Youths make positive change with Roots & Shoots

  • People
  • Monday, 26 Jan 2015

Dr Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, the organisation for young people, now has a Malaysian chapter.

This Earth is the only home we have, and it is pertinent that we take good care of it for the survival of not just the human population, but also the flora and fauna.

How much can we drum this important idea into our children’s minds? Who would inherit the earth if not our future generations? Recent studies have shown that children today spend much less time outdoors than 20 years ago, and they spend an average of seven hours per day in front of a computer screen. This is worrying and underlines the importance of establishing a connection between young people and their surroundings and environment.

In 1991, Dr Jane Goodall, the legendary primatologist and wildife conservationist, gave talks at some schools in Tanzania. Then 12 students went to her home to further discuss some environmental issues they were facing, and what they could do about it. It was then, in such humble beginnings, that Roots & Shoots, the non-profit organisation focusing on environmental, conservation and humanitarian issues, was founded.

Starting them young

Today, Roots & Shoots has local chapters in over 132 countries, with more than 100,000 young people involved in more than 8,000 local groups around the world. One of the original 12 students who met with Goodall later became the environment minister of Tanzania. Another became the Roots & Shoots national director for the Tanzanian chapter.

Last year, the Malaysian chapter was established. It held its first activity, a fund-raiser, in December. Goodall will launch the organisation this Friday in Kuala Lumpur.

“The basic focus of Roots & Shoots is to make positive change happen for animals, the environment and society,” Jyunichi Washizaki, project manager of the Malaysian chapter, explained. 

“These are our three pillars. Our KPI is to get as many youths involved as possible in starting their own Roots & Shoots. We encourage young people to pick a topic that they’re passionate about. It could be saving stray animals, for example, or a recycling campaign. If you’re passionate about something, go ahead and do something about it.

“At the end of the day, Roots & Shoots is a programme of hope for young people. It’s like the good old days when we were growing up and we used to go out and play and get our hands dirty. That is what we try and encourage these kids to do, to go out and make a difference and at the same time have fun.”

The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) is the parent organisation, and according to Washizaki, JGI Taiwan is largely seen as the headquarters for Asia.

Washizaki says Roots & Shoots Malaysia’s focus is to make positive change for animals, environment and society.
Washizaki says Roots & Shoots Malaysia’s focus is to make positive change for animals, environment and society.

“Roots & Shoots has about 150,000 members worldwide in over 130 countries,” said Washizaki. “So you can imagine a lot of different projects happening, from animal conservation to anything to do with environmental causes. When it comes to sustainability and conservation, we feel that the three pillars practically cover everything. These three things go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the others.”

For Malaysia, Roots & Shoots is in talks with several companies and organisations for possible collaborations for this year.

“We’re partnering with Berjaya Youth to promote volunteerism among youths in Malaysia,” said Washizaki. “We’re also talking to schools such as the International School KL which already has its own Roots & Shoots club. We are offering them support to get them more involved in what we do.”

There is also a collaboration with Ecoteer on Perhentian island in Terengganu. “There is a big waste disposal problem there. One of our projects focuses on waste management and turning waste into raw materials to build things.”

Community endeavours

In a tie-up with Starbucks, plans include setting up a community edible garden, holding weekend IT classes for kids in a rural village, cultivating children’s interest in writing, and promoting use of tumblers for takeaway coffee to reduce waste.

One of the key things about Roots & Shoots is its interactive website, which serves as a platform for the exchange of ideas among youths of various countries. 

“It’s great because kids from around the world can see what other kids are doing. So for example, if we have a recycling programme here in one of our schools, and they would like to see what kids are doing in South America, they can go to our website and see what worked for the kids in South America and what didn’t. There is a flow of ideas between continents.”

Washizaki said Roots & Shoots is basically an idea or concept, and anyone can adopt it. All it takes is for two people to form a group and do something, which explains why there are so many groups around the world.

“But we do encourage all Roots & Shoots groups to register online, so we can keep track of the different groups and projects happening,” said Washizaki.

He said one of the challenges for Roots & Shoots is to find that balance between fun and proactivity, and that is something that has to be managed very carefully.

“One of the beautiful things about Roots & Shoots is that we don’t tell children what projects they should pursue,” said Washizaki. 

“We’re here at the end of the day as a support system and we tell them to identify a problem either at school or in their neighbourhood that they feel needs rectifying, and to go ahead and do something about it. We want to give them the freedom of choice. We feel that’s very important.”

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