ALTRUISTIC EXPATS: Antarctica & Australia

Altruistic Expats

ALTRUISTIC EXPATS: Antarctica & Australia

By Anne O’Connell

Global Living – Issue 7 | June/July/August 2013

Even the most remote geographic location on earth needs the attention of those willing to sacrifice a little for the greater good of others. When calling up images of barren wilderness, many might envision the vast white expanse of Antarctica, a desolate place where no one actually lives all year round.

Altruism in Antarctica

It’s not the most comfortable or glamorous assignment, yet altruism has found its helpful way to the ends of the earth. Teams of volunteers brave the elements every year to help the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) in their mission to conserve Antarctic buildings and artifacts and to promote and encourage the public’s interest in its Antarctic heritage.

Since the Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 by representatives from a dozen countries “to keep the Cold War out of the coldest place on earth,” according to ‘A Brief History of Antarctica’ by Kristi Oloffson in Time World (Dec. 2009), it has been considered neutral ground – a shared international outpost for scientific research. Harsh conditions dictate that work be done only during the more temperate months, November to March, when temperatures reach a balmy -30°F and the brutal white-outs finally settle down to crisp, clear blue skies and 20 or more hours of sunlight a day.

Few people can actually claim to be ‘from’ Antarctica, so the people who work, live and volunteer there are pretty much all expatriates, like Eleanor Land from Britain, who spent a season giving back through UKAHT.

“I had been working in the field of cultural relations for four years, bringing people from different cultural backgrounds together to learn from each other and trust each other,” said Land. “As part of that work I was posted to Canada where I helped to manage an Arctic project for young people. I became fascinated by the Polar Regions, and particularly interested in Antarctica, which has no indigenous culture at all; yet, it is an entire continent preserved under international law purely for the purposes of science and peace, and any activity carried out must be for the benefit of all mankind. That ethos appealed to me very strongly.”

The Trust cares for four historic huts on the Antarctic Peninsula and opens Port Lockroy (its flagship project) as a living museum each summer, to give tourists a glimpse into what life was like for some of Antarctica’s scientists.

“Antarctica has a fascinating history and very few people know about it – we hope to change that and to inspire a new generation of young people to care for Antarctica in the future,” said Rachel Morgan, director of UKAHT. “Because Port Lockroy is the most visited site in Antarctica, we also run a long-term environmental monitoring project to ensure human tourism is not having an effect on the breeding success of the penguin colony that resides there. So far no discernible impact has been found.”

Land expresses a common theme among fellow expats of an internal motivation to give back that is hard to explain.

“I have been involved with voluntary organizations all my life, such as the Brownies and Guides and local community environmental clean-up programs,” said Land. “I also did a lot of volunteering as part of my Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in my teens, including a John Muir Trust program, which is a wonderful initiative to encourage young people to love and protect wild places. Because I grew up in Scotland, I was lucky to live in close proximity to beautiful national parks and wild places, but I never imagined I’d end up anywhere as wild as Antarctica!”

Wild or not, the Trust counts on the hale and hearty expats who brave the elements to move its mission forward.

“Our recruits are our ‘frontline’ staff, representing the UKAHT to the public in Antarctica and effectively ‘flying the flag for Britain’ because Port Lockroy is a British base,” said Morgan.

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