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Jane Goodall Shares ‘Hope Through Action’ During WCSU Webcast



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DANBURY — World-renowned ethologist and conservationist Dr Jane Goodall gave a special presentation, “Virtual Jane: Hope Through Action,” with the Jane Goodall Center for Excellence in Environmental Studies at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) on March 19.

Moderating the event was WCSU faculty members, Dr Rick Asselta, emeritus and past coordinator of the Jane Goodall Center at WCSU, and Dr Robert D. Whittemore, professor of anthropology.

Asselta introduced Goodall, saying, “Western’s association with Dr Goodall began in 1995. Since then, we have been honored by her visits on many occasions when she’s interacted with and inspired our students taking part in symposia, and presented public lectures.”

He shared that she has long studied chimpanzees and among her many discoveries, she made the groundbreaking observation that chimpanzees use tools.

“Since 1985, Dr Goodall has devoted the majority of her efforts to the cause of environmental protection,” Asselta said.

He added that near and dear to her heart is Roots & Shoots, “An organization she founded to inspire and encourage environmental activism among the youth of the world.”

The day’s “Hope Through Action” presentation was a way for everyone to learn how they can help solve the world’s environmental troubles.

Goodall started off her talk by first saying how happy she was to be speaking to WCSU.

“We all know that today the world is filled with problems and so many social, political, and environmental problems … Hope is something which we desperately need, because if we lose hope, then we become apathetic. If we think nothing is going to work out, why bother doing anything? If we all become apathetic, then we’re doomed,” she said.

However, if someone has hope, they can go out and do something about their situation — like clean up litter in a neighborhood or raise money for causes — and they can find success through it.

“When we do something that makes a difference, makes things better, even in a small way, [it] makes us feel good. And if you feel good, well, you want to feel better and you do more,” Goodall said. “It inspires other people. It’s like a spiral of hope.”

In her life, she finds hope through action.

Goodall understands how looking globally at all the problems can be depressing, but she encourages apathetic people to try to make a difference where they live. Creating positive change locally can give a person their hope back and allow them to continue to do even more in the future.

Goodall said, “I now see humanity as though at the mouth of a very long, very dark tunnel and right at the end of the tunnel is a little star — that’s hope. But it is no good sitting at the mouth of the tunnel hoping that the star will come to us.

“Oh, no. We have to roll up our sleeves, crawl under, climb over, and work our way around all the obstacles that lie between us and that star. Things like climate change, loss of biodiversity, the pandemic, the cruelty, the war, the destruction of the environment, and the sixth great extinction looming.”

All these problems, and more, deserve hope through action to solve them.

Her Action

Goodall gave some background about how she started making a difference. She recalls being “born loving animals” and how she had a supportive mother who encouraged her love of animals.

“By the time I was 10, my dream was to go to Africa to live with wild animals and write books,” Goodall said.

Many people told her that she was “just a girl” and would list reasons why she could not accomplish that dream, all except her mother.

“She said, ‘If you really want to do something like this, you’re going to have to work awfully hard and take advantage of every opportunity. If you don’t give up, hopefully you will find a way.’ That is a message I take all around the world, particularly to young people in disadvantaged communities, because it gives them hope,” Goodall said.

In Goodall’s early 20s, she worked as a waitress at a hotel to earn money to travel. Once she arrived in Kenya, she had the opportunity to observe chimpanzees with anthropologist and paleontologist, Dr Louis Leakey.

Goodall shared how she was selected specifically because she did not have a formal degree and displayed empathy for her animal subjects.

“Well, I was taught by my wise teacher … my dog Rusty. He taught me that, of course, we are not the only beings on the planet with personality, mind, and emotion,” she said while pointing to a photo of him framed behind her.

Goodall would go on to earn her PhD — and continued to stay true to herself that animals are sentient beings. She then went out to Gombe, Africa, to do research in the rainforest.

“What we have to try and help people understand today is that we are part of the natural world. We depend on it. We depend on healthy ecosystems,” she said.

Goodall described the ecosystem of life like a tapestry. Every time one animal or plant becomes extinct, it is like pulling a thread out.

“If you pull enough threads, the tapestry will hang in tatters and the ecosystem will collapse,” she explained.

When she discovered that chimpanzee numbers were decreasing and forests were disappearing at an alarming rate, it was in 1986. So she brought people together for a conference about the importance of conservation.

“I went to that conference as a scientist, and I left as an activist,” Goodall said.

In addition to learning about the problems facing chimpanzees and the environment, she found out about the plight of so many African people — crippling poverty, degradation of land, etc. — and knew she had to do something.

“People in poverty cut down trees to make some money in their desperation to survive, and chop timber or make new land to farm and feed their growing families. It hit me then that if we don’t help these people find other ways of making a living than destroying their environment, we can’t save the chimps, forest, or anything else,” Goodall said.

As a result, the Jane Goodall Institute helped launch a holistic program called TACARE that was created with local African people for community-led conservation. It teaches people that helping the environment is not only good for animals, but for them, too.

“They’ve become our partners in conservation,” Goodall said.

The program helps give hope to those taking part in it.

Roots & Shoots

Goodall shared that her global youth program Roots & Shoots started with 12 high school students in Tanzania who were worried about the illegal dynamite fishing that was destroying the coral reefs, the poaching in national parks, children living in the streets with nowhere to go, and the cruelty to dogs and cats.

“They wanted me to do something about it … we went and found their friends who also cared. We had a meeting, and Roots & Shoots was born with the idea that the main message would be that every single one of us makes an impact on the planet every single day,” she said.

Goodall pointed out that WCSU played an important role in that it was the first university to have a Roots & Shoots program.

“It was a perfect model,” she said.

Since Roots & Shoots began in 1991, it has gone on to empower young people — from preschool to university students — in 65 countries and is growing.

“We are changing the world; I don’t know what else to say. These students, once they understand the problems, are empowered to take action. They are just so full of energy, commitment, determination, and dedication,” Goodall said.

Circling back to her metaphor from earlier, she said, “They are able to get through that dark tunnel, they’re able to go under the obstacles and over them and around them, and reach that little star. I’m absolutely sure of it.”

Despite the “doom and gloom” in the media, Goodall emphasized that there are good people and that we all can make a positive difference in the world we share as our home.

The “Hope Through Action” presentation concluded with Goodall answering questions submitted from the public. Among the dozen or so questions that were asked, many came from children as young as 5 years old, which in itself was noted as hope that the next generation cares for the planet and all living creatures that inhabit it.

Proceeds from the virtual event went to benefit the WCSU Permaculture Garden and student interns. It was sponsored by WCSU and The Woman’s Club of Danbury and New Fairfield, Inc.

For more information about the Jane Goodall Institute, visit janegoodall.org.

Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at alissa@thebee.com.

Scientist, conservationist, peacemaker, and mentor Dr Jane Goodall spoke at “Virtual Jane: Hope Through Action,” thanks to the Jane Goodall Center for Excellence in Environmental Studies at Western Connecticut State University on March 19.
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