*This post is in collaboration with Clarks, but all thoughts, memories and adoration is my own*
Penny turned 5-years-old this week, and as per tradition when it comes to any child’s birthday, I reminisced about birth, asked myself ‘where has the time gone’ repeatedly, and reflected on 5 years with our little fire-cracker. Penny is a formidable force; strong-willed, passionate, at times difficult, funny, full of character and determined to save our planet. At only 5-years-old she picks up any litter she sees, refuses to use plastic straws (her metal one is way cooler), won’t let me buy plastic bags at the supermarket and will check every wrapper and packaging to see if it’s recyclable. But how does this happen? How do you encourage a young child to care so much about the planet? And what is the most important thing we can teach our children going forward? A question I asked Dame Jane Goodall when I met her a few weeks ago when I attended the Clarks Wonder of Wisdom event which celebrated the launch of the new Clarks Kids Back to School collection and the ‘Wonder of Wisdom’ campaign.
When I compare the role models Amelia and Penny have now to those I had access to at their age, well, there is no comparison. If these role models that we speak so highly and so frequently of now were or had been around when I was young (and the majority of them were) then we weren’t made aware of them. There were no animated books to tell us their stories, our parents weren’t highlighting or educating us on their work or accomplishments, and their names weren’t even muttered in our classrooms. To us young females, growing up in the 90s, these role models were invisible. So instead, I dreamed of becoming Ginger Spice – stuffing socks down my crop tops for optimum effect. I pranced around my room, belting out ‘2 become 1’, and believing Ginger Spice (Geri Halliwell) shouting “Girl Power” whenever she had a microphone in her hand to be the most inspirational act I’d ever seen. And, of course, this isn’t me trying to undermine or mock Geri Halliwell’s accomplishments – she was my idol for around 5 years, after all – but when I was a child there was a distinct lack of awareness when it came to any inspiring role models if they didn’t hold your typical status of being ‘famous’. If they weren’t in a band, on the TV or in a film, then they almost didn’t matter to us. I’m sure this isn’t everyone’s experience of growing up, but for us (my friends and me), if you weren’t J-Lo, or a member of the Spice Girls or All Saints then we weren’t talking about you, we weren’t hanging posters of your face on our walls, and we weren’t aspiring to be you.
Thankfully, these days, there seems to have been a shift, and when it comes to accessing information or being introduced to role models, our kids are almost spoilt for choice. Amelia and Penny both own an abundance of books and magazines narrating the remarkable stories of many remarkable people. They can Google them, watch documentaries, and as their parents (me and Boy Dom) are having conversations about them, so are they. And so, instead of shoving socks down their tops, my two girls admire Jessica Ennis, Jane Goodall, Mae Jemison, and Amelia Earheart. While Amelia talks to her friends about that ‘incredible’ athlete or Caitlin Moran – a feminist author who comes from a council house family of 5, was home-schooled and got her first job at the Times at the age off 15 – Penny grabs her binoculars and notebook to dabble in some bug and bird spotting, while dreaming of space and becoming a palaeontologist. Their horizons are widening, and their dreams are tangible because they’re seeing and hearing of people who did it; who made their passions and dreams come to life.
A few weeks ago I was invited by Clarks to attend their Wonder of Wisdom event – an event to introduce their new way of thinking towards their renowned black school shoe. If you’re from the U.K., your yearly summertime trip to Clarks just before the new term started is probably something you’ll remember vividly. You’d try a multitude of styles – leather, patent, ones with flashing soles, ones without, ones with buckles and ones with velcro – eventually settling on a pair that both you and your parents agreed on. You’d leave the shop ready to start your new school term with a shiny new pair of shoes and a shiny new attitude to match. Now, however, Clarks want to look at their traditional black school shoe in a whole other light, after all, the little feet that wear them are the same feet that’ll pave the way of our future. Our early years are our formative years, having the ability to shape us into who we will become but also having the power to stop us from being who we want to be. If a child is told that they can’t ever be who they want to be then it’s likely they won’t pursue that dream. But if we empower our children, lift them up and allow them to wonder, they will have the confidence to explore all future possibilities. So, Clarks (and I) want us all to encourage our children to wonder.
