Thousands of UAE students follow Dr Jane Goodall

Dubai: In 1960, 26-year-old Dr Jane Goodall set out from England adventure bound for Africa with only a few personal belongings and an insatiable curiosity for all things connected to nature, wildlife and chimpanzees.

More than 50 years later, Cambridge PhD primatologist Goodall has redefined scientific understanding of animals through her behavioural study of monkeys in the Tanzania wilderness and unwittingly helped to kickstart what today has become a worldwide environmental movement.

As recounted in a new National Geographic documentary, ‘Jane’, that is garnering global critical acclaim, Goodall’s academic work studying humans’ closest cousin would turn the scientific world upside down with revelations that chimps used tools and were highly social, problem-solving beings.

Now on a visit to the United Arab Emirates to acknowledge outstanding students’ work to preserve the environment, Goodall said she never dreamt that a humble programme started in 1991 called Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots would evolve into a planet-wide youth effort.

In the UAE, where 100 schools have adopted her Roots and Shoots curricula as part of daily instructions, Goodall said roughly 5,000 children are now being taught very early in their formative years that ecological stewardship is the only sustainable way forward for a country founded on the green principles of the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

The UAE is now part of a global network of 110 countries and 150,000 groups who belong to Goodall’s programme in which 40,000 teachers a year download material from the Roots and Shoots programme to impart to their pupils.

“The group as a whole chooses three projects and work with a teacher. They choose one project to help people, one to help animals and one to help the environment,” Goodall told Gulf News in an exclusive interview in Dubai. “They can do one big project that encompasses everything.”

“The reason it has grown so successfully is that it’s youth driven. We do have curricula, some countries, some schools want it,” said Goodall.

In schools in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain, students are learning from projects involving water conservation in the desert, vegetable gardening for school use, animal welfare, awareness of endangered animals, sea turtle rehabilitation, camels and fatal plastic pollution as well as recycling.

Awards are issued to UAE students every January by Goodall who makes a personal trip to thank and recognise her students.

Teaching students the importance of environmental protection when they are young is critical for future generations, she said.

On this trip, Goodall said witnessing ongoing priority by UAE leaders to preserve the desert and reintroduce threatened species continue to inspire.

Goodall said she was part of an expedition that trekked into protected desert sands set aside to protect the reintroduced Oryx and was moved by the beauty of the unspoilt wilderness she is encouraging children here to cherish and conserve.

“I’ve never seen a desert with such amazing beautiful colour, it was gorgeous. There is gold sand and ochre green and rust red, it is incredible,” Goodall said.

To ensure her programmes and Jane Goodall Institutes around the world continue their environmental work well into the future, Goodall confirmed that a new global legacy fund is being established in her name to ensure funding in perpetuity.

The new Goodall fund is aiming to raise $100 million in capital from which yearly interest down the road will fund Roots and Shoots to continue the environmental work in the UAE and other locales around the world.

At a glance

“Founded in 1991 by Dr Jane Goodall, Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots is a youth service programme for young people of all ages. Our mission is to foster respect and compassion for all living things, to promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs, and to inspire each individual to take action to make the world a better place for people, other animals, and the environment.”


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