You know how you hear about something or people describe their experience or a situation to you, then you draw conclusions and classify it in your head in a certain way and you think you know what to expect but then you actually experience it yourself and you are caught by surprise? Welcome to my own Windsor experience!
About Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots programme
Let’s take it from the top. It was back in 1991 in Tanzania when Dr. Jane Goodall initiated the creation of a youth service program, called Roots & Shoots, dedicated to making positive change happen for our communities, animals and the environment. The first Roots & Shoots group was composed of 12 Tanzanian high schools students who wanted to tackle problems in the community where they were living. Since then, youth groups around the world are formed every year, working together on different projects, all with the same purpose: a brighter future where people, animals and nature can live together in harmony. You most probably heard Jane proudly saying that young people working together on such important issues is what keeps her going and gives her hope.
About Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Annual Global Leadership Meeting at Windsor
Now just take a moment and imagine what could happen if representatives of the above mentioned youth groups from 26 countries get together for one week at a certain place to meet each other, share the Roots & Shoots experience of their own country, exchange ideas and opinions and form groups among them to work on various projects. Sorry to disappoint you, but whatever you might imagine is not even close to what the experience truly looks like
The energy created is almost magical. So many young people traveling from every corner of the world, having the same passion and goal, ready to share but also to compassionately listen and learn. One of the many things that made a strong impression on me was the fact that I cannot remember one single moment during this week when any kind of difference (language, nationality, mentality, personality, difference of opinions, skin color, prior beliefs, you name it) stood in our way and stopped us from going forward. We always found a way to just go over it and continue. I guess this is what happens when the goal is clear, your eyes are fixed on it and you are open to welcome any views, opinions and ways of doing things which might be different from your own.
After coming back from Windsor, I was also thinking that I had the opportunity to actually experience for one week what is like to live in a perfect (for me) world: there was no judgement whatsoever for anything and anyone, we were helping each other from just moving one chair and translating in English to giving a piece of advice and a helping hand to issues that someone might have back home, we were respecting each other and we were curious to broaden our horizons by learning more about other cultures and countries. You get the point:
I experienced peace, friendship, justice, solidarity and open-mindedness at their best!
About Windsor Castle & St George’s House
This annual leadership meeting happens not just at any place, but at Windsor Castle and more specifically at St George’s House (oh yeah!). Today The Queen spends most of her private weekends at the Castle and guess what: the Queen decided to spend some days at Windsor while we were there too! St George’s House was founded in 1966 by H.R.H The Duke of Edinburgh and the then Dean, Robin Woods, as a place where people of influence and responsibility can gather to grapple with significant issues facing contemporary society. We are grateful to Gary, Patricia and all the people working at St George’s House for the warm welcome and for making everything to ensure that out stay is as pleasant as possible and to facilitate the job we had to do. We were offered a private tour of Windsor Castle’s State Apartments, a Chapel tour of St George’s Chapel and we could attend the Holy Communion and Evensong also in St George’s Chapel. Our meetings, presentations and breakout sessions in groups were taking place at the Vicar’s Hall and our coffee breaks right outside, contemplating the breathtaking view of the city and River Thames. Last but not least, we were also lucky enough to have the chance to eat every day great quality vegetarian or vegan food at St George’s House.
Find out more about St George’s House: stgeorgeshouse.org
#SGHRS2019 | Twitter: @StGeorgesHouse | Facebook: @StGeorgesHouseWindsor
What did we do every day
I will speak for myself, but I am sure that this is true for all the youth leaders: we had the time of our lives. From country presentations (during which each youth leader presented the work and the vision of Roots & Shoots at his/her own country) to inspirational talks and briefings on projects launched by previous Windsor groups (such as Peace Day, No Waste November and Animal Parade) or other youth groups. From breakout sessions in groups (to work on our own project developed at Windsor) to presentations from amazing people involved in JGI Global such as (Patrick Van Veen, Chairman of JGI Global Board and Serena Cowdy, JGI Global Communications Manager who talked to us about social media and how we can start a successful social media campaign).
Wednesday was a free day for us, so one group decided to visit London and another group stayed at Windsor, wandering around its beautiful streets, going on a short cruise on a riverboat on the Thames enjoying fantastic views of Windsor Castle, Eton College, Mill House, Windsor Racecourse & the Brocas Meadows or bravely opting for the famous wide tree-lined ‘Long Walk’ into Windsor Great Park.
