For a few days most years, Polly Gotseva steps back from the hectic whirl of media production and enters the wilderness as a fundraiser for the charity, Gulf for Good (G4G).
But wherever she goes – Mongolia, Kilimanjaro, Myanmar, Nepal – a piece of the high-tech world goes with her in the form of a Thuraya satellite phone.
“One of the joys of my charity expeditions is getting to live a more simple life while exploring some remote and beautiful places,” says Polly, who is managing director of BKP Media Group in Dubai. “My Thuraya satphone fits perfectly into that life because it is light and compact and packs easily into my rucksack”.
However, there is nothing “simple” about the satphone she carries. The SatSleeve+ converts her iPhone into a satellite smartphone, so she can use it to make and receive calls, exchange messages and emails and access Facebook and other popular social media apps anywhere within the huge coverage area.
For her, the main benefit is being able to give her family daily updates on her safety and whereabouts. At camp at the end of every day she uses the satphone to send a message or to make a call, just to let them know she is all right.
“These expeditions are very well organized but there is always potential danger,” she says. “You could fall down and hurt yourself on the mountainside or get sick, so people at home do get worried. It’s reassuring for them to know I have the satphone and could use it to call for help in an emergency.”
This last point was proved emphatically on a G4G fundraising expedition to Myanmar in 2012. After the party accidentally became split, Polly found herself with a group that had no food or spare water. “The bus with the food and water had lost our location,” she says. “We were starving and dehydrated, and the ground handler couldn’t call the bus and direct the driver to us because we didn’t have a cellphone signal.
“I suggested using the Thuraya satphone and of course it had a signal even though we were in the remotest area. We called the bus and 10 minutes later we were drinking water and eating food. At that moment, Thuraya saved our lives.”
Fortunately this type of emergency is rare, but the satphone has often proved its worth in other ways. On an expedition to Mongolia with G4G in 2014, Polly recalls how her group had been cycling for several days close to the border with Siberia. At camp on day four she and her companions used the satphone to call home. “It was so comforting in the remote, wild country at night to be able to speak to my family, and I know that everyone else who called felt the same,” she says.
She used the satphone extensively on that trip to update the G4G website with photos of the Mongolian landscape and people, and to post to her own Facebook page. But on her trip to climb Kilimanjaro the same year it was the built-in SOS button that really caught her imagination. “It was like something out of a James Bond film,” she laughs. “We could have called for help automatically just by pressing that button. I’m glad we didn’t need to but it was great to have it.”
Polly had already come to rely on her Thuraya satphone by the time she travelled to Myanmar. “There was some doubt about whether we should have satphones because the operating agreement for their use there was not quite finalised,” she says, “but I didn’t want to leave mine behind. I’m glad I took it because you lose your normal phone signal as soon as you enter Myanmar. Apart from the vital occasion when it came to our rescue, a lot of us used the satphone on that trip, often just for little things like calling to say ‘happy birthday’ or when someone’s relative had a baby.”
The next fundraising challenge is scheduled for April 2017, when Polly will travel to Nepal with a G4G group and climb to Annapurna base camp at a height of more than 4,000 metres. She has begun working to attract sponsorship and had already earmarked a SatSleeve+ for the trip. “There’s no way I would travel without it,” she says.
Thuraya phones: www.thuraya.com
Gulf For Good: www.gulf4good.org