The foremost authority on chimpanzees and a lifelong conservationist, launched Roots & Shoots to empower young people all over the world who wish to make a difference. The program now has more than 3,000 member groups in at least 68 countries. Amy talks to Dr. Goodall about working with children and her mission to connect people with their "roots."
JANE GOODALL: No I don't think I ever had a voice that said, "Hey, this is crazy." I think I only had a little voice that said, "This is something really exciting, you've got to do it and I don't know how you are going to do it but you will do it." But my mother's voice was echoing in my mind that if you really want something, you work hard, you take advantage of the opportunity and you never give up.
JG: Well, it is my mother's voice but not only my mother's voice. It is a different voice I think --a strong conviction that I was born for a purpose, that there is a mission and that I have to work as hard as I can and hope that I am on the right track.
JG: Everybody has the voice but I don't know that everybody listens to the voice.
JG: Fortunately, when I began I did not want to be a scientist--that absolutely wasn't part of my aspiration or dream. My dream was to go to Africa and live with animals and write books about them. And the scientific part, acquiring a PHD in animal behavior was forced upon me by Louis Leakey. He said, "Jane you must stand on your own two feet. I won't always be here to find money for you to carry on with your studies in Africa and you have to get a degree." And he said, "We don't have time to mess about with a BA. We have to go straight to a PhD." So when I began my PhD I didn't have a degree of any sort. I had just left secondary school.
JG: When I set off for Cambridge I was quite excited because I got to know something about the chimps. I was just at the beginning. I knew some of their personalities and I was keen to share something about their non-verbal communication and about their family structure. And it was quite clear that they had minds and they certainly had emotions --like anger and fear and sadness and despair -- and so when I got to Cambridge and started talking about all this, which was so exciting to me, I was greeted with more or less hostility -- that only humans have personalities, that only humans have minds capable of rational thought; indeed, that only humans had minds of any sort and certainly, only humans had emotions, and how dare I give the chimps names. I should have numbered them. So that was the reductionist thinking of the animal behavior people of the time.
Leakey had actually chosen me because I didn't have a degree but I had a mind, as he called it, unbiased by the reductionist thinking of the science of that time. He didn't tell me that. So when I got to Cambridge it was pretty tough. But, fortunately, by the time I got there -- having saved up the money, got to Africa, met Lois, giving Lois time to get money for me to start in the field, spending a year in the field - by that time I was 27. And secondly, I had had this extraordinary teacher for my whole childhood who taught me so much about animal behavior. He absolutely taught me that animals had personality, and minds and feelings. And that was my dog Rusty. So I knew that those erudite professors were wrong.
JG: Being out in the forest, with or without the chimpanzees, there is this amazing sense of timelessness and you feel very much part of nature. I feel we emerged from the forest originally and I always feel this great spiritual power -- very very strong -- when I am in the forest. Actually you find the same peace in mountains, you find the same peace when you are out on the Great Plains; it's really nature and a connectedness with our roots. Part of the tragedy of what's happening in the world is that more and more and more people are cut off from those roots. They are living lives where they don't have any opportunity to be out in nature. Even people living in the middle of Africa --you would say that they are in the middle of nature, but they have destroyed the habitat around them and they're living in an increasingly barren and desert like area and they are just as much cut off from nature as kids in the inner city surrounded by concrete.
JANE GOODALL: Roots and Shoots is a symbolic name that roots make a firm foundation and shoots seem very small but to reach the sun together, the roots and shoots can break through brick walls. And we see the brick walls as all the problems we have inflicted on the planet and the message of roots and shoots is one of hope that hundreds and thousands of young people around the world can break through, can make the world a better place.
JG: Well if you take somebody like me who has spent so long studying chimpanzees understanding their, well I don't know their true nature yet. But we are working towards finding out as much as we can about their nature, helping us to understand our relationship with the rest of the natural world, and thereby being shocked and horrified that chimpanzees are being faced with extinction across their ranges, that their habitats are being destroyed, that they're being commercially hunted for food. And what would be the point of my devoting all my energy to raising money and raising awareness to save the chimpanzees in the forest if, at the same time, we are not raising young generations of people to be better stewards than we have been? I look in the eyes of my grandchildren, my little great nephews and I think how much we have damaged the world since I was their age, and it is this feeling of shame, shame for what we have done. We have poisoned their world. We are bringing children into a world where they are being poisoned by what they breathe, what they eat. And it is really really shocking, especially if we look at the dangerous situation we are in politically in the world today.
JANE GOODALL: I have found that so many people in America who actually care desperately about the environment and really feel exactly the same as I do -- they are slightly nervous to admit it in public in case they are thought not to be patriotic. So we shouldn't anymore protest the drilling of oil in Alaska, in one of the last wildernesses because that would show that we don't care about arming our nation with gas in case we go to war. That's just one example. It is totally terrifying. If we go on not caring about the environment, because we care about war, we care about economics, then what's left for our grandchildren and their children? Nothing. Then who wins?
JG: I think it is very very easy with children. Children are born with a very open mind, they can very quickly learn aggressive ways but they can equally learn gentle, kind ways and a respect for other beings. You see it all the time. So if we can nurture this innate ability of a child to relate in a kind way to the world around, this is terribly important. It is being shown now very clearly that people who grow up to be mass murderers or some horrible thing like that had a history of cruelty to animals and usually extreme cruelty to animals. So it is almost as though if you look at children, if you look at a class, if you notice there are kids who are unduly cruel to animals, that is like a litmus test so let's take a little more care with this child. Try and direct that child in a different direction because if they start being kind and gentle to animals they will be kind and gentler to people.
JANE GOODALL: I think the most important thing for turning the young people on is for them to buy into programs and to take ownership, for them to have ideas, to get supported. Obviously, there needs to be some degree of supervision because kids can come up with ideas that are a bit weird. (laughs) But, by and large, lay out the problem in the immediate vicinity of the children and let them talk about them and they'll come up with amazing ideas. And if you encourage them to bring their own ideas to fruition then they get really inspired because they roll up their sleeves, they can jump in and clean a creek and they make a difference. They can put fish back that weren't there for maybe 15 years -- wow, that's really exciting. Or they can go and have some part in taking animals into say a senior citizen home or a hospital and see how the animals accept the kids. Or they can raise money for the homeless.
JG: Roots and Shoots is about making the world a better place for your own human community, for animals, including domestic animals, and for the environment that we all share. And its most important message is that you as an individual make a difference. You matter. What you do today actually affects the situation in the world and it is hard for adults, particularly, to realize that in the world of 6 billion plus people individual action actually does make a difference. Children understand that much more readily. You have only got to explain to them that in an area where it is littered with garbage, if you pick up one or two bits of garbage, it doesn't make much of a difference but if you persuade all your friends to do it and they persuade their friends to do it, it is cleaned up in a flash. So if we do that around the world, children get that.