On Monday January 18th, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing none other than Dr. Jane Goodall, world renowned primatologist, environmentalist and UN ambassador of Peace, speak at the United Arab Emirates University. During her lecture titled Reason for Hope for Our Planet, Dr Goodall shared fascinating stories from her early life, her prolific work with wild chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania and what we can do to promote change in our own communities. Goodall’s life story is an inspiring example of how passion, persistence, courage and supportive mothers can change the world. So where did her love of animals all begin?

In WWII, Goodall was evacuated out of London and moved to the countryside to live with her grandparents. Out of harm’s way, she was able to explore in her grandparents’ garden, the place where she first began cultivating her passion for caring and observing animals. But Goodall’s love of primates began in quite a different way. It all began with Jubilee, a stuffed chimpanzee that her father got her as a gift. A gift that many people felt was inappropriate for a child, especially a girl, because they believed it would give her nightmares. But, true to her rebellious spirit, not only did Goodall love Jubilee, the stuffed critter supposedly still sits on her dresser in London today.


Whereas most girls in their twenties in the 1950s were probably looking to becoming Mrs. X, Goodall dreamed of the African continent and all the animals and intrigue that it had to offer. However, her enthusiasm for the African continent was not welcomed by her peers. Whenever she shared these dreams with her contemporaries they thought that she was “speaking nonsense” and that Africa was no place for a young Englishwoman. But after an invitation to Kenya from a secondary school friend, Goodall decided to ignore all the naysayers and make her way to East Africa in the late 1950s, where her life-long love affair with primates began.


During her talk, Goodall repeatedly cited her mother as her biggest inspiration and supporter. Not only did Goodall’s mother encourage her to pursue her dreams regardless of what people said, she actually accompanied Goodall briefly during her first months observing chimpanzees in Tanzania! If it hadn’t been for her mother’s faith and courage, David Antsey, the Chief Warden of Tangnikya (name of Tanzania under British rule) would have denied Goodall the opportunity to study the chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream National Park due to safety concerns. But thankfully, Mama Goodall’s foresight blazed a path that gave her daughter, and the world, a new perspective on what could be achieved by passionate and “ostinant” (Goodall’s word) women in the field of science.


After more than 4 decades of tireless work, Goodall continues her animal advocacy efforts at 81, by traveling 300 days a year to inspire young animal lovers and environmentalists across the world. She uses her institute, the Jane Goodall Institute, founded in 1977 and Roots and Shoots, founded in 1991, to promote wildlife conservation and the environment. In sum, Goodall is a glowing example of what any person, especially young women who have to combat limiting cultural and social norms, can achieve when they pursue what they love with conviction. Goodall ended her inspiring speech by leaving her audience with a sage piece of advice.

“Do what my mother always encouraged me to do. Listen to what people have to say, think about whether there is any truth in it. If after you think about it you still feel you are right, work until you can prove them wrong.”

Let us all take inspiration from this simple piece of advice and fight to propose, test and live our dreams.

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