“My dream has come true” – Dr. Jane Goodall, upon completion of “Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Global Leadership Meeting”
BY EMILY MAJOR ON AUGUST 31, 2019
The extraordinary life experiences of Dr. Jane Goodall are world-renowned – and rightly so. In 1960, the 26-year-old Jane fearlessly headed into the Tanzanian bush to study the behaviour of wild chimpanzees, blessed by her incredible patience, intuition, and perseverance. Her ability for quiet, respectful observance helped gain the trust of the resident chimpanzees, whom slowly began to accept the presence of this strange-looking pale-skinned ape. Her monumental discovery that chimpanzees can use tools shattered the world of 1950s ethnography (a fancy word for the “study of animal behaviour”), which until then, was dominated by the perspective and influence of men in academia. This story of Jane is well-documented in books, on television shows, and in movies, though there is nothing more powerful than hearing her speak in person. Her wisdom, appreciation, and strength is unparalleled and those who have had the privilege of her presence all speak of the same magnetism. Upon leaving a talk by Jane, they leave forever changed.
The first time I met Jane was at a fundraising event in Toronto, Canada in 2015. She was draped in the most beautiful orange scarf, her trademark ponytail gently holding her grey hair back. I noticed how she was much more petite than I thought she would be – but then again, in my mind, she was one of the greatest icons of all time and she inhabited this massive, holy space that was somehow so much grander than her small frame allowed. Then, standing in front of her (in a moment I had rehearsed many times), I lost all composure and started ugly crying (literally!!). I now know this is something informally called “the Jane effect”. The overwhelming actualisation of one of my dreams came true and I could not function long enough to get an intelligible word in. I had all these amazing questions and advice I wanted to ask, and I got nothing out. Jane warmly rested her hand on my shoulder and spoke kind words, instantly calming me down. Despite the extreme embarrassment (and now laughter as I look back on photos from that day), her compassion and lifelong dedication to her cause has inspired me to become the person I am today.
At present, I am living in Christchurch, New Zealand and am working towards my PhD in Human-Animal Studies at the University of Canterbury. I have been working with the Jane Goodall Institute of New Zealand (JGINZ) since the beginning of 2019 as a Roots & Shoots coordinator for the Canterbury region. We were lucky at JGINZ to host Jane here for her “Rewind the Future” tour in May 2019, where I met her again, and significantly calmer this time!
That next month, I received information about an absolutely amazing opportunity to go to “Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Global Leadership Meeting” in London, U.K., hosted by St. George’s House at Windsor Castle (yes, THAT castle!!). The meeting invited 26 other Roots & Shoots representatives from branches of JGI across the world, from countries like Uganda, Chile, Iceland, New Zealand, Taiwan, etc. We all got together, with the same infectious excitement that ran like electricity through the air. We were doing something important: using our collective brainpower to imagine how to reach all the corners of the globe within the Roots & Shoots’ supportive framework (find global information about Roots & Shoots within New Zealand at: www.janegoodall.org.nz/roots-shoots). For the first time in my life, I was surrounded entirely by people who understood the importance of Roots & Shoots and were just as dedicated as I was to work on making Jane’s dream (of protecting A.P.E.: Animals, People, and Environments of this planet) a reality
Over the course of the following week we worked as teams to design and develop five new international JGI Roots & Shoots campaigns, with goals of addressing 1) habitat restoration, 2) reduction of single-use plastics, 3) climate change, 4) reversing species loss, and 5) building on a previous Windsor campaign, ‘Low-Waste November’, by reducing fast fashion and thinking of compassionate celebrations in following months. Each day was spent in our individual groups organising and planning our campaigns, while meeting frequently all together to offer advice and give useful feedback. Our collective goal was to consider how to best engage a global community to act local on certain issues that are afflicting the world we all live in - even Mr. H helped us plan!
My group, ‘Embrace the Wild’, is focused on restoring habitats in communities all over the world, using easy, eco-friendly activities to encourage the creation of habitats in a variety of places (including the unexpected and unconventional places, like apartment balconies and empty rooftop spaces!). We wanted to make it especially accessible for those living in urban communities, as more than 55% of the world’s population now lives in an urban setting, with that rising significantly as the population grows (UN, 2018). Through the creation of bat boxes, insect hotels, butterfly gardens, bird nests, and activities alike, people of all ages can participate in creating habitats and embracing their wild. Though we are in the beginning stages of developing our campaign, it is currently set to be revealed in early 2020. Whilst planning, we found out that we were going to discuss our campaigns with a very special guest, HRH Prince Harry!
At the end of that week, right as we were all saying our final goodbyes, I imagined how my younger self would have reacted to actually living and breathing this moment. However far-fetched and unreal it seems, all it took was to reach for my dreams (by getting involved in my local JGI chapter of Roots & Shoots) and to fiercely believe Jane’s message that solutions to many of the world’s problems lie in the collective harnessing of the indomitable human spirit. I cannot say thank you enough to those that helped me get to where I am today, from family and friends, to the incredibly supportive JGINZ colleagues that rallied for me to attend this phenomenal week. Not only was I able to talk to Jane without crying (massive milestone, as we now know!), I met a wider group of international Roots & Shoots friends that are now a part of my extended JGI family. We are still working hard to produce our ‘Embrace the Wild’ campaign for early 2020, so be ready to help us create a global community of people helping embrace the wild in any form of lived space so all beings have a place to call home.