Page last updated at 12:04 GMT, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

All-women team set for South Pole

By Saroj Pathirana
BBC Sinhala Service

The Commonwealth Expedition team
A number of the expedition team had not seen snow before

Eight women representing five continents are planning to reach the South Pole in time to mark the 60th anniversary of the Commonwealth.

The group plans to travel 800km (500 miles) over six weeks, braving sub -30C (-22F) temperatures to reach the heart of Antarctica, in an attempt to raise global awareness on global warming.

Team leader Felicity Aston, 31, a meteorologist from Kent, UK, has travelled all over the world to select seven other members of the expedition.

Ms Aston chose women from India, Cyprus, Ghana, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand and Jamaica to make up the team representing the 53-member Commonwealth.

"Antarctica is a dangerous place, it can kill you, so it is impossible for a group of 53 women to travel together," Ms Aston told the BBC.

Some of the women selected to take part in the adventure had never seen snow before the practice session in Norway.

Reena Kaushal Dharmashakthu, 38, from Delhi is the only South Asian in the team. She would be the first Indian woman to travel to the South Pole.

"It is a distant dream come true," she said.

"My participation will be a huge step forward towards empowering women in South Asia, where women are far away from being treated as equals."

Simple steps

The team, after completing two weeks' training in Norway, were reunited in London last week, where they were introduced to Queen Elizabeth II as the Commonwealth marked 60 years.

Anything we put on our mind can be done; that is the message I wanted to convey
Stephanie Solomondes,
Expedition team member

Ms Aston selected her seven team members from more than 800 applicants.

She said that raising awareness of climate change was one of the factors that featured strongly in the recruitment process.

"In India and Brunei for example, that awareness was not that strong," she observed.

Ms Dharmashakthu agrees, adding that a small change in people's attitudes and actions could make a huge difference in reducing global warming.

"Take the simple example of plastic bags. You can wash and reuse them rather than throwing them away after one use."

The eight women, who speak seven languages, are expected to be take up the role of championing efforts to curb global warming once they have completed their expedition in January 2010.

"People should be aware that this Earth does not belong to them...they have borrowed it from next generations," Ms Dharmashakthu said.

"Their indifference and apathy, in my opinion, should change."

Stephanie Solomondes, 25, from Cyprus, says she wanted to carry a strong message to women all over the world.

"Deep inside ourselves, we all have a desire and determination but we need to give it a chance," she told the BBC Sinhala Service.

"Anything we put on our mind can be done; that is the message I wanted to convey."

The other members of the team are: Barbara Erefua Yanney from Ghana, Najiba Al-Sufri from Brunei, Charmaine Tate from New Zealand, Kim-Marie Spence from Jamaica, and Sophia Pang from Singapore.

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