Yoshino Watanabe speaks at Jane Goodall ceremony

Not many people get to meet their heroes. Yoshino (Yoyo) Watanabe (11) is one step closer to meeting her’s – the world-renowned ethologist Jane Goodall – after she was invited to speak at Goodall’s Templeton Prize Celebration Ceremony in Los Angeles on Sept. 25.

Watanabe represented the Roots and Shoots National Youth Leadership Council of the Jane Goodall Institute, a program empowering youth to make a positive change in their local communities. She spoke about a supplies drive fundraiser she and fellow NYLC member, Adelaide Kesseler, organized for the Helen Woodward Animal Center.

“It was such an honor to be [at the ceremony] because there were so many people who have done a bunch for their communities,” Watanabe said. “It was super inspiring to meet all of them.”

At the event, Goodall received the 2021 Templeton Prize – valued at over $1.5 million – for her revolutionary work studying chimpanzees, which began in Africa in 1960. Goodall attended virtually after testing positive for COVID-19.

Watanabe’s interest in the Roots and Shoots program began in 2020 after watching a documentary about Goodall’s life and research. She quickly found herself awestruck not only by Goodall’s work, but also by her dedication in a field dominated mostly by men.

“At the time, [Goodall] was the only woman who went on the type of endeavors that she did to Africa. And she did that all alone,” Watanabe said.

Aside from her animal shelter fundraiser, Watanabe completed Roots and Shoots projects promoting proper cultural representation and female empowerment.

Paying tribute to her Japanese roots, she posted videos on YouTube of her playing the koto – a 13-string Japanese harp – to help her viewers de-stress during the pandemic.

She later baked sweets using passion fruits from her backyard for a local women’s homeless shelter. All her projects, Watanabe notes, are at a local level, which reflect the founding principles of Roots and Shoots.

“Helping the community can mean basically anything, no matter how small or how big,” she said “Seeing a lot of leaders these days, it seems like the only way you can help a community is to do something huge … but it is totally not [like] that.”

One day, Watanabe dreams of helping as many people and animals as she can. But first, she will start with the smaller things – the things right here at home.

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