Last night I had the privilege and opportunity to have been invited by a friend to the Jane Goodall Institute’s benefit dinner in Buenos Aires. The dinner was organized to celebrate Goodall’s visit to Argentina and raise funds for Institute’s local branch.
To my right sat a veterinarian who works at the Buenos Aires Zoo. Across from me I had a yoga instructor/elephants’ right activist. To my left, an event organizer whose company’s slogan is “Happiness is also sustainable energy.” I could not have been in a better place.
All of the women at the table are volunteers for JGI Argentina. As we ate our vegetarian meal at a table adorned with a succulent centerpiece that will be recycled for future events, the young women described to me the projects that the Institute heads in this country. Programs to educate kids about conservation. An initiative to protect the dozen elephants living in country today. Peace Day campaigns. Central to the Foundation’s educational efforts is a program called Roots & Shoots.
On each plate there was a card with a photo of young Jane reaching a hand out to touch the finger of a baby chimpanzee. On the back, one of her signature quotes: “We have the choice to use the gift of our life to make the world a better place—or not to bother.”
Towards the end of the night, Goodall takes the stage. Dressed in a long-sleeved blouse and slacks, she is the vision of modesty. When she takes the microphone, she speaks in a soft and clear voice when describing her life’s mission.
On her childhood dream of living in Africa with the animals: “People said, ‘Jane, dream about something that you can achieve, forget this nonsense about Africa,’” she begins. “But not my mother. She said to me, if you really want something, you’re going to have to work very hard.”
Of her time living in the wild with a chimpanzee community in Tanzania: “Those days when I was in Gombe living with the chimpanzees out in the forest on my own, finding out new things all the time….They were the most amazing days of my life.” She tells a story of one of her encounters with a group of chimpanzees and summarizes her conclusions: “There is no sharp line dividing we human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom.”
But tonight, she wants to focus on her evolution from scientist to activist.
Decades into her research Goodall realized that in order for chimpanzees and other endangered species to survive, the issues affecting the human populations living around them had to be addressed first. Poverty. Destruction of natural resources. Hunger. War. She turned her attention from the animals to the humans.
From 1986 onward, she began to travel the world to address the human issues affecting the environment and to advocate for conservation. Her main concern was to educate people, especially children. Through her foundation, Jane began to take her message to different parts of the world.
She began to discuss different ideas in her talks and meetings: “How does a decision that we make today affect our people in future generations?”
“How is it possible that the most intellectual creature to ever walk this planet is destroying it?”
She began to draw observations from her interactions: “It seems that there’s a disconnect between the incredibly clever brain and our human heart and compassion.”
The message that she crafted was interlaced with hope in human communication: “We can talk about the past and learn lessons from it. We can make plans for the future. The most important thing is that we can sit down and discuss problems.”
Today, at 81 years of age, Goodall travels the world 300 days a year to spread her message of conservation and ecology. Her Foundation has 30 offices and programs in more than 100 countries around the world.
Listening to Jane Goodall speak last night filled me with motivation. Mere hours after returning from the dinner, I woke up still feeling the effects of the inspiration she had so beautifully cultivated. The inspiration that a person like Jane Goodall transmits through her life’s evolution and message to mankind. That spark that rips you out of the microcosm you are submerged in and transports you to a wider understanding of life.
Listening to Jane Goodall, you believe and adopt her hope for a positive change in the world: “I think there’s a small window of time and if we get together and each do our part, we can truly change the future.”
I will take with me a story she told about a meeting she had with biologist and whale activist Roger Payne. They were both asked to respond the same question: “If you had to describe what you’ve learned from the animals in what word, would it be?” They both responded, simultaneously and without prior discussion: humility.