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Roots and Shoots website

Roots and Shoots – Connecting Kids, Wild Animals, and Hope

WAKA (World Association of Kids and Animals) is our website to celebrate kids around the world who have been inspired to finds ways to rescue and protect wild animals. These kids have two qualities: compassion and commitment. They care about animals in need, and they do what they can to help.

There’s another great program for kids that shows what can happen when children take action to save wild animals. Roots & Shoots is an outstanding program created by Jane Goodall. Through that site, kids can get involved to raise money and work together to find solutions to protect endangered species.

Imagine what could happen if all kids – WAKA kids, Roots & Shoots kids, the kids in your classroom, your young friends, your children (if you’re a parent) – all took action!

Let’s join hands to inspire kids to find ways to make a difference!

The Origins of Roots & Shoots

During Jane Goodall’s early travels around the world, she said she encountered many angry, depressed young people. They felt that way because they believed that older generations had severely damaged the planet.

Jane Goodall

Jane listened. And she told them that they were right to feel that way, but they were wrong if they thought nothing can be done. What could kids do? Lots! Inspired by these conversations, Jane Goodall founded Roots & Shoots in 1991, to bring together kids from preschool to university age to work on environmental, conservation, and humanitarian issues.

It began small, as great things often do. The movement started with twelve high school students in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, when Dr. Goodall was giving talks at local schools. A dozen students were chosen to meet with her in her home to discuss how to build a better  world. From small beginnings, the group of twelve has grown in 25 years to become an international organization that now has almost 150,000 members in over 140 countries.

The purpose of Roots & Shoots is “to place the power and resources for creating practical solutions to big challenges in the hands of young people.”

Dr. Goodall herself began doing good work in a small place: traveling in 1960 at the age of 26 from England to a remote corner of the earth, a little-known territory of wild chimpanzees. Working with just a notebook and binoculars, and her remarkable spirit of empathy, she opened a window into humankind’s closest living relatives.

Now, her singular voice carries the plight of animals across the world. With Roots & Shoots, she has inspired an army of people of all ages who share her hope, who want to work to help achieve that dream of a better world for all creatures.

The mysterious magic of empathy running through Jane Goodall is present, thankfully, in many other humans. The secret is to connect their voices, to join their hands. That’s where good conversations, insightful books, and the fluid rivers of social media come together. Activism can be contagious, like a good flu bug.

When Jane tells success stories, such as that of the whooping crane, brought back from a low point of only 15 birds in 1991 to more than 400,000 in 2016, listeners are inspired. They begin to look for other species needing help, realizing their efforts can succeed.

Sometimes the people in Jane’s “army” have never heard of her. Sometimes they’re just kids, like the ones I’ve written about in my WAKA books (World Association of Kids and Animals). Those kids live in remote corners of the globe, and don’t know of Dr. Goodall’s work.

But she inspired me. I was one of those followers of Jane Goodall who chose to go out into the field and find ways to spread the word about endangered wild animals in need . . . and to share success stories of young people finding ways to help.

My WAKA Books

The WAKA books show real young people saving real animals. Young Doyli (you’ll meet her in Doyli to the Rescue), just ten years old when I met her, lives on a tiny island in the Amazon and spends part of her days making sure endangered monkeys survive in her little pocket of the rainforest. Tony (you’ll meet him in Tony and His Elephants), at the tender age of eight, helps his family save elephants from bleak lives in Thai cities, work that may literally save those lives, as urban elephants have shortened lifespans as they are struck by cars, starve of malnutrition, or die of complications from disease or worse, from depression.

Cathleen Burnham, photodocumentary photographer and author

A group of kids I met on Parismina Island on the coast of Costa Rica (you’ll discover them in Tortuga Squad) spend their mornings patrolling Caribbean beaches, keeping a sharp eye out for poachers stealing endangered sea-turtle eggs and killing adult turtles.

And, as you’ll soon see (in a book planned for release later this summer), young Emily, at age ten, helps with a conservation effort to string ropes high across busy Central American roadways for titi (squirrel) monkeys’ safe passage.

And there are more stories to tell. I have two more books in the wings ready to release after Emily’s story; both are set in Africa (in Tanzania).

When Darkness Falls, Danger Looms

Saving the world’s animals and natural places will take time; some endeavors may take a human lifetime. But we can’t let the darkness of futility descend on children. If the darkness of despair descends, the danger of losing the wild places on earth looms large. Kids taking action to save wild animals and protect their habitats are beacon of lights, shining along our long path to saving the planet.

It’s a dangerous thing for hope to be lost. But children are naturally hopeful, and can be inspired by stories of other kids like them taking action. Who will pull the world out of this natural disaster if not hopeful, inspired, involved young people?

“One thing is certain,” says Jane. “My own journey of exploration will not stop. I shall go on collecting stories, meeting and talking with more extraordinary and inspirational people.

“There are many to whom I have only spoken on the telephone, but now I want to meet them: I want to look into their eyes to see the spirit of determination that keeps them going, and look into their hearts to glimpse the love for the species or the natural world that takes them to lonely, all-but-inaccessible places.

“And I want to share their stories with young people around the world. I want them to know that, even when our mindless activities have almost entirely destroyed some ecosystem or driven a species to the brink of extinction, we must not give up. Thanks to the resilience of nature and the indomitable human spirit, there is still hope. Hope for the animals and their world.

“It is our world, too.”

Joining Hands, Seeking Stories

I’ll follow Jane Goodall’s lead and won’t stop my own journey of exploration, seeking out real children and sharing stories of their love for animals – even if it’s not easy to gain access to these children. In some cases, like my first meeting with Doyli, it was by chance. In other cases, as I’ve worked to connect with kids to document their stories, I’ve had to wait, be patient, and show my commitment to being a sensitive, honest documentary photographer whose mission is not to make money for myself but to spread a story of hope.

When I first tried to meet Tony, of the Tony and His Elephants story, I was put off for eight months. “They sell children for the price of a television here.” Adults were resistant and a little suspicious. But I persisted, because Tony’s story is such a wonderful one to share.

Let’s join hands and help each other share these stories. If more children like Tony, Doyli, Emily, the kids of Parismina Island, and others followed their impulses to help animals in their own lands, together we can save many of the world’s animals.

Living lives of compassion. Sharing stories. And making a difference.


I hope you’ll consider getting involves in Roots and Shoots . To connect with an existing group or to start one in your school, visit: https://www.rootsandshoots.org/aboutus

Or you can donate funds at that same Roots and Shoots link ; I encourage you to do that today!

if you wish to support my work with WAKA stories, buy a book or two at our WAKA Shop for your family, classroom, or public library.

Or you can donate directly to our next project here at Support our Site!


This post is by Cathleen Burnham, documentary photographer and author of Doyli to the Rescue: Saving Baby Monkeys in the Amazon, Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica. and Tony and His Elephants , the first titles in a six-book series profiling real kids around the world involved in wildlife rescue projects. Cathleen lives near Rochester, New York.

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