are beginning to come.

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The diversity of shapes, colours and sizes of Antarctic icebergs is beyond description. I’ll let the images speak for themselves. [photo copyright Shelley L. Ball]

I want to share this journey with you. I want to share my transformation with you. I want to share the incredible and indescribable beauty of Antarctica with you. But most of all, I want to share with you my passion for protecting our planet’s beautiful yet fragile wild places, in the hopes that maybe you too will feel a sense of stewardship and a need and desire to protect nature. And finally, I want to share with you the power, courage and commitment of 76 women in science from the around the world and the phenomenal team that brought us all together and created this journey for us. Our Homeward Bound Women In Science Leadership Expedition to Antarctica is about creating change, about women coming together to become leaders in creating a sustainable future for our planet. Visionaries  and influencers in the making.

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A Chinstrap penguin soaking it all in. [photo copyright Shelley L. Ball]

The start of something incredible…

I’ve been here in Ushuaia for 3 days now. At least I think I have. I’ve lost all track of time. I have to check my phone to see what day it is and it doesn’t get dark here until about 11pm so even my sense of time during the day is off kilter.

Over the past few days, the 76 Homeward Bound women have been arriving a few at a time, here in Ushuaia. It’s been the most incredible experience. We have all worked together for nearly 2 years toward this goal and yet until I arrived here in Ushuaia, I’d only met one of the 76 women – Wynet Smith – who is based in Ottawa. As we have begun to connect here in Ushuaia, it feels more like a homecoming, not new introductions. At least 2/3 of the participants are from Australia and many of them are already connected, but that doesn’t really matter. It isn’t a barrier. It hasn’t created cliques. Not at all. I’m so impressed by how quickly we have all connected, regardless of where we are from, our age. Our differences don’t really seem to exist. Instead we are focused on our similarities – our shared experiences through our science careers, our passion for women’s leadership and the environment. These are the things that bring us together.

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The stunning scenery of Tierra del Fuego National Park, near Ushuaia, Argentina. Our hike through the beautiful southern beech forests was wonderful and we were treated to views like this.

Yesterday I went hiking with 3 of the HB women. We drove up to Tierra del Fuego National Park, not far from Ushuaia, to hike in the southern beech forest. It was a beautiful day and a great way to get out, stretch our legs after many hours of travelling, and a great way to spend time together to get to know each other. We even bumped into 4 other HB women who had taken the bus up for the hike.

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Me, Kathleen and Sam – Homeward Bound women. We are all from the Perth area, Kathleen and Sam from Perth, Western Australia and me from near Perth, Ontario.

I don’t know what the next 20 days hold in store, but if the past few have been any indication, I think we are in for an incredible and even magical experience. 76 women, one mission.

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Homeward Bound Women In Science Leadership Expedition to Antarctica

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It’s here! It’s finally here! After nearly 2 years of waiting, hard work, connecting, planning, and anticipation, it’s here. Tomorrow I will be boarding an airplane bound for Buenos Aires and then Ushuaia, in Argentina. Ushuaia is where we – 76 women from around the world, all with science backgrounds – will board our ship (The Ushuaia) and head for the Antarctic Peninsula.

Homeward Bound isn’t a vacation. It’s a women in science leadership expedition. Our mission – to elevate the role of women in science, to enhance our leadership abilities, and to have an influence on decision making and policy development, globally, around sustainability and climate change. In a nutshell, it’s about creating a better future.  And we believe that women need to play a far, far greater role in shaping that future, than we have in the past.

Homeward Bound isn’t just a women’s leadership expedition. It’s the beginning of a movement. It’s the beginning of change, of a new era where women have an equal seat at the table, where gender ratios in all careers are far more balanced, but most especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Homeward Bound 2016 is the first. It’s a lot of firsts. It’s the first of 10 planned Homeward Bound expeditions, leading to 1,000 women having participated and being out there influencing the world. It’s the largest women’s Antarctic expedition. For many of us, it’s our first trip to Antarctica.

Over the course of this journey and adventure, I’ll be writing about my experiences. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to blog from the ship in Antarctica, but if I can, I will. If I can’t, then I’ll be posting my blog entries soon as I get back to Ushuaia on December 21st.

A big thank you to everyone who has supported me through this nearly 2 year process to get to this point. It’s been a long haul, but the support and encouragement has been overwhelming and for that, I am truly grateful. In my experience, nothing of true value was ever easy to attain. It takes effort and commitment, courage and trust. Who knows what the next month will bring, but I’m ready for this adventure…

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Where hydrogeology meets hops, it’s good for the environment – Cartwright Springs Brewery, Pakenham, Ontario

Biosphere is all about connecting people to nature and helping them learn about the environment. Although our flagship activity is taking people, especially youth, around the world on environmental learning expeditions to some of the most amazing places on the planet, we also know that understanding what’s happening in our own backyard is just as important. That includes learning about and supporting local businesses that operate in a way that is good for the environment. We love supporting businesses like this because they show that you CAN make a profit and operate in an environmentally sensitive way  . Profits and the environment are not an ‘either or’. Businesses can do both.