At the end of every day, we got to spend some time all together or with Jane, telling stories and learning more about each other.
About Prince Harry’s visit
Little did I know that Jane’s special guest mentioned in the booklet given to us was HRH Prince Harry! Talking about surprises, right? Prince Harry met all of us, thanked us for the work we are doing daily by committing ourselves to find solutions to problems in our communities, encouraged us to never let go and spent a few minutes with every group exchanging views about the respective projects developed at Windsor. I don’t know about you, but engaging in a discussion with Prince Harry and asking for his own advice and input, it’s not something that I do every day.
Read more about Prince Harry’s visit on JGI US blog.
About the projects developed at Windsor
One of main goals of the Windsor gathering is to design and develop campaigns to address important issues that we are all facing in our local communities or are affecting animals and the environment. The topics involved were reduction of single-use plastics and ocean pollution, habitat restoration, species loss, climate change, and coming up with ideas to take the campaigns developed by previous groups one step further.
I am honored to be a member of the Big Blue Team tackling the issue of single-use plastics and promoting ways with the help of which every individual or groups (schools, companies, other communities) can reduce their use. I do not even need to get into details and start stating facts and figures; we all know very well the excessive amount of plastic that can be found in the oceans! My team came up with the idea to develop a toolkit which will provide children and adults simple tips on how they can change their lifestyles and find alternative ways of doing stuff they do in their daily routine instead of using plastics. As soon as the toolkit is finalized, we plan on inviting everyone to share a photo of them showing what they have done to reduce single-use plastics and which tip, among the ones we proposed, they pledged for. So stay tuned, exciting things are about to come.
About our coordinators
Tanya, Diana, Kelly, Jasmina and Mary, none of all the above would be possible without you. Thank you for organizing everything, setting up the agenda, guiding us through the projects and for always being there whenever you were needed, both as mentors and friends, active enough so that we do not lose vision, but also discrete to let us open our wings and fly.
I feel (and I am sure I am not the only one) that anything anyone will ever say about Jane will never be enough. It was the second time I was meeting her, as I got the chance to meet her in person for the first time in March 2019 when she visited Belgium. I admire the impact she can have on people: Jane inspires, motivates, wakes up people. She somehow gets the best out of them. She can be a teacher and an advisor but also a good listener and a friend. She can also be very funny, pouring cold water on you during lunch when you are being louder that you should be. But what personally fascinates me the most is her perseverance. She just keeps going on and on and on. Stopping believing, hoping and acting is simply not an option. No matter the difficulties, failure or opposition. Jane, thank you for showing me the way!
Memories, photos and souvenirs are one thing, but the whole concept is to spread the “Windsor virus”, as I like to call it. Go back home and talk to everyone about it. Share the experience and inspire others to join the efforts and the movement. Apply what you’ve learned in your everyday life. Find new ways to get the message across: if we need a brighter future, then we all need to act now.
Amanda from Puerto Rico, Marta from Iceland, Didus from Uganda, Rosalia from China, Anna from the Netherlands, Alexandra from Austria, Dominik from Slovakia, Lily from Taiwan, Gwanwoo from South Korea, Janka from Hungary, Georgia from UK, Laila from Argentina, Emily from New Zealand, Maria Alicia from Uruguay, Valeria from Italy, Mosses from Tanzania, Augustin from Burundi, Yanni from USA, Jessica from Australia, Carolina from Chile, Rebecca from Canada, Tessina from Germany, Yoyo from Hong Kong and Tong from China…
IT WAS A PLEASURE MEETING YOU!
- Thank you for sharing your awesomeness with me…
- Thank you for our little icebreakers every morning…
- Thank you for abusing my Greek name so wonderfully…
- Thank you for adding 25 countries in my “Places-to-Visit-List”…
- Thank you for making me believe that everything is possible…
- Thank you for giving me hope for the future…
Bottom line for all the readers?
For all of you who spent the last few minutes reading a girl’s testimonial about a life-changing experience she had, here is the main takeaway for you:
Yes, we live in difficult times. Discrimination. Intolerance of other people’s beliefs. Regional wars. Climate change. Animals that go extinct. Polluted Oceans. The list is long. Now blink and see the other side. People fighting for human rights. Children protesting for the environment. Public figures and influential celebrities starting movements.
There is HOPE.
Quoting Jane: “What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make”. So…
Text: Vasiliki Boukouvala
Photos: Vasiliki Boukouvala & Tanya Pérez Echeverría