Dr. Jane Goodall at NYU Abu Dhabi

Dr. Jane Goodall speaks at the NYUAD Institute on January 20, 2015.

NYU Abu Dhabi took a walk on the wild side this January, holding a lecture on the life and work of famed primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall at the NYUAD Institute and hosting the first celebration of Roots & Shoots Abu Dhabi at NYUAD in collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute and the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD).

Roots & Shoots, the youth-led community action program led by the Jane Goodall Institute, builds on the legacy and vision of Dr. Jane Goodall to place the power and responsibility for creating community-based solutions to big challenges in the hands of the young people. Through the program, young people map their community to identify specific challenges their neighborhoods face. From there, they identify the problems, develop a plan for a solution, and take action.

Dr. Goodall started the program in 1991 after a group of 12 teenagers met with her on her back porch in Tanzania to express their concerns about issues facing their community. After listening to the students, Goodall started the programme Roots & Shoots with the goal of helping this group develop solutions to their problems. Today, the Roots & Shoots network has blossomed into more than 150,000 members in over 138 countries from kindergarten to university, all focused on a range of local and global service projects.

Tara Golshan, Executive Director, Education with the Jane Goodall Institute commented on the Roots & Shoots celebration at NYUAD, "We very much look forward to a very exciting partnership between NYU and JGR&S in reaching young people through education and engagement in order to protect and nurture our future planet earth."

During the NYUAD Institute lecture on January 20, Dr. Goodall addressed a full house of students, faculty, staff, and visitors and spoke about her life’s work and the importance of conservation. In the lecture, she discussed the future of chimpanzees in the wild and the threats they face from devastating habitat loss. Dr. Goodall also shared highlights from some of her most unique experiences in the field, her candid thoughts on the future of conservation, and expressed heartfelt reasons to maintain hope despite growing threats and often overwhelming odds.

"Almost every day, I look at a small child and think how we’ve destroyed our planet since I was their age but we still have a window of time. It’s amazing how even the most destroyed ecosystem can come back to life." Dr. Goodall went on to say, "Even when we believe that everything is finished, there is still hope."

Dr. Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall talking to three young students.

The following day, students from a number of schools in Abu Dhabi gathered together at the launch of Roots & Shoots at NYUAD to display work that they had produced to help raise awareness of and conserve the environment. Visiting schools included Al Muna Primary School, Al Mushrif School, American Community School (ACS), the Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Bangladesh Islamia School, the Emirates Private School, the British International School of Abu Dhabi (BISAD), and the Indian School.

NYUAD student Fisher Wu (Class of 2017) was excited to be a part of the Roots & Shoots celebration in Abu Dhabi. "I joined Roots & Shoots in Shanghai 9 years ago, since then R&S and Jane have changed my life so much. This is my third time to see her in person, but it is the first time I really spent some moments talking to her. It feels like a dream come true. It is both wonderful and amazing that I felt so much energy coming from Jane while talking to her and listening to her. She gives me reason to pursue my passion in protecting the environment." Alison Hibbitt, a teacher with the British International School in Abu Dhabi said that her school has an eco-club for just under a year, which will now come under the umbrella of Roots & Shoots. She expressed her views about the conference and what she thinks the club has in store for the future, saying "I will take my direction from the children. I should imagine they have been wholly inspired by this event here today. They are a very enthusiastic bunch and I know that when I get back to school I will be told about what they have planned and the ideas they got from the other schools that were here. I think from here on it will be child-driven rather than teacher-driven. I imagine in the car on the way home it will just be endless chatter about what is next for the group."

Students prepared slideshows, charts and videos showcasing their conservation projects and work. Each school also prepared a poem or song for Dr. Goodall in commemoration of her life’s work. Goodall then addressed the students and told them stories about her times with the chimpanzees and the major role her mother played in her life. Afterwards, the students had lunch with Dr. Goodall and were able to share exciting new ideas with each other for future collaborations.

Salma Alwi from Emirates Private School Abu Dhabi said that they started the Roots & Shoots program in October in their school. Since then, they have been able to build a decomposer pit and garden in the backyard of their school. When asked about her encounter with Dr. Goodall, Salma smiled and said, "It was really incredible. We heard that we were coming here and presenting our work but we didn’t think that she would actually be here. It is such an inspiring moment to meet someone who is responsible for all that we have done through her organization. It was just amazing."

NYUAD student Maryam Rasheed Al Hammadi (Class of 2018) also had a memorable meeting with Dr. Goodall at the event, "Meeting Jane Goodall was definitely an intriguing experience for me. I had been involved in Roots and Shoots for a while when I was younger - to see Dr. Jane felt like part of my younger self, in all her excitement and bubbliness, came back. I was also surprised when Suparna invited me to walk Dr. Jane, along with Fisher, around our campus. I had told her, in all earnestness, that I wish I had met her when I was younger." "Well, you've met me now," said Dr. Jane. "But it would have been more magical back then," I said. Dr. Jane then proceeded to tell me how her life now, at age 81, is a lot more magical than it was before. As we said good-bye, she said, "Don't lose the magic."