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WSD student delegates had a rare opportunity to meet storied primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall, sharing their own work to create a world where animals, people and the environment can thrive.
Dr. Goodall and the students met at the Delta Hotel on Sept. 28 as part of her recent Canadian tour.
"Jane and the students are going to have a sharing circle, ask each other questions and learn more about each other," said WSD Education for Sustainable Development Consultant Chantelle Cotton.
Students learned that it was Dr. Goodall's love of books, in particular Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan of the Apes, that pointed her in the direction of a 55-year career studying chimpanzees.
"I had a tree in the garden…and I used to take my books up this tree, because I felt close to the birds. And I read (the book) from cover to cover," she said. "That was when I fell in love with Tarzan…and so I decided I'm going to grow up, I'm going to go to Africa, I'm going to live with wild animals and I'm going to write books about them.
"Girls couldn't be scientists in those days. Everybody laughed at me. 'Jane, what a stupid dream.'"
It was the first of many misconceptions she would help erase in her career. Another was that animals had no distinct personalities.
"When I first got to college, I was told I couldn't talk about chimpanzees having personalities, because only humans did. I couldn't talk about them having emotions like happiness, sadness, fear…that was only humans. I couldn't talk about them having minds capable of solving problems," she said, adding that she was told to give the chimpanzees she studied numbers instead of names. "But fortunately, I had a wonderful teacher when I was a child, who taught me that for all their knowledge, the professors were wrong. And that teacher was my dog, Rusty. You can't share your life with an animal and not know. Of course they have personalities and feelings."
With the Roots & Shoots program, Dr. Goodall is encouraging young people to make a difference and build a better future for people, animals and the environment. There are currently five WSD schools involved in the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada's Roots & Shoots program. Pilot schools Lord Selkirk, Meadows West and Robert H. Smith schools have been joined by King Edward and Greenway schools this fall.
The program engages school communities to take on action-based projects. For example, Lord Selkirk school did a project on access to healthy food in their community, as well as looking help the stray cat population.
"There are lots of bad things going on in the world today…at times it seems overwhelming," Dr. Goodall said.
"To know there are young people like you, who care, who love animals, who love nature, who want to help…and knowing that you are doing it through Roots and Shoots, meeting people, spreading the word and making a difference every single day…that's what gives me the energy to go on."
Robert H. Smith student Mahinder Singh said students were proud to share their work with Dr. Goodall.
"We told her about all the things we are doing to help the environment at our school," he said. "And we learned a lot about Dr. Goodall, it was amazing to get to meet her. It's a big privilege."
Students presented Dr. Goodall with a number of gifts, including a shirt to help her mark Orange Shirt Day, a day to encourage unity and reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians.