Men & Women wanted for hazardous journey

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“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”

This is said to be the advertisement placed in the newspaper in 1914 by Sir Ernest Shackleton ahead of his famous mission to Antarctica known as Endurance.

Can you imagine signing up to that?! Beautiful!

I’m certainly not even beginning to suggest that Unogwaja can possibly be compared to Antarctic ice travel in the early 1900s (jeepers reading about it scares the heck out of me!) but throughout my personal experience of reading “An Unsung Hero – Tom Crean – Antarctic Survivor” (by Michael Smith) it frequently brought up strong memories and feelings of the Unogwaja and what it asks of the people part of it, and what then is given, which is where the magic lies.

As we have just opened applications to join team Unogwaja (applications close on 8th August) I thought it was the perfect time to share my feelings.

Tom Crean was involved in some feats that you would scarcely believe were true. Moments where as much bravery, courage and pure will than you can ever imagine were matched with the most audacious or outrageous luck or grace. Tom Crean had the responsibility of his fellow crew mates’ lives resting on his shoulders. Our ability to endure, survive and never give up is at its greatest when others are depending on us.

An image I will never forget is a clenched fist of Madiba showing the strength of a fist compared to a hand when all 5 fingers are spread apart. We are always stronger together and on an Antarctic expedition your survival depended on this:

“They were coming together, increasingly aware that they depended upon each other for survival. Bonds were forming which would remain for the rest of their lives. As fresh difficulties presented themselves, the more valiantly did my companions set themselves to work”

Tom Crean was a quiet, understated Irishman who died in 1938 a few years before Phil Masterton-Smith (1942) and yet his life like Phil’s will be shared forever. If there was one phrase to sum up Crean, it would be “team before self”. No finer example than his willingness to burst out in song (despite his apparent dire lack of singing ability!) when spirits were low and dangers were high.

Something I find interesting too is all the expeditions that Tom Crean was part of under Robert Falcon Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton were “failures” in terms of their fundamental objectives (like reaching the South Pole and crossing Antarctica on foot) and yet they are remembered as if they were triumphs. Triumphs of a human kind are far more meaningful than any record or any medal can bring alone.

During this year’s Unogwaja, the words of “MK” (Mkhululi Vokwana Gqalane) one of the special volunteers for Community Chest to travel with the team had a profound impact on me. He shared that for many people growing up around him in the Eastern Cape “dreams were a luxury they could simply not afford”. Tom Crean could certainly empathise with this reality growing up in the west coast of Ireland. He had to leave school when he was 12 as “the need to help on the farm and bring in some meagre amounts of money to the family was overwhelming”. How could he have possibly imagined becoming one of the world’s most respected Polar explorers and contributing significantly to an age of exploration known as the Heroic Age in Antarctica? One of Crean’s most famous mantras (and lines from Tennyson’s poem Ulysses) which he so evidently lived was “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield!”

You learn about yourself and each other when under the most intense of conditions: “One gets down to the bedrock with everybody. The character of men comes out and you see things that were never expected. You get to know each other inside out and respect some more, and unfortunately, some less.”

If I was to place an advert in the paper like Shackleton did back in 1914 it would read something like this:

“People wanted for long, arduous journey. Hefty application process and personal fundraising required. Many months of preparation. 13 day voyage across South Africa. Some rough conditions. Safe return not guaranteed. Message of hope in your hands.”

Who’s in?

Application window closes on 8th August.

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