Families Proud of Masdar Institute Students Reem Al Junaibi and Maitha Al Kaabi as Stage Set for Antarctica Expedition

September 21, 2018

Tough Youngsters Looking Forward to Learn from Research Projects

Abu Dhabi-UAE: 11 February, 2012 – For the families, the news came as a major revelation that the girls would want to go on an expedition as tough as this one.

But when the two announced their selection on the International Antarctica Expedition (IAE) 2012 team, the family members realized there was no turning back. The response ranged anywhere between elation and skepticism to caution.

The decision was definitely not that easy for the families. But the families realized Reem Al Junaibi and Maitha Al Kaabi had their minds set, and thereby the students won their initial victory.

The two students from Masdar Institute of Science and Technology have completely different research targets. But the venue for their research is one. And their commitment to reach there and conduct the research remains unfaltering.

Though the two students’ initial victory was easy, their selection by Masdar Institute was met with pride tinged with caution for the parents.

But if their past is any indicator, both have already proved their mental toughness. Last year, Reem spent six days in a remote village in Malaysia that could be accessible only through hiking up the mountain for more than four hours. It had no electricity and no connection to the outside world. And Maitha is a skydiver.

Jumaa Al Junaibi says: “I had an idea about the expedition to Antarctica and I understand the accompanying difficulty and challenge, but at the same time, I knew how beneficial it would be for Reem. I believe this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and my trust in my daughter and the knowledge of her strength and courage made me agree and be confident. I whole-heartedly support and encourage her not to miss this opportunity.”

Moza Khamis AlMeqbali, Maitha’s mother, says she ‘was so happy and proud when I heard my little girl has been selected to this trip’. She adds: “But I was, and I am still, scared of leaving her to complete her mission, even after Maitha explained to me all the safety precautions. I am a mother and you know a mother’s heart.”

At the same time, Mohammed Abdullah Butti Al Kaabi, Maitha’s father, was ‘happy and confused at the same time’. He says: “I do not want to be a tough father and I definitely do not want to stop her from achieving her dreams. I do feel proud of my daughter. Maitha is special to me; she has a different mindset than her sisters. She preferred to complete her higher education than take up a job. She loves to learn a lot and she respects education and the scientists.”

Reem, who is the first in the family to have undertaken an expedition of this magnitude, is researching on the effect of having mixed sources of energy, specifically renewable, with its intermittent behavior on the electric grid.

Like every parent, Jumaa Al Junaibi was proud that his daughter will be one of the few people to get a chance to go to Antarctica. He adds: “I also had a feeling that this will add to her knowledge and it will be a good start for her future career.”

Maitha’s commitment to her research stems from her desire to help the UAE in its desalination efforts and her father with ways to reduce ground salinity at his farms that produce dates. She expects the Antarctica expedition will allow her to see the process of temperature-induced salt precipitation, a key principle in her research, in the natural environment. She believes her research will effectively benefit the UAE community.

For now though, the purchase of necessary equipment is complete while the two students are making an effort to remain physically fit for the arduous journey.

Reem’s family believes that the organizers have the necessary professional experience in organizing such a trip to a difficult place and has helped her packing up.

Maitha’s father is happy too to see his daughter fully prepared for the expedition. He adds: “She went with her partner Reem Al Junaibi and Sara Al Sayegh, an employee from Masdar, to buy the necessary equipment. I also see Maitha doing some physical exercises, including jogging around our yard, very early in the morning. As she said, she needs to be physically fit for this expedition. I can see that she is super excited to go on this trip.”

For Maitha, adventure is not new. She has gone skydiving earlier. That is why Maitha’s father strongly believes his daughter is spiritually tough enough to withstand the challenges of this expedition.

Mohammed Abdullah Butti Al Kaabi says: “I think I have adventurous children. All my children, girls or guys, love to take up tough challenges such as climbing the mountains in search of honey. But I didn’t know that Maitha is the most adventurous of all my daughters. I did not believe her when she told me that she went skydiving last summer. I did not believe her until she showed me her videos. She jumped from the plane at a height of 13,000 feet. I felt initially angry, especially when she told me that it was real fun. But I know she loves trying new things.”

Maitha’s parents were not aware of the polar explorer earlier or the International Antarctic Expedition. They say: “We did not know about him (Sir Robert Swan), but Maitha’s elder sister Sabah, who is a physics teacher, once mentioned about him and his achievements. However, we did not expect that one day Maitha would join him in his trip. It is really a good opportunity for her and we all support her and wish her the best of luck.”

Jumaa Al Junaibi believes renewable energy is new and any study in the subject will be beneficial to humanity as many questions in this field haven’t been answered yet.

He adds: “Reem is very passionate and always talks to us about sustainability and made this subject a usual topic at family gatherings. This helped us understand the true issue and made us feel responsible and realize our role in reducing our impact on the environment.”

Maitha’s father proudly proclaims her daughter’s role model is none other than the Founding Father of the UAE, late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Mohammed Abdullah Butti Al Kaabi adds: “Maitha always feels proud when people call him ‘the environmental leader’. She told us that she wants to be his daughter in this way. She wants to complete what he started. She profoundly believes that not only do we need to convert the yellow land to green but we also need to keep this green land clean.”

Reem’s father believes the trip to Antarctica is only a start for Reem to make a real difference in the community. Jumaa Al Junaibi says: “But I am sure that a trip of this magnitude will build a bright future and enhance the way she sees the world and how she deals with responsibilities towards her country and community.”

For now though all eyes are turned towards Ushuaia, the remote Argentine town, where the expedition including the two students from Masdar Institute will take off on 27 February to explore Chilean territories on Antarctica including Cape Horn, Drake Channel, King George Island and South Shetlands. The 16-day journey will help them conduct research, learn sustainable living, use renewable energy and contribute to raise awareness on keeping the isolated continent the way it is now, even after the Antarctica Treaty expires in 2041.

And the two students are quite clearly looking for a rewarding journey that will assist them in their research projects, while bringing honor not only to Masdar Institute, but to the whole of the UAE and the region.

Established in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Masdar Institute integrates theory and practice to incubate a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, working to develop the critical thinkers and leaders of tomorrow.  With its world-class faculty and top-tier students, the Institute is committed to finding solutions to the challenges of clean energy and climate change.