Chapter 2 of the Polar Bear Talks: tales of an epic trek from Africa to the Arctic

By Yusuph Masanja, Global Alumni Coordinator

Welcome to the second chapter of my epic trek!

Click Here to read the first chapter of Yusuph’s journey to the arctic, which was supported by his mentor, Dr. Jane Goodall, and the expedition was led by Sir Robert Swan, founder of the 2041 foundation, environmentalist and polar explorer, the first person to walk on both poles. The expedition included individuals from 27 countries, but Yusuph was the only one from Africa.

“Is the Ice truly melting?”

After I returned from my Arctic journey, Ian, one of my friends in Dar Es Salaam, paused during his partner’s birthday dinner and asked if the arctic ice was truly melting due to climate change, “because at least you have been there, so, I can believe if you say it’s true.”

It conjures up mistrust when, on an everyday basis, what you hear from media and some elites’ debates is mostly news to justify inaction in the face of the problem. Furthermore, it is sad to see that some of those who agree and are dedicated to working towards solutions are continuing to treat the issue as some sort of a “future problem” – contrary to our current reality as we know it. It is due to such inaction that we are continuing to see a continuous rise in global warming levels every year despite a number of international treaties signed and interventions implemented.

My country is already experiencing the impact of the climate change with annual events that cost in excess of 1% of GDP each, affecting millions of people and their livelihoods (Tanzania’s first INDC). My government analyzed the cost of mitigating the impact on public health, energy supply, water resources, agriculture, etc. to be approximately USD 60 billion by 2030 in mitigation investment. And this is a story of only one African country, so one might wonder, “What’s the story of a whole continent at large in line with mitigation and adaptation capacities?”

So, yes, homie – the ice is truly melting. I can report that myself having been there this past June!

26 countries united, for one bold, audacious and humanity’s most important quest.

Transforming the global economy into a more climate resilient path was one of the goals that brought us all together. We spent two weeks gathering and learning about the scientific facts, inspiring each other with our track records of efforts to shaping the future, and discovering innovative solutions for the planet.

In one of my reflections, partly due to a question from a friend I had met, I found myself contemplating the feeling of being trapped on a ship far from home with zero possibility of leaving should one of us feel bored, agitated or just happened to dislike someone! I began using this analogy to the ongoing discourse around climate change and how all of humanity has no other planet to escape to, should warming impact becomes most catastrophic. My instinct, as a consequence of experiencing this feeling, was that I should do my best to understand everyone around me on the ship and strive for coexistence to successfully move ahead together towards a common goal despite our individual differences.

Such instinct gave rise to a newly adapted frame of thoughts pertaining to how humanity must treat one another in order to solve the climate crises sustainably. The frame contained a value of responsibility in extending ourselves spiritually towards the growth of our collective well-being. And by so doing, discovering how our dialogues and actions shall improve as a consequence of truly listening. Listening to the people around us, to the world, and to the planet – because that’s what our extension will do to us, and it is good.

Storytelling for Change

Throughout the expedition, we harnessed the power of storytelling to communicate convenient solutions and climate resilient pathways. Kyle, one of the team leaders, led a crucial series of story-telling coaching, which rendered me the first on spotlight! I had to come up with a story from a picture I had taken previously when we visited the Fram Museum while incorporating principles of storytelling in my reflection. Considering my nervousness and self-conscious tendencies while on stage, the challenge was helpful in building my confidence and public speaking skills.

The story of the Norwegian polar exploration and the ship “Fram” was remarkable to me, given the sophisticated techniques used to navigate to North and South poles in the 1890s. I was impressed by the ship’s design and most importantly its preservation so that we, and future generations, can visit to see it in a museum.

The story captivated me so much in that, as bad as things might be going now for us, we have gone so far past radical adversaries that faced us historically and, perhaps, if we – just like the “Fram” explorers – could harmoniously work together, the climate crises will be addressed.

The Polar Bear Talks

Africa’s proverbs are still shaping my society as they provide best moral conducts as well as important explanations on various misfortunes. Naturally, we don’t have polar bears in Africa, but the following proverb “Rain does not fall on one roof alone” crossed my mind when I stood in a zodiac looking at a family of polar bears.

The proverb explains a natural cycle of life in a metaphorical manner. Its meaning, “Trouble does not discriminate. It comes to everyone at some point,” struck me. I knew, from the polar bear presentation given by one of National Geographic guest speakers, that these animals help keep our ecosystem’s health at balance. Hence, their endangerment indicates that something is wrong in the broader ecosystem. Their home is melting twice as fast as other parts of the planet. Being on top of the food chain, them being at risk, places other species in the ecosystem at risk too.

Just like how our elders would speak such proverbs to children to teach them a lesson, I felt sort of hearing the same coming from the elder polar bear as we quietly stood watching them. It’s obviously the case that our homes are in as much danger as polar bears’ habitats; the impact is being felt in most parts of the world already. Yet another Swahili proverb contains enough wisdom to help us through, “Where there's a will there's a way.” Maybe, if we get our intentions clearer than we already have right now, then humanity will prevail and reverse the change.

