Friday, May 29, 2009

A night to remember: Jane Goodall Speaks to Ottawa

This article was written by Rosalyn Seeton, CU-WISE Outreach Officer, Ottawa Carleton University EMBS chapter Vice-Chair, WIE member.

I was invited to attend Jane Goodall’s lecture “Reason for Hope” in Ottawa last April as a member of IEEE Ottawa Women In Engineering – a co-sponsor to the event.

Walking into the lobby, the buzz of anticipation and excitement that precedes a performance seemed greater than usual, as if everyone knew they were in for a once in a lifetime special treat. We found our seats, and were surprised to find a complimentary package of Fair Trade coffee in each, provided in honour of the special guest’s visit.

I felt a little surge of pride when IEEE WIE was thanked as a sponsor in the opening remarks and then, in no time, there she was, walking onto the stage with her stuffed monkey. She put him down on the table beside the podium and waited patiently for the standing ovation to subside before responding with a hooting greeting from the chimps.

She started off by talking about her childhood and first interests in worms, chickens, Dr. Doolittle and Tarzan. She spoke about her mother, who had to patiently explain to her that the worms had to live outside and couldn’t sleep in her bed. Her mother also reacted calmly when a very young Jane went missing for several hours because she was hiding inside the chicken roost trying to find out how the hens laid their eggs.

She went on to talk about her determination to get to Africa despite her humble background, an extraordinary goal for a young woman at that time, and certainly not something that many people would have thought possible given her situation. Nevertheless, she persisted, worked very hard, and managed to get to Africa. She talked about studying the chimps in the wild with her mother as a chaperone and once again she emphasized how much support her mother had provided in order for her to pursue her dreams. She spoke about going back to school eventually, skipping right into a PhD and being told that she had done many things wrong. She was told that she should not have named the chimps, and they certainly did not have personalities. She was not persuaded, and this would certainly not be the last time she would oppose traditional views. Her career is marked by groundbreaking discoveries, such as her observation that chimps created and used tools. The world had to catch up with her and recreate the definition of “man”.

She finished by talking about the Roots and Shoots program run by the Jane Goodall Institute and the work that needs to be done to save wildlife habitats and keep the world sustainable. She took questions from the audience and made sure that all the children were able to have their questions answered. After her talk she took the time to autograph books, have her picture taken, and have a few words with anyone from the audience that was willing to wait for the chance. With such impressive life achievements it’s easy to be awed by someone like Jane Goodall. Yet, thanks to her stamina and patience, she was able to communicate on a personal basis with many of us in the audience; it is at this point, speaking to her face to face that one remembers that she is just a regular person too and that each of us can make as much of a difference in our world as she has. Everyone leaving the theatre was excited by the hope and possibility that she exudes.