All Dr Jane Goodall’s toys when she was a child were of animals. She once even took some worms to bed with her to observe them and also hid in a hen house to see eggs laid. Delores Johnson / The National
All Dr Jane Goodall’s toys when she was a child were of animals. She once even took some worms to bed with her to observe them and also hid in a hen house to see eggs laid. Delores Johnson / The Natio

Jane Goodall inspires Abu Dhabi students to promote conservationism

ABU DHABI // Dr Jane Goodall is sitting on a bench, engaged in conversation, when suddenly a swarm of children line up, stretching papers and pencils in her direction.

“Hi, can I have an autograph?” a boy of about 10 asks. “‘To Sameer, with an e – two ‘e’s. And can I get one for my sister?”

“You know, I’m just doing an interview,” Dr Goodall says in her gentle, soft-spoken voice, as she signs her name on a blank piece of lined paper. “What’s her name?”

“Faryal,” the boy answers with delight. “F-a-r-y-a-l.”

Dr Goodall was in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday to meet about 100 children who are members of Roots & Shoots, an international programme of the Jane Goodall Institute that encourages youngsters to take on community projects that protect the environment and animals, strengthens social ties and promotes conservationism.

A pilot version of the programme began a year ago in the capital with five schools. Since then, more schools in Dubai and Al Ain have joined, expanding the number to 14.

Dr Goodall has been a household name since the 1960s when, as a young British woman, she moved to Tanzania to live among chimpanzees. Her decades-long work led to breakthrough discoveries, but she didn’t initially set out to be a scientist, she says.

“No, I wanted to write. I didn’t want to do science,” says Dr Goodall, who will be 82 in April and is the mother of one son and grandmother of three. “When I got out into the field, it was just my love of animals.”

The strong bonds she shares with animals go back to when she was a child.

“All my toys were animals of one sort of another. It was animals, animals, animals from the time I was born.”

As a child, she once took worms to bed with her to observe them.

Another time, she spent four hours hiding in a hen house for a chance to learn how hens lay eggs. She was also an avid reader.

“There was no TV growing up. I had no other options, I loved books.”

After reading The Voyages of Dr Dolittle when she was eight, she pretended with her friends that she could talk to the animals.

“But the real spark was when I was 10. I had saved up just enough money to buy Tarzan of the Apes. I fell in love with Tarzan and decided I would grow up, go to Africa, live with animals and write books about them.”

While others may have scoffed at her idea, Dr Goodall says she didn’t waver from her goals, thanks in part to the support she received from her mother.

Today, she tells children: “Push yourself towards what you love and hope other people encourage you.”

“That’s what my mum once told me, if you really want something – like I wanted to go to Africa and everybody else laughed at me, everybody except my mother, who said, ‘well then, you’re going to have to work really hard, take advantage of the opportunity and never give up.’ That’s what I did.” Julia Grifferty, 17, a pupil at the American Community School, says Dr Goodall’s message inspired her to launch a campaign to ban the sale of bottled water at her school.

The initiative, called Boot the Bottle, is expanding to more schools in the emirate.

“Our vision is we won’t stop, and like Jane Goodall says, you should never give up. You should have courage of your own conviction,” says Julia.

Debra Bufton, a service learning coordinator for the American School of Dubai, says Dr Goodall is “very inspiring” to the young children.

“I think this opportunity, they will go back and take this excitement and excite other students and other kids. I have no doubt that this will live in their memory for a lifetime.”


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