Sunday, November 18, 2007
Sowing the Seeds of Hope
Dr Jane Goodall has arrived in Beijing for a week-long visit to China.
Known for her ground-breaking research on chimpanzees in Tanzania, Goodall now travels the world some 300 days a year, spreading the word about environmental and animal conservation.
And she specifically focuses her message on young people, which led to the establishment of Roots & Shoots, an education program in 1991. There are now more than 800 of them in 98 countries, with over 300 R&S in China.
Some of these groups, ranging from elementary, secondary and university students came from Shanghai, Dalian and Tianjin as well as Beijing to show Goodall their environmental projects.
They ranged from planting trees in Inner Mongolia, to conserving rain water, feeding bears in a zoo with a pinata filled with fruit, and making crafts out of aluminum cans.
The famous scientist was dressed warmly in a large red coat and her silvery hair tied back loosely in a clip. When she arrived at Beijing City International School Goodall received applause from the students and they practically mobbed her, trying to take pictures and getting her to autograph pieces of paper.
She handled the attention quite well, and visited each of the booths and praised the students for their work.
The event then moved to the theatre where she gave a speech encouraging the audience to continue their conservation efforts as they are the next generation.
She said they were like roots and shoots, like the name of her program, growing and taking root and then breaking through tough barriers to grow.
Then she told a story about a chimpanzee who was taken from his mother when she was shot dead. He was nicknamed "Old Man" after enduring 15 years of tests scientists conducted on him.
He was left to retire in a zoo on an island with three other female chimpanzees. A zoo keeper called Mark was to look after them but was warned not to get too close because they didn't like humans.
So he fed them by throwing food at them. He later noticed they got excited and hugged each other when he rowed the boat towards them. So Mark gradually brought his boat closer and closer to them until he could hand a banana to the Old Man.
He then stepped onto the island and nothing happened to him. Later on, he and Old Man made physical contact, grooming each other.
Old Man even had a baby chimpanzee with one of the females.
One day Mark was on the island but he tripped and fell on his face near the baby. The mother was horrified and came to rescue it, but not before biting Mark on the neck, thinking he wanted to harm her child. The other females followed her lead, also biting him on the leg and arm.
When Old Man came, Mark thought the chimpanzee would surely kill him. Instead the animal pushed the three females away so that the zoo keeper could get off the island and row back to safety.
Goodall said that if a chimpanzee, after all the years he was treated badly by humans, could bridge the gap and look after a man, we humans who are even more intelligent, should do the same, if not better.
It was a message that resonated with the audience and hopefully that will spur them on to continue their green efforts.
But the fight for funding, especially non-profit organizations in China is tough. Only foreign companies step up to the plate and make contributions as there's no such thing as tax breaks for charitable donations. Non-profits do get some donations in kind by local companies, but those are few and far between.
The Chinese government is looking at creating a charity law. But this needs to be established soon, otherwise the momentum for non-profits like Goodall's will quickly fade when in fact they're making a huge impression on young people who are eager to make a difference.