Nine years ago I had the fortune of meeting Dr. Jane Goodall while I was working at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. Like many young people, I was filled with passion and hungry for experience, but I struggled to find opportunities to engage in meaningful work. As I told Dr. Goodall that night, it is inspiring to see someone who reaffirms with her example that it is possible to merge professional ambitions with a life of service.
While perhaps best known for her groundbreaking research on the social interactions of wild chimpanzees in Tanzania nearly 50 years ago, Dr. Goodall has since become a UN Messenger of Peace, a global humanitarian and the force behind Roots & Shoots. Roots & Shoots is a global youth program, created by Dr. Goodall in 1991, that engages youth in more than 100 countries through community service and service learning.
Shortly after my brief encounter with Dr. Goodall, I embarked on my own journey of service learning as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Turkmenistan. My village school would go on to become Turkmenistan’s first Roots & Shoots member, and I became a strong supporter of Dr. Goodall and the global Roots & Shoots network.
Last year, after the tragic earthquake in Haiti, young Roots & Shoots members from the U.S. and around the world came together to create thousands of “Messages of Hope” to show their support and solidarity for youth in Haiti. In my current role as Youth Program Manager for Mercy Corps Haiti, I have begun collaborating with Roots & Shoots again — this time to help bring these “Messages of Hope” to young people affected by the earthquake in Haiti.
These “Messages of Hope” take the form of drawings, letters, jewelry, t-shirts, quilts, and large signs. With so much aid and attention being paid to Haiti, something as simple as a note from Sarah in Hawaii saying “I’m thinking about you. I am an amputee. I know the pain your people are experiencing. There is hope for the future,” reminds us that there are many ways to get involved and make a difference in the lives of others.
From my experience, acts of kindness and service are what keep the balance of life tipped towards peace and compassion. Even the smallest of children in places previously unaware of a place called Haiti can serve as a source of hope for someone.
Our next step is to encourage Haitian youth to create their own “Messages of Hope” to show that they too can be sources of hope and inspiration for others.