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The Women’s Heritage Walk prepares for its fifth annual desert adventure
(31 January 2019)


After three months of intense training, a group of 60 women will depart from Abu Dhabi on foot on February 1, 2019, to cross the desert to Al Ain over the course of five days. The “Sand Sisters,” are retracing a historical Emirati migration trekked by women and their families not so long ago. 

Historically, the residents of Abu Dhabi would set out on this arduous trip to Al Ain in search of the cooler climate and to facilitate trade. Women, men, and children would cross the desert on foot and by camel in a journey that could span days or weeks. The Women’s Heritage Walk revives this traditional expedition by taking Emirati and expatriate women through the dunes from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain and has done so every year since 2015.

“The Women’s Heritage Walk replicates Emirati migration patterns, and through it we highlight the rich history of our ancestors. As we walk in the desert, we dive into our beautiful culture alongside women of many nationalities and backgrounds who participate in this adventure to connect not only with the past, but also to connect deeply with themselves and move forward into the future. They do so through the beauty of the desert and its gifts of wisdom, purity, and serenity which we lack in today’s technology occupied and time-pressed society,” said Asma Al Mutawa, Partner and organizer of the Women’s Heritage Walk. 

Each day, the participants rise before dawn and walk nine to ten hours to reach their next campsite before sunset. For four nights, they enjoy traditional meals, learn about the history and culture of the UAE, and camp under the stars in a secured authentic Bedouin camp. The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi will be supporting the event by providing thematic cultural activities such as handicraft demonstrations, lessons on gahwa (local coffee) preparation, and a discussion on the significance of the burqa.

The UAE’s 2019 theme of The Year of Tolerance is highly relevant to the Walk as the event brings together women from 20 nationalities, including 11 Emirati citizens. The journey provides an open platform for the participants to discuss their culture, values, and traditions and learn from each other without prejudice. Through such dialogue, they will discover that there is more that unites them than separates them.

"Guided by integrity and honoring heritage, the Walk develops personal and collective strength. This eclectic group has more similarities than differences. Proximity and shared hardship build not only tolerance but respect. By finishing, we teach our daughters, families, and community that difficult does not mean impossible. The desert teaches us to persevere with compassion, to humbly appreciate the power of nature, and how to draw on inner strength to keep moving forward when weary,” elaborated Jody Ballard, Founder and organizer of the Women’s Heritage Walk. 

26-year-old UAE national Waheeda Al Hadhrami participated in 2017 and agreed about the value of the dialogue among the diverse group. “Walking through our beautiful deserts and reconnecting with our past was life-changing, although it was physically and mentally challenging. The experience gave me the chance to meet many women from different backgrounds and walks of life, and I enjoyed the cultural exchange that took place. I loved every step of the journey!”

The success of the Women’s Heritage Walk relies on the generous support of businesses within the community to ensure this incredible experience is sustainable year to year. This year’s primary sponsors include the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, Al Multaqa Literary Salon, Strategic Wellness Group, The Mohammed bin Khaled Al Nahyan Cultural Center, The Children’s National Medical Center, Adventure HQ, the Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi, and the Shangri La Qaryat Al Beri Hotel.

“The Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation is proud to support this initiative again this year as it celebrates and preserves UAE heritage while supporting women’s health. The Foundation wishes this year’s participants a safe and successful journey filled with learning about our heritage, culture and tolerance” said Angela Migally, Executive Director of the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation.

The Walk will conclude with an ending ceremony at the Cultural Foundation in Qasr Al Hosn supported by The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, February 5 at 5:00 PM.

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