Today we discovered an outstanding example of a local business balancing planet and profits – Cartwright Springs Brewing Company in  Pakenham, Ontario. In impromptu visit to Cartwright had us taste testing their incredible brew. While we worked our way from the pilsner to the porter, we got talking with Eduardo Guerra, one of the business partners. By the time we’d made it to the bottom of a tasting glass of maple porter, Eduardo was telling the story of Cartwright’s cutting edge water treatment system. Cartwright is made with spring water – water that bubbles out of the ground right outside their front door. Because  they depend on this water for their brew, it’s extremely important that they protect this water source. But it’s more than that. Cartwright cares about the environment. So much so, that they spent a lot of money putting in a high-tech water treatment system that treats all of the water on site. And after treatment, all of the water that flows into the weeping bed is cleaner than grey water that a household water recycling system would produce. That really impressed us!

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As we sipped their springwater-fresh brew, Eduardo was telling us that the ‘waste’ (the spent grains) goes to a local farmer and is used as animal feed. So the environmental footprint of this micro-brewery is incredibly small – possibly smaller than any in Ontario and maybe even any in Canada.

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We applaud Cartwright’s committment to the environment. They’re showing local businesses and the brewing industry at large, that you can run a profitable business in a way that is good for the environment. This is a philosophy that Richard Branson’s Plan B projet is promoting – that people and planet matter just as much as profits and that businesses around the world can operate in a way that generates profit while being good for communities and the environment.

If you’re in the Ottawa area, I really hope you’ll consider visiting the Cartwright Springs Brewery. It’s nestled in the forest not far off the main road. Grab a pint and park in one of their Adirondack chairs on their stone patio. Support our local businesses who make the effort to be at the forefront of sustainability. Way to go Cartwright! Biosphere gives you two thumbs up!

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Erratum – I incorrectly stated in a previous version of this article that the spent grain was used as organic fertilizer. This was incorrect. The correct information is that it is used as animal feed by a local farmer.

Our crowd funding campaign – update

Hi Folks,

Our crowd funding campaign to raise the funds to launch our Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program (YEAP) in the arctic this summer is progressing nicely, but we still have a long way to go. We’re hovering around the $2,000 mark, but we need to raise $25,000. We have 31 days left to reach our goal.

Your support is VERY important to us! We need it to get myself and my co-teacher, Angela, on the arctic expedition with Students On Ice, to run our first every YEAP. We really want to make a difference – inspire a generation of change. A generation that values the environment and sees people and the planet as just as important as profits. It is possible to live sustainably. But it will take the next generation to get us there. So please supporting our crowd funding campaign by clicking HERE.

It takes just three mouse clicks to donate:

1. Go to our campaign webpage.

2. Look at the donation levels and PERKS on the right hand side of the page and choose the one that you are most comfortable with. Remember, every donation gets a thank you gift – ranging from an e-postcard to a limited edition signed fine art print. Once you’ve found the donation level you like, click on it and it will take you to a secure payment page where you can choose to pay by credit card or Paypal.

3. Once you’ve entered in your details, just click to confirm your payment and you’re done! And, you’re just supported an entire generation with your donation.

Remember that your donation isn’t just for this expedition. By supporting this inaugural run of the YEAP in the arctic this summer, we’ll have the experiences, stories, and photos we need to then to funding pitches to the corporate world. Our goal is to obtain a significant amount of corporate funding to further develop the YEAP. We would like our second YEAP to be on an expedition to Antarctica! And after that, the world is our oyster. We’ll be taking high school kids all over the world, to see the earth’s natural environments – see their beauty, their value, record those things in their photos and videos, and then create stunning visual presentations of their experiences to share with the world. This is where students become Environmental Ambassadors – using their own photos and video to share with the world, their messages of why and how we need to make the changes necessary to live sustainably. It is possible! We just need your support to get things rolling.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO THE YEAP ARCTIC 2014 EXPEDITION

Thank you for your support,

Shelley & Angela

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Help Make This The New Classroom…

This is where education needs to happen. Where kids can see things with their own eyes, touch things with their hands, hear the sounds, smell the scents, and feel the freeze on their face

This is where education needs to happen. Where kids can see things with their own eyes, touch things with their hands, hear the sounds, smell the scents, and feel the freeze on their face

Studies show that students benefit from experiential learning – learning done outside, beyond the confines of four walls. It is learning that is hands. And involves all the senses.

