Roots & Shoots growing strong in Singapore

Jessie Lim Straits Times 14 Aug 17;

The Singapore chapter of a service learning programme that grooms young people to make a difference for animals, the environment and the community has grown in a decade from a single school to more than 25 schools, from pre-school to tertiary levels.

Roots & Shoots, which has a global network, is a youth-oriented service programme founded in 1991 by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall. The Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore), or JGIS, which celebrated its 10th year, runs the local Roots & Shoots network.

Explaining why Roots & Shoots has grown over the decade, Mr Tay Kae Fong, 39, JGIS president, said: "More young people feel empowered. They believe they can make a difference so that the environment, animals and people can develop in a sustainable way, together."

Other key programmes of JGIS include eco-literacy classes for secondary schools and monkey walks to educate the public about the long-tailed macaque, a monkey species native to Singapore.

Its Roots and Shoots conference, on Aug 8, brought together 13 local Roots & Shoots groups. The students and educators presented their projects, which included caring for migrant workers and the human-macaque conflict.

The highlight of the one-day conference, organised by JGIS and held at the Singapore Chinese Girls' School, was a keynote address by Dr Goodall.

Living in harmony with the macaques was at the heart of Ms Quek Xiao Tong's Roots & Shoots project, which she started during the December holidays in 2013.

Ms Quek and her team set up an outreach booth at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, talking to visitors over six weekends about the importance of not feeding the monkeys, as it makes the monkeys reliant on humans for food.

"Roots & Shoots showed that I can be an advocate for the environment and that people can change their mindsets about nature," she said.

Ms Quek, 20, now a second-year undergraduate doing environmental studies in the National University of Singapore, recently finished a three-month internship at JGIS, during which she helped to prepare for Dr Goodall's visit.

Eleven-year-old Benz Chong Tze Jun presented an individual project about macaque behaviour at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve during the conference.

This is the first year that the Ministry of Education and JGIS have collaborated on the Individualised Research Study, where Primary 5 pupils in the Gifted Education Programme research a project based on personal interests.

Benz made nine trips to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and MacRitchie Reservoir this year, and observed that the macaques at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve spent about 80 per cent of feeding time consuming natural food, and 20 per cent eating food provided by humans.

"With knowledge comes empowerment to educate the people around us, so that we can learn to co-exist with nature in harmony," the Primary 5 Nanyang Primary School pupil said.