Michael Haddad Successfully Delivers ICARDA seeds to Svalbard Vault
Paralyzed Lebanese Athlete and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Michael Haddad completed a 5-kilometer Artic Walk yesterday, delivering a package of precious ICARDA seeds from the Middle East and North Africa to the Global Seed Vault in Norway.
On a tiny island in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, roughly 1,300 kilometers south of the North Pole, Michael Haddad took the first of thousands of courageous steps that led him, six hours later, to the metal gates of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault - five kilometers away.
He carried with him packets of ICARDA seeds from 12 Arab countries, containing samples of wheat, barley, lentil, chickpea, and forage crops that Dr. Athanasios Tsivelikas – ICARDA Morocco Genebank Manager – gave him just before the walk started.
Michael was battered by strong, freezing winds throughout the arduous, winding path, which coursed along the sea before taking a steep turn upwards a few hundred meters from the vault’s entrance, which belied a golden glow of the fading afternoon.
He only managed to keep warm due to the exceptional physical effort he exerted throughout.
Strapped in a state-of-the-art exoskeleton that a team of scientists and engineers at the American University in Beirut developed, and using crutches and a unique gait he has perfected over time, Michael pushed himself to the limits of physical and mental endurance for the six-hour walk.
Every so often, he could be heard murmuring to himself “Faith and determination…faith and determination.”
“Until I saw Michael on his walk, I just could not fathom the amount of pain, faith, and grit that go into accomplishing such an exploit – I have nothing but admiration for him,” added Dr. Tsivelikas, who stayed by Michael’s side throughout the journey.
Upon arrival at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault gates around 10.30 pm, Michael delivered a package containing ICARDA’s seeds to Dr. Åsmund Asdal, the Coordinator of the Vault, during a small, intimate ceremony.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the world’s largest genebank and a critical backup for safeguarding global crop diversity.
The seeds will be added to ICARDA’s collection of seed duplicates in Svalbard, shipped from ICARDA’s original genebank in Aleppo, Syria, as the conflict grew nearer. In 2015, ICARDA withdrew its seeds from Svalbard to rebuild its collection in Lebanon and Morocco – a collection that is now constantly expanding.
Dr. Khalida Bouzar, UN Assistant Secretary-General, and UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of its Regional Bureau for Arab States, also expressed sincere admiration for Michael’s accomplishment.
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