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Roots, Shoots and Dreams

May, 2013
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We are young and perhaps ‘crazy’ at times.
When I was in kindergarten, I was an introverted little girl who had secret dreams. I vividly recall that in the bright classroom with a view of the outside world, the little pony toys and Barbie dolls were at my service. I cuddled them closely, and imagined us in another world, where we were all equals. Why should we ride horses? Do they not feel pain? I would never want anyone to ride on me and whip me! Though I did not know what the word ‘animal rights’ meant at the time, I continued to fantasize at times, unwittingly blending my passion of conservation and creative writing together as I continue to do more consciously now. At the age of five, for instance, I wrote a little poem which ended with ‘That’s the water crying’ after observing how the water ended up in the sink and did not return. I enquired with my mother if the water I washed my hands with would be reused through a certain device, so that another happy family could wash their hands and clothes, with a great degree of certainty that the answer would be a ‘yes’.

But hang on… let the ideas soar! Why not?
Fantasies those ideas might have been, but I confess that a majority of them are in fact fulfilled. However, the likelihood of turning irrational naivety to rational reality may not be that great, since experience is always demanded.
One of the ways to turn our lack of experience into feasible ideas is to have personal role models. They do not have to be the greatest, most infallible philosopher or moral guide ever, and in fact, they might be like us: another child in the past who dared to dream, to defy conventions of the academia and society at large.

Another one of us ‘dreamers’…
Dr. Jane Goodall is a role model for many. Needless to say, the British primatologist, whose groundbreaking research broke new ground in the field of animal behaviorism, has inspired us in myriad ways.
Derived from a girlhood dream, the ambition to study the behavior of this particular species led Dame Goodall to be one of the foremost inspirational figures in schools and local communities across the globe. Remember that the cultural context of her achievements was a less open-minded European country, where females were not expected to study science, let alone say travel to Africa to observe chimpanzees. As a young girl, Jane Goodall took worms to her bed as her guests of thenight to share the warmth and coziness of her company. This was certainly not something a girl would normally do. Nevertheless, Dr. Goodall’s dream guided her to be such a powerful scientist, whose career was furthered by the introduction of her Institute’s umbrella program, Roots & Shoots (R&S). In China alone, it has been 20 years since the establishment of the first R&S group at the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB), and there are now more than 600 Roots & Shoots Clubs.

The seeds of awareness are planted!
Roots & Shoots members focus on a variety of global issues by taking initiative and action in our own communities. The scope of influence increases over time. Take the BCIS Roots & Shoots group I founded in 2011 as an example. We started among a group of twelve friends before the group was officially registered, brainstorming issues we wanted to focus on and recycling together. As the new Enrichment Activity round started, we welcomed thirty members to start the Organic Grow Project and later, the No Shark Fin Soup Campaign. Soon, we outreached to another conservation group in New Jersey to do co-advocacy projects including pledging against hydraulic fracturing. Later, we extended the group to our Elementary School to bridge the gap between the Elementary and Upper Schools, so that not only can younger students engage in global issues using their creativity, they also get to meet elder students in a classroom setting. We, like many other Roots & Shoots groups around the globe, also pay attention to appearing at all kinds of public events, fundraising and planting the seeds of awareness in other people’s heads through bake sales, pledge signing activities, organic food fairs, and so forth.
Whilst all Roots & Shoots members plant a metaphorical seed of awareness, a number of our groups also engage in ‘real’ planting. I have been glad to talk to Yizhi Li of the Jane Goodall Institute China, who is the project coordinator of the Organic Grow Project that involves both international schools and local schools across China. Here’s part of our conversation.
April: Why are you personally attracted to the Organic Grow Project?
Yizhi: I loved planting in my childhood. However, none of my plants actually survived long. Frustrated, I gave up. But when I grew up, I discovered that farming is really easy and challenging at the same time.
April: What is the aim of the Project?
Yizhi: Dr. Jane Goodall wrote a book about ‘Harvest for Hope’, which includes her opinions towards organic food. In fact, all of the Roots & Shoots groups around the world are doing similar organic grow projects with different names.
In China, we started with a single community, and the project gradually developed into a national project among the Roots & Shoots groups. Of course, the Roots & Shoots style of influencing individuals is gentle – our impact may seem tiny compared to the world, but we are planting the seeds of awareness across the country. Thus, we are making a great difference.
The aim is leading young people to discover and explore the origins of our food, and the hardship farmers go through when planting. We believe that the experience will be very challenging yet enjoyable. It’s been more than two years since the project started, and many groups have been selling their organic vegetables to spur great interest in their communities!

We spread the optimism of change, believing that ‘every individual makes a difference’.
Under the guidance of Dr. Jane Goodall, her Institute, and the Roots & Shoots mentors around the globe, Roots & Shoots members are excited to take action. At typical Roots & Shoots meetings, ideas may pop up like popcorn! Joining your school’s Roots & Shoots group can be a lot of fun. Knowing that you have the power to inspire others, fellow students and adults alike, you may also choose to start your own Roots & Shoots group. You can contact the local Jane Goodall Institute, or e-mail me at april.xu@bcis.cn if you enjoyed this article.
Still need some more evidence of how inspirational students can be? Here are some quotes!
“I was first impressed with BCIS Roots & Shoots because I heard that it was student initiated. I am interested in developing student leaders besides being concerned about conservation. That is why I am involved with Roots & Shoots.” Allen Lambert, BCIS Upper School Science, Mathematics and Humanities Teacher
“As an elementary teacher, I have been inspired by what the students in the MSHS have been doing over the last few years. I hope to be involved in helping the elementary school to also be a part of Roots & Shoots. I have enjoyed getting to know the students in the organic garden committee. Watch for a new garden in the spring!” - Lynn Optiz-Hsiao, BCIS Nursery Teacher
By April Xiaoyi Xu,
Beijing City International School


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