ABINGDON (WSLS 10) - It's not unheard of for little girls to dream of being a princess but an Abingdon father's quest to make his daughter's dream come to led him thousands of miles around the world to do just that.
Emily Heaton is like a lot of 7-year-olds.
"I like to swing. I like to run outside."
She likes math, reading, playing with her dolls and dreaming of being a princess. Just over a year ago, she asked her father Jeremiah, if she could be a real princess.
"As any father would, I told her that she could be," Heaton said from his Abingdon home. "I felt bad about making a promise that I couldn't keep because if she had asked to be a doctor or a lawyer I most certainly would have affirmed her desire to do that as well."
He then set out to fulfill his promise. His search started online where he looked to see if it was even possible to find unclaimed land where he could create his own country. He used the Latin term, "terra nullius," he said, which means "land belonging to no one."
"I was able to find land in north eastern Africa called Bir Tawil that met the criteria that would allow me to create my own nation."
Bir Tawil is an approximately 800-square-mile, un-populated patch of desert between Egypt and Sudan. Heaton said it has a very clear history of not belonging to any nation.
"The more I explored the matter and looked into it and realized it would be a possibility, it became more exciting to me to learn that I could actually honor the promise I made to Emily."
Several months later, in June 2014, Heaton was on way to Egypt. He left out of Charlotte and flew directly to Munich, Germany. From Munich he flew on to Cairo, Egypt then to Hurghada, Marsa Alam, Shalateen and finally to Bir Tawil.
After thousands of miles, he arrived in Bir Tawil on June 16, Emily's 7th birthday. That's when he planted the flag of his kingdom, claiming the land as his own and calling it, the Kingdom of North Sudan.
Heaton's three children came up with the crown, sketching out the design on the back of a menu after dinner out. It's comprised of four stars, one gold one representing his wife, a school teacher and a trio of white stars representing the couples three children. A crown is shown in the middle representing himself, all on a royal blue background. Heaton was now king, he says and Emily his princess.
He returned to Abingdon and posted a picture on Facebook. The post went viral and he was interviewed from organizations around the globe.
But it wasn't happily ever after just yet. Emily recalled one of her teachers traveled on mission trips to Africa where she helped children who were starving.
"She travels to Africa and she brings stuff with her to help them and gives them things," Emily said, saying she too wanted to "help people and help feed a lot of people."
"In her very simple childlike terms," Heaton explained, "She asked if we could grow a garden big enough to feed everyone."
Not understanding the challenges of doing that in the desert, Heaton once again set out to see if it was even possible.
"Being in the desert it is dry as it can be and if we can figure out a way to grow food in the desert using a very limited amount of water and using new technologies, that technology can be applied elsewhere in the World where it might not be quite as dry."
The husband and father left the mining industry in southwest Virginia to develop his own mine safety equipment to improve the evacuation of miners from underground mines and bring his product to market. He's now adding on another project, developing an agricultural research center. The idea is to build a place where scientist from around the globe can come together at a laboratory to develop new ideas in hopes of solving world hunger.
"Right now we have 1100 scientist on our list and the list is growing daily," he said.
Heaton says he's surprised from some of the backlash the he's received, mainly from critics who accused him of modern-day colonialism.
"If you look at what the term colonialism is, it's one nation over taking another nation for exploitation of their people and their resources. Well I'm not a nation. I don't represent the United States of America. I'm one individual. The area that I claimed was terra nullius, it didn't belong to anyone. There's no population. The reality of what I've done is I've created a new nation and it's easier to apply the term colonialism to it than it is to just simply say a new nation has been created. Skepticism is par for the course when you're trying to do something that is unconventional. And I understand that," he said.
Heaton is using the interest in what some see as a simple princess story, to draw attention to the project. The self-proclaimed fundraiser-in-chief launched an IndieGoGo crowd funding campaign May 11 to get the seed money to get the project off the ground. Visit the campaign's page here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-world-s-first-crowdfunded-nation#/story
"We don't intend to fund the entire project through the IndieGoGo campaign but it gives us a really good jump start on what we're trying to do."
Donors who contribute will in return, get perks like honorary titles of nobility, an engraved brick that will be used in construction, an airport or road in their name or even one-of-a-kind artwork by Emily.
Heaton believes Egypt would welcome a center it could also benefit from, along its border.
"They understand the benefits that I bring to the area and they see the project for more than just a simple princess story. They understand that I have real goals and ambitions," Heaton said.
Within the next two years, Heaton hopes to take the next step in making the center a reality by building a power generation facility made up of mainly wind turbines.
An ambitious idea sparked from a little girl learning almost anything is possible.
"I think when she's older and she looks back on it she'll see that I was trying to express my love to her and ultimately that manifestation of my showing love to her has turned into a much bigger project."
Heaton says he reached a deal with Disney Pictures to make a movie based on his story.
Heaton says he's excited to see where it goes.
Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved