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Reasons for Hope – a week with Dr. Jane Goodall

Aini Hasanah binti Abd Mutalib, Co-Founder of Malaysian Primatological Society, writes about the “#IAmWithJane” event held in Penang, Malaysia: a week filled with film screenings, lectures, sessions on conservation optimism and activities to engage young people in conservation.

From 18th – 23rd November 2019, several organizations worked hand in hand to celebrate Dr. Jane Goodall’s recent visit to Malaysia. It was her first visit to Penang and first time to speak at a public university in Malaysia. This week that we proudly called the “#IAmWithJane” week became a success through the team work of Roots & Shoots Malaysia, The Habitat Foundation, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Malaysian Primatological Society (MPS) and School of Biological Sciences USM (SBS).

We kicked off our week with Jane on 18th November 2019 with the screening of her movie—“Jane”—”—at Dewan Budaya USM, which was open to the public with free admission. “Jane” originally premiered in 2017 at the Toronto International Film Festival and has won several awards. This film revolves around Jane’s early years in Gombe and how she became one of the world’s leading primatologists and activist, revolutionizing people’s perception of the natural world. More than 100 people of various ages and backgrounds came to watch this movie. We hope that the audience has been inspired and enjoyed the movie. We were also proud that members of the USM BioSociety, a youth society of undergraduates students rooted in the School of Biological Sciences USM, passionately took the lead to co-organize this event.

Volunteers from BioSociety, School of Biological Sciences, USM (L), and the audience at the movie screening (R).

MPS, with other NGOs, were honoured to meet Dr. Jane Goodall on 21st November at the Bukit Kiara Equestrian & Country Resort, and proudly received a certificate of appreciation for our involvement with the Roots & Shoots Malaysia Award (RASMA) from the dame herself. MPS was an official partner of the RASMA programme, hosting volunteers at our primate field projects. We were represented by Dr. Nadine Ruppert and Priscillia Miard who received the certificate on MPS’ behalf.

Jane presents the RASMA certificate to Dr. Nadine Ruppert and Priscillia Miard.

Back at USM the next day, we organized a seminar on scientific communication, something relatable to Conservation Optimism. Sometimes conservationists might find it harder and harder to address current issues in an optimistic manner. Lack of cooperation, interest and transparency can impede science communication but especially in the conservation field, it is important to convey positive messages to the public. Setting an optimistic voice relates to the importance of addressing hope and motivating behavioural changes in people. Take it from Dr Jane Goodall herself who has dedicated her life to raise the voice of hopefulness in conservation globally to engage more people to work in the field. 

What are the reasons for hope for you? How do you reflect on your hope for effective conservation action? Jane inspires us on the power of storytelling, and so we brought this concept to a public seminar at USM. On 22nd November 2019, MPS with SBS co-organized a public seminar entitled “Response-Ability: Storytelling and Solution Communication for Conservation Action”. We had the honour to host Miss Nadiah Rosli, a freelance journalist cum science communicator, to share and discuss on issues concerning powerful storytelling and impactful communication for solutions on local conservation issues.

Miss Nadiah Rosli gave a talk on Response-Ability: Storytelling and Solution Communication for Conservation Action.

We specifically organized this seminar in order to:

  1. Discuss challenges among conservation stakeholders on setting an optimistic tone in their conservation projects, without underestimating the challenges of the global conservation issues; without sounding too naïve; and consequently, to explore potential collaboration for communications with arts, businesses, etc.
  2. Reflect on solutions for storytelling and effective communication: concerning hopeful success stories, and the need to change the culture of hopelessness. The persona of Jane Goodall gave inspiration and reflection of hopefulness!
  3. Share and discuss case studies on hopeful success stories that the audience can resonate with, in particular stories from the region that brought action and built community empowerment and engagement among stakeholders. Emphasis was placed on stories that depict the wealth of diversity in the region and feature role models to encourage young people to step up in their work.

The session was attended by more than 50 people from different backgrounds, from zoology to literature, environmental science to social science, lecturers, students and field practitioners. We had a thought-provoking Q&A session afterwards, which we hope benefited the audience in moving towards  more impactful science communication.

