Youngsters make a difference with Roots & Shoots

An orang utan made out of egg cartons on display at Wild About Arts! – Photo copyright Roots & Shoots Malaysia

Young people, when they know the problems, are empowered to act, will change the world and are changing the world.” – Jane Goodall, British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace

BELIEVING that every little bit counts and that young people can make a big difference, Jane Goodall founded global youth-led community action programme Roots & Shoots in 1991. The Malaysian chapter was founded just last year.

It is open to young people from school-going age to university students and working adults. There’s no age limit, reveals Jyunichi Washizaki, project manager at Roots & Shoots Malaysia. Groups can register at the Roots & Shoots website, check out the resources provided, get advice and start a programme on their own.

According to Washizaki, there are currently about 150,00 Roots & Shoots groups worldwide. In Malaysia, there are about 25-30 groups.

“We collaborate with more than 20 schools in and outside of Kuala Lumpur. The majority of which are international schools. It’s an easier setting for Roots & Shoots projects to start at school level because there’s a structure in place already. That is probably the most practical way that we try and start Roots & Shoots groups.

Jyunichi Washizaki: 'Roots & Shoots is basically a programme of hope.'
Jyunichi Washizaki: ‘Roots & Shoots is basically a programme of hope.’

“We’ve also collaborated a few times with the Malaysian homeschooling network. They are one of the more active Roots & Shoots groups. They’re a little bit more proactive in the things they do. It’s quite refreshing to not only collaborate with schools per se, but also have the homeschooling network and a refugee school as well,” says Washizaki.

While there is no membership for Roots & Shoots Malaysia, groups of youngsters can start clubs or after-school classes with the Roots & Shoots programme.

“Roots & Shoots is basically a programme of hope. It was founded in 1991 in Tanzania by Jane Goodall and a bunch of students she came across when she was visiting schools in the region. It’s a programme targeted at the grassroots level to encourage young people to go out and make positive change happen. The programme can be centred on conservation, helping animals, humanitarian or helping the environment.

“What started in Tanzania back in 1991 has now spread to about 139 countries. We are one of the latest countries to start a chapter. We launched in January last year when Goodall visited Malaysia for the first time,” he says.

Students at Tenby Schools Setia Eco Park turning recycled items into works of art. – Photo copyright Roots & Shoots Malaysia
Students at Tenby Schools Setia Eco Park turning recycled items into works of art. – Photo copyright Roots & Shoots Malaysia

One of the big projects undertaken by Roots & Shoots Malaysia this year was Wild About Arts! in April. A total of 19 schools took part in the campaign to raise awareness about endangered Malaysian wildlife. The three animals focused on were the green turtle, the Asian elephant and the orang utan – all of which are endemic to Malaysia.

“We engaged three educational partners – Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia, Orang Utan Appeal UK and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. The role they played was very important. They sent a representative to follow us into schools that we visited as part of our campaign trail. They came in with a speaker to educate kids about the respective animals. These sessions would either be held during school assembly or in a classroom setting. The point was to educate youngsters.

“The second half of this programme involved the youngsters attending a workshop where they learnt to create pieces of art from recycled material. This gave them some preparations to either create one massive piece of art or a series of art pieces from the school,” said Washizaki. The culmination was an exhibition featuring these recycled works of art at Berjaya Times Square in Kuala Lumpur.

Boxy elephants on display at Wild About Arts! – Photo copyright Roots & Shoots Malaysia
Boxy elephants on display at Wild About Arts! – Photo copyright Roots & Shoots Malaysia

According to him, Roots & Shoots has a huge presence in the US and a lot of resources and materials generate from there. Twice a year, the website also offers an online course free of charge for youngsters and educators to learn how they can execute Roots & Shoots projects for a campaign in school.

“One of the great things about Roots & Shoots is that it’s very accessible,” says Washizaki. He explains that whatever events Roots & Shoots Malaysia organises, it tries to engage all types of stakeholders, not just schools, but NGOs and corporations as well.

Their programmes are more educational and to raise awareness. So far there haven’t been any hands-on projects, although there is interest to do so next year.

“Anybody and everybody should join Roots & Shoots. We want people who want to be involved, not because they’re told to do Roots & Shoots projects. That is our main criteria. As much as I say anybody and everybody can join, it should be people who are genuinely interested because that’s where genuine work will originate from.

“By joining they get to learn about local issues that are relevant to what they experience in Malaysia and they get to be part of something bigger, which I think is the main message. If I was a child and I was really passionate about saving the orang utans and really wanted to do something, I would feel so lost because I wouldn’t know where to start. Roots & Shoots offers a lot of hope because a big part of what we do on a global scale is think local, act local. So, for example, if I knew there were groups of children in Sabah and Sarawak working on projects to help the orang utans, I would feel so inspired. I wouldn’t feel alone or that I was fighting a lost cause.

“What Goodall stresses all the time is don’t think global and act local, because when you think global, you’re going to get lost in all the gloom because there’s so much to do. So, think local and act local. If everyone is doing their part locally, collectively the impact could be significant. That’s what they can take out of it. It teaches them to be great citizens of their schools or neighbourhoods, a part of a huge movement of young people all over the world that are championing the same causes as them.”

Jane Goodall will be in Malaysia again next month (October). She will talk about Finding Life’s Passion on October 29 at Berjaya Times Square. For more information on her talk and Roots & Shoots Malaysia, go to