I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Roots & Shoots is my favourite Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) program. This youth-oriented program is focused on encouraging young people to think critically about the world around them and use holistic approaches to address problems in their communities—and it really works!
I was smitten with the program after I heard Dr. Goodall talk about it back in 2010, but the importance of its youth-led approach is reinforced for me every time I talk to someone involved in youth engagement. I’ve been able to talk to some pretty fantastic people since I became a JGI blogger, and I’m always blown away by the infectious optimism of those who work with kids. Most recently, I talked to Nadine about her work with Aboriginal youth, and she emphasized that “[e]leven- and twelve-year-olds are usually not consulted on ways to problem-solve in their communities, so when we talk about community problems, and they are asked for what they can do to change it, they get pretty excited.”
It’s not just the excitement about being asked—which is really important in itself, as it shows young people that their opinions do matter and can make a difference—it’s also the creativity that comes from these amazing kids that inevitably puts a smile on my face. I’ve had several teachers and youth mentors explain to me that their students can really let their imaginations run wild because they aren’t bound by economic theories or logistics or other “grown up” concerns. They can actually approach a problem from an angle that adults might not have seen.
Getting young people involved in their communities and finding these wildly creative solutions to local problems is what Roots & Shoots is all about. It’s actually a global network of wildly creative youth, which also encourages participants to learn from and inspire each other.
There are two main ways to get involved (have I convinced you yet?):
1. If you are a teacher or a youth mentor, then you can take professional development training through JGI to bring Roots & Shoots into your classroom. The training, along with the 12-step action project process outlined in Protecting Our Sacred Water, will help you facilitate a youth-led conservation or community development project. By following the 12-step process, your students will learn to think about all aspects of an issue and how they can be addressed. Through this approach, students really do learn to think critically about the forces that shape their communities, but the point of an action project is to engage youth to respond to their concerns and to help them think through the meaningful action(s) that they can take to make a positive difference. It’s youth empowerment, not just engagement.
JGI takes the education part of this youth involvement quite seriously and is currently developing a new Educator Resource based on the Community-Centred Conservation model that Dr. Goodall pioneered in Africa. This model takes students through a holistic understanding of how all issues facing their communities have economic, societal, cultural and environmental factors influencing the root causes of the problem, and how we can go about creating solutions. (More details coming soon!)
2. If you are not a teacher, then you can get involved through the JGI Canada campaigns (just like some of the Youth Leadership Council members have done). Three campaigns will be launched by JGI Canada throughout the school year, and each one will include lots of information about the chosen issue and suggestions for related projects. For example, the What’s in your cup? coffee campaign included an easy-to-read infographic about the impacts of coffee consumer choices (perfect to use for a class presentation) and a pocket guide that outlined what to look for when you’re shopping for sustainable coffee. The Jane Goodall Institute coffee blend was (and still is!) available for fundraisers, and some of our Youth Leadership Council members were able to host coffee events at their universities to both fundraise and tell their peers about the campaign. (Stay tuned for details about upcoming campaigns this fall…)
If you’re interested in learning more about Roots & Shoots, contact JGI Canada at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’ve participated in the program, we’d love to hear your stories! Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below or tell us through our Facebook page.