Take it from someone who struggled all the way through primary school. Not all kids learn the same way. It look me a long time to figure out the learning style that suited me. But once I did, I started to enjoy school, do well, and went on to do a PhD in biology and become a university professor.

My own experiences have had a big influence on my role as a teacher. And it is because of this and my passion for our planet’s natural environments that led me to shift my focus to experiential learning. My own experiences through my post-secondary schooling have taken me to amazing places – the subarctic of Churchill, Manitoba, the dessert southwest of the United States, the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the tropical forests of Central America, and the rich coastal habitats of New Zealand. Those experiences changed my life. They connected me with nature. They showed me different cultures. They showed me the beauty of nature and its value in our lives. And all of that made me want to preserve all of those incredible places I visited.

It is my passion for biology and my experiences of visiting these incredible natural places on earth that were the motivation for me to create the Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program. It is a program focused on two things. One, connecting youth with nature. Getting them outside, to some incredible places on our planet, to see things that most people would never see. Two, to nurture that connection to the point that youth care about the environment, enough to want to preserve it. Frankly, their future depends on it. We currently do not live sustainably. Human impacts on the planet are large. But that can’t continue indefinitely. The next generation will have to find solutions to the problems that my generation, and those before mine, created. Inspiring kids to care and to actually do something is important. And so this is why our program has experiential education at its core. Our aim is to get kids to remote places around the world. Places where they can see nature with fewer human impacts on them that where they live. Places with beauty so stunning that they will want to preserve it.

A unique aspect of our program is that we use photography and videography to teach kids about the environment. We teach them the technical and creative aspects of it. We show them the intricate details of nature. And then we help them learn how to capture that in pixels. We then teach students how to create stunning visual presentations. And when those are ready, we’ll teach them how to present those to anyone who will listen – their schools, their clubs, their communities, but most importantly, their peers. Kids don’t really like learning from adults. And they learn better when they are taught by kids their own age. So that’s what our program strives to do. It turns kids into teachers. It turns kids into environmental ambassadors. Our program helps kids share their own messages of the need for positive environmental change, using their images and video and their words. It empowers them to feel that they actually can do things that will make a difference. These are the kids that will become our next world citizens. Voters and consumers. But also up and coming CEO’s, politicians, teachers, and parents.

Our YEAP mission statement is: to mentor a new generation of leaders, innovators, and world citizens who believe that the long term health of earth’s environments is at least as important as profits and development, and who will guide their generation toward a sustainable way of living.

And that is why we are currently engaged in an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign, trying to raise $25,000 to get me and my co-teacher on an arctic expedition with 80 high school students, to launch our first ever Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program. We have been very fortunate to be collaborating with Students On Ice, an award-winning organization that runs youth expeditions to the arctic and antarctic. We’ve been given the chance to pilot our YEAP on the July 2014 arctic expedition. And so this is why we need your help!

We have 32 days left of our funding campaign. We’ve raised almost $2,000 but that’s a long way from our $25,000 goal. So we need YOUR support. Please visit our crowd funding website and please donate. Pick a donation level that you are comfortable with. There is a thank you gift for your donation, depending on the amount you donate.

In addition to your donation, we also need you to spread the word. The more people we reach, the more donations we’ll get. And each of those donations gets us one step closer to our funding goal and more importantly, to creating a transformational experience for youth, inspiring a generation of positive environmental support.

DONATE BY CLICKING HERE

Thank you for your support.

Shelley

Planet, people and profits – Plan B

“Our mission is to catalyze a better way of doing business for the wellbeing of people and planet”. This is the mission of the B Team, a team of influential business leaders from around the world. The initiative was created by Sir Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz, as a means to ‘screw business as usual’ and create a world where people and planet are as important as profits.

The bottom line of this initiative is sustainability. Getting us back to living off one planets worth of resources. It’s a lofty goal and one that will be met with plenty of opposition and resistance. But it HAS to happen. The world needs a new generation of thinkers and doers – young people who know that our current model of doing business as well as our current lifestyles in developed nations is simply not sustainable.

This is one of those monumental and fundamental changes that will be huge. It means we’re in it for the long haul. But I’m optimistic.

One of the core component of our program here at BIOSPHERE Environmental Education is to educate youth about our planet – about the incredible beauty of its diverse habitats and species. But we also look at the human impacts on our planet. The goal is to understand those impacts and to learn to change the way we live, work, and play so that we can have good lives, but not at the cost of the destruction of the earth’s climate, habitats and species as well as the cost to human health and wellbeing.

It is time for change. BIOSPHERE Environmental Education will be part of that change. Our goal is to inspire youth to understand and appreciate our natural environment and develop a sense of stewardship towards it.

Have a wander through our website to see what BIOSPHERE is all about. We’re just starting out. But many big things started out small and we’re are only just getting started.

Cheers!

Shelley

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