World-renowned conservationist and primatologist Dr Jane Goodall in Greece for the first time this week
Her name is synonymous with tireless advocacy on behalf of chimpanzees, the environment, and youth, and her face represents a beacon of hope for millions around the world.
Famed for her 55 year study of the interactions of wild chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, she is considered the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, and this week Dr Jane Goodall, world-renowned primatologist, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), author, a United Nations Messenger of Peace and Dame of the British Empire, will be visiting Greece for the first time as part of her Roots & Shoots programme.
Dr Goodall created the youth programme Roots & Shoots in 1991, together with a group of 12 students from Tanzania, with a goal to motivate children and young people to take action regarding various problems that their community is facing. The belief of the highly successful program is that if everyone helps their local communities, the positive effects will eventually add up and lead to positive global impact. Groups undertake projects each year to help people, animals and the environment.
Dr Goodall will be delivering a talk today at Megaro Mousikis where she will spread her message of hope, as she has done to millions of people around the world. On December 16th she will be meeting with Roots & Shoots groups and educators.
GCT had the honour of being able to interview Dr Goodall before her arrival and discuss her reasons for visiting Greece, her messages of hope and the importance of investing in our youth for a better future.
Why have you chosen to go to Greece for the first time now?
I travel 300 days a year to many countries. This decision to go to Greece was partly because of a dedicated young woman, Anna Katogiritis, who has been working as a volunteer and helping to establish our youth programme Roots & Shoots, in the country.
In addition, one of my books- the Chimpanzee Children of Gombe- was recently translated by Anna Katogiritis and published through the Patakis Publications. I know that other publishing companies have published some of my books in Greek as well.
Finally, I was told that a visit from me would be very helpful to many students because of the economic crisis that has hit the country and left a lot of people- especially young students and graduates - feeling hopeless. I was told that a lot of young people have left Greece and are now working in other European countries, such as Germany, England, Italy etc. I hear that salaries in Greece are low, which limits what young people can do and that elderly people also feel hopeless, as their pensions have decreased dramatically. And on top of all this there is the terrible refugee crisis that we hear and read about continually.
Our Roots & Shoots programme is working to try to help refugees in other countries and so I hope to share some of that experience – perhaps it can be helpful in Greece. One of the themes of Roots & Shoots is trying to empower those living in poverty, and also to break down the barriers that we humans build between people of different countries, religions and cultures. This would perhaps be beneficial for the government’s efforts to incorporate refugee children into the Greek schools.
What places will you be visiting?
I shall only have time to visit Athens. There I shall meet with representatives of groups that have helped refugees, and hear their experiences, share stories. I will also have the opportunity to meet scientists who are working on marine life conservation.
I am giving one talk at Megaron Mousikis, organised by Patakis Publishing Company, JGI, and the British Council, on December 15th. The following day I shall be learning about projects, which the existing Roots & Shoots groups have already completed, and giving a talk to them and their teachers. The talk will be translated in Greek. We are thankful to the American Community School in Athens for hosting the event.
What are you expecting from your visit? And what would you like to achieve?
My main mission will be to try to grow Roots & Shoots in schools and universities, and become part of our global family of young people, from kindergarten through university and beyond, that is now in almost 100 countries, with some 150,000 active groups. Each group chooses – itself – three projects that they feel passionate about. One to help humans, one to help other animals both wild and domestic, and one to help the environment.
What do you think are the biggest issues facing the young people of Greece?
I only know what I hear from my Greek friends, and what I read in the news. They tell me that young people feel that after graduation there is chaos. That it is hard to find jobs, and when they do the salaries are really low compared with what they could earn in other countries.
Anna says that “because salaries are typically really low, basic salary for a full time job can start at 400 euros a month, and average rent can cost between 200 and 400 euros per month - people of her age are known as the “generation of the 500 euros”. Because of all this, many young people are forced to continue living with their parents so it is difficult to start their own families. Their hope, she says, has been crushed, because they feel that there are so few opportunities for advancement in their own country.
In what ways do you think the Roots & Shoots programme will benefit the youth of Greece?
The most important message of Roots & Shoots is: “Every individual matters, every individual has a role to play, and every individual makes some impact on the environment and society EVERY DAY.”
Our members learn that the cumulative results of even small actions can make a huge difference. Students choose to work on projects about which they care, they work out ways they can take action, then roll up their sleeves and take action. They see the results of their actions along with those of their group members and also members of different groups in their own and other countries. They realize they really CAN make a difference. They are empowered and this will encourage them to work even harder to make this a better world. During group discussion they will develop critical thinking which will give them the ability to find even more solutions to problems of their community.
Most importantly they will realize that they are not alone, that they are part of a family that is continually growing around the globe. A family of young people that is increasingly realising that while we need some money to live, things go wrong when we live for money in and of itself, become greedy, buy into the false values of the materialistic western culture.
Can you share with us some of your biggest highlights in the past 25 years of running Roots & Shoots?
Since the founding of Roots & Shoots 25 years ago with 12 Tanzanian students, the programme has grown to be a global network of young people making a positive impact on their local communities and our world.
In China we have youth who started a dog shelter to rescue homeless dogs, in the USA we have groups working with retirement homes to help senior citizens, in Canada students started a garden at their school to grow food for the homeless and in so many parts of Africa we have youth planting trees to provide fruit for the community and shade gardens.
I learn of new projects every day - of young people doing projects that make a difference in the lives of others, to help animals and to improve their environment. These young people are getting together with friends and truly making an impact to reverse the damage so many generations before them have caused. This is why I have so much hope for our future.
What is your favourite part of being involved in Roots & Shoots?
Wherever I go in the world, now, there are young people with shining eyes wanting to tell me what they have been doing to make the world a better place. And these are young people from all walks of life. We often hear that young people CAN make a difference. But I know, from first-hand experience, that they ARE making a difference. And in so many ways.
Chaperoning Dr Goodall for this trip is Anna Katogiritis, also Greece’s Roots & Shoots Ambassador, who says, “I believe that Dr Goodall’s visit will bring hope to all of those young people who have dreams, but think that they cannot accomplish them anymore. She will also bring hope to all the adults who think that they are too old to make a difference, and take the situation in their hands- find solutions to problems.”
*Top image of Dr Jane Goodall with kids from Roots & Shoots in Austria by Robert Ratzer (Copyright)