"Small steps matter"
UNDP Regional Goodwill Ambassador completes an excruciating feat to raise awareness about the climate emergency and food security.
Paralyzed from the chest down Michael Haddad, Regional Goodwill Ambassador, Michael Haddad, yesterday defied all odds to achieve the impossible, completing his Arctic walk for Climate Resilience and Food Security.
Without the use of his legs Michael Haddad, walked 5 KMs up more than 130 meters over rough terrain to deposit seeds and a ‘message of hope’ at the Global Seed Vault on the island of Svalbard accompanied by a team of supporters including representatives from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the United Nations Development Programme.
The 40-year-old, from Beirut, said he set the challenge because as a UN Ambassador he is using his story and his experience “to bring people together” to start communicating about climate change, looming food insecurity and disabilities so we can take action. “We need to act now”.
As he reached the summit achieving what for him is the equivalent in exertion of running five marathons, he announced “as you see nothing is impossible – faith and determination works, small steps matter” referring to both his own achievement and what we can do overcome the climate crisis.
Michael Haddad, an endurance athlete and a motivational speaker said it took seven years of training to complete this challenge that is not only an example of endurance and determination but carries a message of hope.
Walking with seed samples from twelve Arab countries and a book given to him by Pope Francis, Michael delivered a “message of hope” to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault-- the world's largest backup facility for seeds, carrying significant importance for global food security.
“Our hope is bold, grounded in faith in our ability to do the right thing and to act collectively, in solidarity, at the pace and scale needed to arrest the fast-progressing climate emergency and stave off a looming food crisis,” he said.
Despite his paralysis, and a body that he described feels like ‘dragging a lorry’ Michael is able to walk upright by adopting a unique walking pattern described as a ‘Swing through Gait’, using the support of an orthotic exoskeleton. This specially designed support system holds up his lower body and helps him produce movement.
The Arctic walk for Climate Resilience and Food Security required not only physical but mental training and work on an improved exoskeleton that would enhance his walking abilities.
“Another project we created is a ski system so he can ski over snow, which is more efficient and why we would like to do 100 KM walk around Svalbard or the North Pole to raise awareness about the melting of the glaciers”.
“Michael is a genius for us, we are learning from him how to construct exoskeletal systems for paralysed people so that they can stand up”.
Explained Barbar Akle, Associate Provost for International Education and Programs and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Lebanese American University at the start of the walk.
Michael Haddad completed the 5 KM walk in good time despite the climb and navigating over lose stones. Ice and snow have melted earlier than expected, another example of changing weather patterns in this polar archipelago.
During the walk, he had to carefully calculate each move, changing patterns of movement according to the terrain, he described his pain and how he felt extremely anxious particularly on the rougher, steeper road to reach the vault and though few people noticed he almost fell three times.
As he launched himself forward in the last steps, he announced
"This walk is not about me, it’s about all of you, FAO and UNDP and what we can achieve together in partnership, we need to start doing things differently”
Kent Nnadozie, Secretary, International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture said: "We are here in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, the world's northernmost permanent settlement to watch an incredible feat but not only this”
“Michael has also played a very significant role delivering seeds from Arab countries, it is these seeds and all the others in the Svalbard Seed Vault that are the world’s food security”
“In a time of crisis, whatever that may be, war or extreme climate change, they could be our lifeline”.
Grethe Helene Evjen, Senior advisor at Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food who played a key role in establishing and coordinating the Global Seed Vault was on Svalbard to meet Michael,
“I don’t think you will manage to ensure food security and tackle climate change without the insurance of seeds in the Vault”, she said.
Flying back to Lebanon today, Michael and his team left Svalbard having shared an important message for the future.