A young girl dressed in a khaki outfit with her blonde hair messily tied back crouches down in Tanzania’s forested Gombe Stream National Park. She extends her arm to meet the hand of an infant chimpanzee named Flint, who greets the girl with a touch and trusting eye contact.
The story of primatologist Jane Goodall’s acceptance into a chimpanzee community, perfectly captured in a single iconic photograph.
Goodall broke barriers by living among the chimpanzees starting in the 1960s, discovering many unknown aspects of the chimpanzee social and family interactions.
After learning about her unconventional journey, which is the subject of her book “In the Shadow of Man” and the National Geographic film “Jane,” I was motivated to dedicate a part of my studies at Lehigh to researching Tanzania’s wildlife.
Goodall inspired my first visit to Africa. However, it was a young school girl, also named Jane, who inspired me to find a way to return — this time not just for the wildlife, but for the people.
When I met her, Jane was a 14-year-old student at a boarding school, which she attends thanks to scholarships or a sponsor who funds her education. During my visit, we played basketball and soccer, jumped rope, and read, but our conversation about her interests for life after school surprised and intrigued me the most.
Like me, Jane hopes to become a journalist.
When we spoke, Jane expressed her interest in traveling to unfamiliar places, meeting new people and writing about the different cultures she hopes to experience along the way. We spoke about our mutual love for the local wildlife, and she said she hopes to play a role in its conservation.
We are people from two completely different backgrounds and walks of life but, at the same time, her dreams are my dreams.
While sharing her aspirations, she also expressed her frustrations.
Although she is fortunate enough to attend one of the best primary schools in her district, achieving her goals will be a challenge. Part of her journey involves overcoming extreme economic and cultural barriers which, at her young age, are factors she has no control over.
This is where our similarities stopped.
While Jane may never see an end to the fight to reach her dreams, I am graduating with an assortment of experiences that were made readily available to me throughout my four years at Lehigh. A fulfilling education, multiple internships, study abroad experiences and research involvement — these are all opportunities that Jane may never have. These are privileges I have taken for granted.
Not everyone realizes their level of privilege. Lehigh’s campus is full of young adults who don’t understand just how fortunate they are to have a quality education, financial stability and the freedom to choose what career they want to pursue in life.
Ninety-six percent of Lehigh’s 2017 graduating class are employed or are attending graduate school, while less than four percent of Tanzanians in 2015 even reached a college-level education. Many of these students cannot afford the basic necessities for school, like textbooks or supplies. Others are at home, tending to the fields or livestock and caring for their families.
Some students, like Jane, are lucky. Her primary school focuses on teaching English rather than the national language of Swahili, which will make Jane a more desirable employee. With a solid education, she can continue learning past primary and secondary school and become part of the four percent in tertiary school. One day she can hopefully become the world-traveling, wildlife-conserving journalist she aspires to be.
While my entire study abroad trip was the experience of a lifetime and taught me more about myself than I believed possible, my conversation with Jane was a defining moment that, to this day, I often think about. This moment led me to pursue my post-graduation plans, which include traveling to Senegal for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Before graduation, every Lehigh student should look back and identify the moment that defined their college experience. Maybe this moment could also define the path they travel for years to come like it did for me.
For me, reading Goodall’s “In the Shadow of Man” was a defining moment that brought me to Africa. It was my time spent with Jane, the young schoolgirl from Karatu, that will help me return.
Danielle Bettermann, ’18, is the lifestyle editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]