Interview with Dr. Jane Goodall, the Chimpanzee Mother

As a student journalist and Roots & Shoots founder and leader at my school, I had the pleasure of conducting an exclusive interview with distinguished British scientist and UN Messenger of Peace, Dr. Jane Goodall.

As a student journalist and Roots & Shoots founder and leader at my school, I had the pleasure of conducting an exclusive interview with distinguished British scientist and UN Messenger of Peace, Dr. Jane Goodall.

April: You greet people across the world using a universal language - the chimpanzee call. When was your first time doing it in public appearances? How often do you do that?

Dr. Goodall: I cannot remember the first time I did a chimpanzee call - I have been on the road since 1986 and I made it before that. So it is in the mist of the past! I do the chimpanzee call every time I do a lecture, in cathedrals, temples, the United Nations, the European Parliament and everywhere in between.

April: How would you suggest schools incorporate conservation in international education?

Dr. Goodall: I suggest that schools incorporate the philosophy of Roots & Shoots as much as possible. We are always talking about how we can get more environmental and humanitarian education. It is about listening to the voice of young people - how they feel, and what would be most meaningful for them. So far, Roots & Shoots seems to appeal to so many different people, because it is holistic.

April: We place an emphasis on oratory skills as students. What advice could you, as a published author and an influential speaker, give to us?

Dr. Goodall: Practice and passion. You have to really care about what you say. And if you don't, it will never come out quite right, unless you go into acting, in which case you have to act fast before you realize it is something which you do not believe in. Successful actors and actresses have to get themselves into their roles before acting. Therefore, you need to really care about what you are saying.

A work ethic is also important. It was 1962 when I made my first talk. I was very shy and terrified, so I sat in Gombe and hoped that some buffalo would knock me down so I would not have to talk! But I did have to give the talk, so I practiced. I made two vows - never read notes, and never say 'um'. That is a lot of self discipline because that sometimes leaves much silence. So I have to be sure about what I am going to say, and avoid filling the silence with 'um's and 'er's, which is what most people do. But if you consciously say 'I won't do it!' to yourself, then you have a good chance that you won't. On the other hand, on the night before every single talk, I always make my little notes and have them there, because sometimes your mind can go blank. It is frightening when you have nothing to look at.

April: You have been a source of inspiration to many, and have been regarded as a role model to Roots & Shoots members in particular. Who is your own role model?

Dr. Goodall: The person who has the most influence on me is my mother. Think of life as a flight where we fly higher and higher. If I were a bird that needs feathers to fly higher, I would regard my mother as my strongest feather. She was extremely supportive of me from the very beginning. Imagine that when I was one and half years old, I took a whole handful of earthworms to bed with me. My mother said very quietly, 'Jane, they will die if they leave the earth.' And so, together, we put them back into the garden. Later in my life, she continuously encouraged me. For instance, when I decided to go to Africa in a society where it was extremely rare for a young woman with limited professional knowledge to do so, my mother said to me, 'Jane, if you work hard and be persistent, you will achieve whatever you want to do.

April: How would you describe your personality?

Dr. Goodall: I am obstinate and I will not give in.

April: In your scientific research, were there any sparks or triggers, or 'light bulb moments' that really influenced your discoveries about chimpanzees?

Dr. Goodall: There were so many breakthroughs that I regard as triggers and light bulb moments, ranging from the discovery of tool use, to sharing of food, to a baby grieving for losing its mother, etc.

April: You travel three hundred days a year on average. What does your daily schedule look like? How does it compare to the time when you were doing chimpanzee research?

Dr. Goodall: I do not have a typical day any more. Back in Gombe, I had an easy and predictable schedule, which I no longer have. I got up before it was light, which was about five thirty. I would make some coffee and have a piece of bread. I would be out in the hills until it was nearly dark, about six thirty in the evening. Then I would have supper, and write down my notes, another discipline for myself. Now, I sometimes have a big lecture in a day, and sometimes have three smaller ones, sometimes visit schools, corporate heads and politicians. I sometimes get an hour or so of free time, when I like to write, often to thank people whom I have previously visited. As I travel three hundred days a year, I am glad to see Roots & Shoots members planting trees all over the world to offset my carbon footprint.

April: How do you expect the Roots & Shoots to be decades later? What do you think of the long-term development of R&S?

Dr. Goodall: Roots make a firm foundation, shoots seem tiny but to reach the sun can break through a break wall. We see the brick wall as all these problems that we've inflicted on the planet. It's a message of hope; hundreds and thousands of young people around the world can break through and can make this a better world for all living things. Once young people know the problems and are empowered to act, they have great power to impact the world.

Being a global program already in 130 countries and continuing to grow and expand, I expect great things for Roots & Shoots in the future. Our goal is for every student to be involved, whether they are interested in the environment, animals, or community. I hear about groups all over the place that I didn't know about because kids take the program and are spreading it themselves. Students decide themselves to clean up our planet and make a difference. With modern technology, students all over can communicate and share what they are working on, but we need help and support from all ages to further develop the Roots & Shoots family and mission. We CAN make a difference.

April: What was the greatest reward that you have gotten so far in your scientific career and why do you think this is the greatest reward?

Dr. Goodall: The greatest reward was the first day that a group of chimps let me come close -that was pretty amazing. One chimpanzee, David Greybeard, was the first to visit my camp in Gombe and eventually, felt comfortable enough with me to make contact out in the forest, checking my pockets to see if I had a banana hidden there. And then the day that David Greybeard took the nut from my hand and then didn't want the nut, then very gently squeezed my fingers like chimp reassurance, which was a clear communication between me and him - it was a very extraordinary moment.

It took six months of patience and persistence, but even in those six months, I learned so much about them from watching them.

April: As a naturalist and prestigious scholar, what do you do for fun and what is your hobby?

Dr. Goodall: I love to write - it is a great source of reflection, especially as I continue to meet many new inspiring people. These days, because I am traveling most of the time and visiting people all around the world, it is rejuvenating to return to Africa for a couple of weeks to spend time with the chimps. I am very fortunate to love my work so much.

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