Everyone interested in science and nature would undoubtedly have heard of how a young English girl named Jane Goodall was recruited by the great anthropologist Louis Leakey and went on to do groundbreaking work herself in behavioural primatology in 1960 in Gombe, a small forest reserve on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania. Goodall is now 86 and her work has since evolved to include activism and education. Lately, however, it is her youth-led action programme, aptly named Roots & Shoots (R&S), that has placed her in the spotlight again and been gaining international traction.
It starts with a seed
Established in 1991 under the umbrella of the Jane Goodall Institute, R&S started with a group of 12 Tanzanian students gathered on a porch to brainstorm on how to solve problems in their local community. Now a global movement, the programme boasts more than 10,000 active groups in 60-and-counting countries. “They were high school students from eight different schools and they all had various concerns about things that were going wrong,” says Goodall of the original R&S-ers. “Some of them were really upset about illegal dynamite fishing; some were worried about the poaching of animals in the national parks; some were worried about the treatment of stray dogs, and others were concerned about the street children with no homes. So, I sent them off to get their friends who were interested in similar social and environmental issues — and that was when R&S was born.”
On the evocative name, Goodall explains: “You imagine one of these beautiful, big trees. It was a little seed but it begins to grow. It seems very small and insignificant when little roots appear and a little tiny shoot. But the magic in the seed, the life force… it is so strong that the little roots, to reach the water, can push aside rocks, creeping through them [at first] and pushing them aside. For the little shoot to reach the sunlight, it can work through cracks in bricks walls and eventually knock them down.”
As she talks about nature, Goodall’s eyes sparkle and she speaks with increased vigour, almost as if she herself is filled with magic seeds and the planet’s life force. “We see bricks and rocks and all the terrible things we humans have done to the planet. So, it is hoped that hundreds and thousands of young people around the world can [likewise] break through and make things better. And because everything is interconnected, we decided that each group will choose a minimum of three projects — one to help people, one to help animals and one to help the environment, or all three in one. There are now so many countries dangling from its [R&S] branches and it’s all very exciting.”
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