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1 Nov 07
She inspires kids to take action
Sheralyn Tay firstname.lastname@example.org
AS A young girl, Jane Goodall set off for Africa on a ship, without realising that her journey to Tanzania would forever change the way humankind viewed its primate cousins.
She was first to discover that chimpanzees, just like people, not only used tools but also fashioned them, manipulating twigs and grass blades to poke into termite mounds for food.
In Singapore yesterday, the extraordinary doctor greeted her audience of 500 corporate and non-profit leaders at a conference here on voluntarism and philanthropy with the hooting cry of a chimpanzee — before setting out to enchant them, in her quietly charismatic way.
Recounting her experiences and programmes in Africa and around the world, Dr Goodall's message for people here was that they, too, could make a personal difference, in this daunting era of global warming, social inequity, terrorism and vanishing forests.
For instance, there was that 8-year-old boy from "the poorest public school in the United States" she said, who was so inspired by her talk that he chastised cereal company Kellogg's for the way a monkey was portrayed on its packaging.
When she returned to the school the following year, she said, the little boy "stood up very tall" and reminded her: "You told us that when monkeys bare their teeth they're not smiling, they're fearful; and I saw that face on a packet of cereal. You also said monkeys shouldn't wear clothes because it's undignified.
"So, I took action."
He had written to the company — unbeknown to him, other people were doing so, too — and to his surprise, Kellogg's took the packaging off the market. "That kind of thing doesn't happen often, but makes a difference in that child's life," said Dr Goodall.
Alluding to mankind's destruction of the planet, she told her audience: "I've seen so many young people who have lost hope. They are apathetic, bitter, angry and even violent, because they feel we have taken their future away from them. And we have."
But through the Roots and Shoots community youth programme that she started in 1991, Dr Goodall hopes to convince youths around the world that they can take charge and make a difference.
Roots and Shoots societies are in almost 100 countries, including Singapore, and draws children from pre-school to university level. Youngsters are encouraged to tackle problems facing their communities, be it through community service, environmental activism or animal welfare.
On Friday, Dr Goodall will meet with members of the 11 societies here, some of them in institutions such as the American School and Hwa Chong Institution. They will take part in the first Wildlife Stampede at the Botanic Gardens, organised by the newly-registered Singapore arm of the Jane Goodall Institute, which supports local Roots and Shoots groups as well as promotes education and conservation activities.
Dr Goodall hopes that, by nurturing a new generation who will be better stewards of the planet, solutions will be found for today's pressing climate and social issues.
"If we see a brick wall as all these problems that we've inflicted on the planet … hundreds and thousands of young people around the world, like roots and shoots, can break through," she declared.
Dr Goodall earned her doctorate in ethology, the scientific study of animal behaviour, from the University of Cambridge in 1964.
Aged 73 today, she is still on the road 300 days a year giving talks and raising funds for her organisation. She still glows with a youthful vitality.
Asked her secret to ageing gracefully, the elegant Dr Goodall laughed quietly and said: "I just don't look in the mirror!"
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