Photo credit: 72photographiclimited
The panel at the event consisted of Dame Jane Goodall, Jazmin Sawyers, Sergei Urban and Aurelia Thierree and you can watch the best bits (the words and statements that moved me most) over on my IGTV channel. Jane Goodall was on the panel as she features in the new Clarks campaign, Wonder of Wisdom, where she details the point in which she became the person she is today – which you can watch here. After the event, the girls and I had the honour of being able to ask Dame Jane Goodall a few questions about her life, her work and her views. Her answers are below.
– What is it like to cuddle a chimpanzee? I bet they squeeze really tight!
We only cuddle the little chimps who have lost their mothers. The government confiscates them, and people look after them in sanctuaries. The Jane Goodall Institute has two sanctuaries, in Congo – over 160 chimps – and in South Africa – about 35. When the infants are frightened, they may indeed hug very tightly. And they ride about on their caregiver’s backs. I have often been hugged gently by one of our orphans. However, we NEVER touch wild chimpanzees they are far too strong and dangerous and we might pass them our human diseases
– What was it like listening to the animals at night when you lived in the jungle? Did you, at any point, feel scared?
For me, it was magical to lie under the stars at Gombe and hear the calling of owls and other night birds, the chirping of crickets and tree frogs, the loud calls of bushbabies. It was scary to hear the calls of a leopard, or the trampling feet of a herd of buffalo approaching, but that happened only a few times. Out on the Serengeti, the night sounds are fantastic – the hyenas, lions roaring, elephants trumpeting.
– What’s the best way to inspire children to want to conserve the planet/animals?
Some children are inspired by watching a film about wildlife, or reading a book.
I want to encourage children to join our jGI humanitarian and environmental programme for children from kindergarten (even pre-school) through university, Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots www.rootsandshoots.org
– In your experience, what is the most important thing we can teach our children?
That every day they make some impact on the planet and they can choose what kind of difference they make. To think about the consequences of the small choices they make – what they eat, buy, wear. Where did it come from? Has there been harm to the environment? Cruelty to animals? Is it cheap because of child slave labour, industrial agriculture or factory farmed animals? Of course, it depends on the age of the child. A general message, so very, very important – to learn RESPECT. Respect for other life forms, for each other, for different cultures. Though we should not respect these if there is cruelty to animals, or to other people. Children need to learn to listen to those who think differently about a certain subject, and if at the end, they feel they are right, to have the courage of their convictions. To try to educate people into thinking differently by telling stories, reaching the heart. Not by being aggressive or “preach-y”. They need to learn to be kind. To forgive when necessary. Children need to be encouraged to develop a sense of wonder at the amazing natural world, so that they will want to help to save it, to leave a light ecological footprint. And that even small ethical choices in how they behave during a day will, when millions or billions of people around the world are doing the same, move us towards the kind of world we all hope we can create before it is too late.
– Which of your 8 decades, would you say, have been your most productive?
The third – learning about chimps, first person to study them in the wild.
The fourth and fifth – sharing through film and books and lectures.
The sixth and seventh and start of eighth as during these decades more and more and more people have become inspired by my constant lectures around the world, (so I am told) and because the R&S programme has been growing and growing, and inspiring young people to have hope in the knowledge that there is a window of time during which, if we all get together, and if our awesome intellects are brought together, we can solve some of the huge problems we have created
– If you could tell people to make one change in their lives, to help our planet, what would that be?
One good thing – eat less meat or become a vegetarian or , better still, a vegan. As more and more people eat more and more meat the number of unspeakably cruel factory farms increase, huge areas of environment are dead!), huge amounts of precious water are used in changing vegetable to animal protein, vast amounts of fossil fuel used to transport food to animals, animals to slaughter, met to tables around the world; bacteria are building up resistance to more and more diseases because of their overuse in intensive animal farming, just to keep them alive in the terrible conditions, and vast amounts of methane gas are produced during digestion – methane being a very amazing greenhouse gas.