Jane’s Public Lecture at USM

The peak of our week with Jane  took place on 23rd November when she greeted an audience of 2000 people to deliver her public lecture. This event was made possible with cooperation from Roots & Shoots Malaysia, funding provided by The Habitat Foundation, the arrangements and free provision of the venue by USM, and with the help of over 50 volunteers who worked hard to ensure the smooth process of the event.

Volunteers and students help to host invited schools before Jane’s talk (L), and pose for a group photo at the end of the event (R).

Before Jane’s lecture, MPS, with the help of the Teach For Malaysia Alumni Network and Greensmiths collaborated to organize an education session with two secondary schools from the Northern Peninsular region. These schools, SMK Kuala Kubu Gajah and SMK Lubok Buntar, sent more than 80 students to USM to attend our seminar entitled: “Wajah Primat Malaysia: Tak Kenal Maka Tak Cinta”, which directly translates into “Faces of Malaysian Primates: To know them is to love them”. In this session, we introduced Jane Goodall and the magnificent Malaysian primates to the students. We also had joy in having the HUTAN education team, a Malaysian NGO working on orangutan conservation, share with us and the rest of the students about their work. We even had a sing-along session. At the end, students were given the task to produce collages that illustrate their “Forest in the Future”, given the scenario that THEY themselves were environmental warriors in the future.

Volunteers with HUTAN speakers and their sharing-session, all the way from Sabah, Malaysia (L), and students making collages, putting together their ideas of the forest of the future (R).

All collages were showcased at a booth exhibition near the venue of Jane Goodall’s lecture at USM. We were happy to have other NGOs, such as Gibbons Protection Society Malaysia (GPSM), Greensmiths, The Habitat Foundation, Malaysian Primatological Society and Roots & Shoots Malaysia, join us at the booth.

At the exhibition booth. (Photo: Night Spotting Project)

The main event of the week, Jane’s public lecture “Reasons for Hope – A Message from Dr. Jane Goodall” took place in USM’s largest hall, Dewan Tunku Syed Putra. The audience started filling the hall by 6pm, and we expected a full house of enthused, thrilled and excited people coming from different backgrounds. Prior to Jane’s appearance on stage, the audience was serenaded by Malaysian Sape music played by Nick from Sada Borneo. We also had the honour to receive welcoming remarks by the Dean of the School of Biological Sciences, USM, Prof Amirul Al-Ashraf Abdullah, and Mr. Reza Cockrell, founder of The Habitat Foundation. Dr. Goodall started her speech at approximately 7.40 pm. Starting off with her famous welcoming sound of chimpanzees, Jane inspired us with stories from her experience in Gombe and told us about the faith her mother had in her paving her way in chimpanzee research. She also reminisced about her supervisor and mentor, Dr. Louis Leakey, who hired her to study chimpanzees more than 60 years ago when no person, let alone a woman, had ever dared this endeavour. Jane reminded us about our Malaysian primates and their intrinsic values, such as the magnificent orangutans that are so special to Borneo. She used the opportunity to raise awareness about the worsening conditions of primates that have been objectified in the illegal pet trade, especially infants of orangutans and gibbons. In this first visit of hers to Penang, Jane  touched us with her key message: that it’s not too late to save the planet. However, most importantly, all our hopes will only become a reality if the right action is taken from various stakeholders. All of us need to play our part in this; even the smallest contributions make a difference!

Jane takes a photo with the crowd at USM! (Photo: SBS, USM)

At the end of her lecture, Jane answered some questions by the students from our invited schools. On the question on how to be like Jane, she replied: 

“If it’s something you want to do, don’t let other people tell you that you can’t do it. However you have to work very hard, you have to take advantage of every opportunity. Don’t give up!

We wrapped up the night and the week of #IAmWithJane at approximately 9.15pm, as Jane left the hall after showing the heart-touching video of Wounda, a rehabilitated chimpanzee that hugged Jane in an act of gratefulness when she was released back into the jungle. It was an amazing night. We hope that the youth are inspired to face our local conservation challenges, and that Jane’s key messages and inspiration will be translated into tangible actions soon!

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