Completes its third edition of its 125 KM female only trek in the desert…..
The Women’s Heritage Walk (WHW) took place from February 9 – 14, 2017. This women-only walk is a 125KM hike stretching from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi that aims to retrace the steps of the Emirati women who made this journey twice yearly not so long ago.
“The idea for the walk is actually a recreation of an Emirati tradition from years ago,” says Jody Ballard. “During the months when their husbands were away on months-long pearling trips, the women of Abu Dhabi would travel from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain on foot in search of cooler weather. When I read about this journey while researching my latest book Whispers from the Sand, I knew that this incredible trek had to come to life again as it was a beautiful show of strength and sisterhood. The current Women’s Heritage Walk aims to build 4 pillars: culture & heritage, health & wellness, women’s empowerment, and community building. We believe that by experiencing this journey, the 50 women who will enter the desert with us will come out after 5 days of physical exertion and personal reflection to create positive impact on their families, friends, and the wider community. This is the true essence and beauty of the Walk.”
The foundation of the Walk rests on four pillars: culture & heritage, health & wellness, community building, and women’s empowerment. Through three months of physical training and cultural events, the Walk’s organizers aim to increase not only the women’s stamina but also their appreciation and understanding of the UAE’s history and culture. “With the sessions, I wanted to offer the ladies a time to focus on their own strengths. During the Women’s Heritage Walk the ladies will be pushed to their limits! Yoga was a great way to prepare them for this by teaching a variation of poses for a strong and flexible body and mind,” says Aileen Graham, Wellness with Aileen.
Previous participants have not only enjoyed the personal benefits of this challenge, but the impact of the Walk also transcends to improve relationships with family, friends and in the workplace. “The Women’s Heritage Walk really develops an ‘I can’ attitude in its participants,” remarked WHW founder Jody Ballard. “Many of the ladies never believed they could handle the physically and mentally strenuous five-day journey, but after they cross the finish line they are overwhelmed with the immensity of the achievement and realize that anything they set their mind to is within their grasp.”
2016 participant Estelle Gay-Folly recounted how the Walk helped her emotionally as well as physically. “I had planned this walk carefully, both physically and mentally. I was looking forward to spending a lot of time with myself, reflecting on my past and planning for my future. From the first footprint I left in the sand, I got out of my head and got into my heart. I thought less, I felt more. My heart became the captain of this beautiful adventure and I let my inner feelings and sensations be my guide. I lived in the present.”
The cultural dialogue between the walkers also becomes an integral part of the event. By bringing together an equal number of UAE nationals and expatriates, the Walk creates the perfect forum for cultural learning and exchange. By the end of the trip, the women regard each other as “Sand Sisters”.
Sharaf Group CEO Farhan Al Bastaki claims this cultural harmony is one of the reasons why his group chose to sponsor the Women’s Heritage Walk through Adventure HQ, one of its retail businesses. “We are excited to be part of an event that involves being adventurous and creates a sense of unity among a group of women of different nationalities. We want to increase awareness of the UAE’s heritage in a proactive manner and inspire others to follow such an initiative. Having this event take place in the desert is ideal, as it is in line with the heritage of the UAE. This walk will take people back in time, before the rise of skyscrapers, and will give them the chance to experience how life in the UAE was like for our ancestors.