The Disciplined Voice Said, “You Are in Charge of Africa”

Sir Robert’s final remark to me, “You are in charge of Africa,” on the last expedition day in Oslo generated a sense of broad responsibility within me. For once, I began to think not only of Tanzania, but Africa at large. For once, the wise words of Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere and those of Nelson Mandela started to emerge from my subconsciousness. These are two people I know to have striven for a free continent. Such freedom is now in jeopardy, as African economies tap on pathways that led “developed” economies to their current emission levels.

Upon my return back home, I started talking and thinking about ways I could make my contribution counts. A friend’s mention that became a mantra: “You have a responsibility to all Africans who were not as privileged with the opportunity to witness and learn about climate in the Arctic, and who have no idea about its implications” started to dawn on me.

So, to begin with, I spoke with a few students and teachers in Arusha, Tanzania. The conversation helped me to discover a goal to work towards: Engaging young influencers into experiential training programs on sustainability. I have started working on creating Africa’s center for climate change awareness in Tanzania to engage young people in sustainability education.

Learn more about the expedition on the following short videos:

Yusuph and Robert Swan at the Arctic Cycle by Kyle O'Donoghue

Climate Force video about the expedition Kyle O'Donoghue

Also, feel free to connect with me via facebook at

The Polar Bear Talks: tales of an epic trek from Africa to the Arctic

The First Chapter

My Arctic voyage this past June strikes me to be a dream like sensation, more than 4 months later and I am still dreaming a variation of the same tale – humanity on the edge! For nearly a year, I dreamt, attempted, gave up, whined, and eventually buried the hatchet and acted –succeeding to raise enough to afford the expedition. To go and learn (with all my senses, I technically mean it: all senses) about climate change ramifications, and to return home with an insight for actions I can take to save my local planet. An experience that recounts in the most surreal manner to me!

My journey was led by Sir Robert Swan, founder of the 2041 foundation, environmentalist and polar explorer, the first person to walk on both poles, together with other, amazing individuals from 27 countries.

I was the only Tanzanian and the only participant coming from Africa!!!

The trip was so rich with the right information about climate change, its impact and solutions –at both micro and macro levels. The leadership on the Edge training by a notable coach from New York and guest speakers from the National Geographic team - naturalists, scientists and educators - were equally superb.

Coming back home felt a little strange. I missed the freshness of the Arctic air, the all-time midday sunlight, polar bears, whales, birds and the ice. I also missed the daily dose of yoga and meditation.

Climate change does not cause global warming, per se. It is highly connected to social justice in general. Poor communities are experiencing the impact far more than wealthy communities. But that's only part of the story. The other part of the story is that at-risk poor communities are resilient beyond belief and from them so much can be learned about mitigation and adaptation.

With this nexus of Climate change and social justice, I am working to bring a convenient solution by establishing a sustainability learning center targeting young influencers.

I’ll have more to say about the actual journey in future chapters, and there are some videos of the trip below, but it was important for me to issue a note of gratitude first.

One of the most important persons who made my journey possible is Dr. Jane Goodall. One evening, as she and her colleague Dr. Anthony visited Dar Es Salaam, we sat on the porch of her house. Among our many discourses, I asked if she knew Sir Robert Swan. Of course, Dr. Goodall responded, “Yes.” She continued speaking highly of Swan’s mission to shape the next generation of youth by taking them to the Antarctic. I retorted, “By the way, I have applied to go on their first expedition to the top of the world, but I doubt if I can successfully raise required funds.” She looked at me and said, “I can help you with a recommendation letter.” That moment, my heart smiled and part of me knew that I was destined to go.

Of course, this could not happen with a recommendation letter alone, I had to work 16 to 18 hours every day in May this year, getting past all criticism and shame for not having started fundraising much earlier when I had time. I had quit my job at this time and I had all the time I needed to logically deal with such heartbreaking criticisms, strategically manage my time and resources to ensure I reach out to everyone I knew to have their heart at the right place (whatever this might mean at the time) and it worked.

The lesson, I think, is this: “Perhaps, to encourage successfully applicants (of educational opportunities) to also cover their costs and provide them with professional fundraising guidance, is (more than anything else) to help them become more attentive, engaged, intellectually critical and useful in their communities after the program.”

I will share another chapter in this unfolding story soon, but in the meantime, please watch the short videos below to learn more:

The First Chapter by Kyle O'Donoghue

Just 600 miles from the North Pole, Sir Robert Swan interviews Yusuph about his concept of a sustainability center in Tanzania. “You’re going to address this whole thing of people and animals in the wilderness. It’s going to be a practical thing,” Sir Swan said. “People in this world don’t need to be talked at - they need to be shown solutions and I’m so proud of you.”

Arctic Expedition: Recruiting the Next Generation of Climate Activists by Madeleine Ptacin

Yusuph’s polar plunge experience by Trent Benson

Best of all, click above to watch take a dip in the cold blue waters of the arctic.