Emirati team member with Solar Impulse discovers India
CHONGQING // Let me take a step back and speak more about India before moving on to China.
India has the second-largest population in the world. We stayed in Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat, which is the sixth most-populated state and home to 50 million people. My experience here showed me how vast the world can be. The Emirati population makes up less than two per cent of this one state.
The stop in Ahmedabad was no coincidence; Gujarat is host to the Gujarat Solar Park, Asia’s largest solar hub. The solar park is expected to keep about 8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, and save about 900,000 tonnes of natural gas per year. Abu Dhabi, through Masdar, deploys similar projects both in the emirate and globally. I take enormous pride knowing that despite being an oil-rich country, Abu Dhabi is a pioneer in renewable energy.
India was filled with back-to-back activities. Many of our guests were university students and families who wanted to see the historic Si2 plane with their own eyes. We knew beforehand that public visits would need to be controlled with more than just the Solar Impulse crew, due to the unexpected number of guests. We worked with airport securities, the Gujarat police department and even the army to manage the thousands of visitors. Thankfully the plane stayed in one piece.
We stayed in Ahmedabad for approximately two weeks. I had two days off to wander around the cultural district, where I discovered temples and monks and an ancient well. But Mahatma Gandhi’s house intrigued me the most.
Gandhi played an important role in India’s history and his actions and way of life had an enormous effect on the world. His home was very humble and as traditional as it gets, even though he spent his youth studying in the west. As I was walking about I heard the sounds of children. I turned to see them playing and laughing peacefully in the green courtyards. As I got closer to the echoes, I noticed a school and the school keeper shared the story behind the institution.
The school takes in children between the ages of 7 and 16 who come from limited-income families and reside in-house with an annual fee of 100 rupees (not more than Dh6.) Within their curriculum, they are taught standard subjects, including English, and the Gandhian way of life. It was very emotional and heartwarming to hear their story.
I then had lunch with the kids. It was really wonderful listening to their questions – they are so filled with curiosity and thirsty for knowledge. And the school keeper helped me realise, especially from a communications perspective, that as long as the story comes from the heart and with deep conviction, you’re really good to go.
On the day of take-off from Ahmedabad, we had to be on site by midnight sharp. Bertrand Piccard had some administrative challenges because he didn’t have a stamp on his passport due to his unorthodox landing in India with the Sunbird (this is the name given to Si2 by local media), so we were held up for a few hours at the airport.
After a brief pit stop in Varanasi, I travelled straight to China to start preparations for the team while they were in Myanmar. This is a whole new world for me.
Please stay tuned to hear about my experiences, and follow me at @hasanrtw on Instagram and Twitter.