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Santa Barbara High School senior Brandon Smith holds the "Dons" Giant Peace Dove Puppet to march in the Peace Dove Parade.

Youth come together for International Day of Peace at Oakland Zoo

on September 21, 2011

Giant dove puppets made from bed sheets were lofted high by youth brandishing them as signs of peace at this Sunday’s Roots & Shoots International Day of Peace event at the Oakland Zoo. The doves, held together by wooden poles and duct tape, their large eyes outlined with acrylic paint, looked down over the meadow as hundreds of attendees turned the ninth annual celebration into a day-long festival, engaging youth in educational arts and crafts activities like making piñatas for the primates at the zoo.

“I hope that students will come and realize that there are so many opportunities to be involved, and that every student develops that spark of interest to become more civically active,” said Erin Viera-Orr, 29, California Program Manager for Roots & Shoots. “We want them to really recognize their ability to have an impact.”

The International Day of Peace event—organized by Roots & Shoots, a global environmental and humanitarian youth program founded by the Jane Goodall Institute—occurs every year around September 21st in locations all over the world. Goodall is an acclaimed primatologist whose research efforts brought global attention to saving chimpanzees. A humanitarian as well, she was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2002 and organized the Roots & Shoots International Day of Peace event shortly afterward. This is the first year that the California Day of Peace event has been held in Northern California.

The giant peace dove puppets were the idea of Marin resident Matthew Hoffman, 36, who attended the Peace Dove Parade on Sunday, marching with young Roots & Shoots members who held up the doves they made by following his design.

“The most beautiful component is the fact that nobody can fly the puppets by themselves, it takes cooperation,” said Hoffman. “These doves have been built and flown by communities that have been in struggles with one another. There’s been Hutus and Tutsis who have come together to build and fly them and Israeli and Palestinian youth. There are numerous stories of people flying these in the middle of conflict—and the conflict actually pausing for a brief moment.”

Hoffman met Goodall while she was touring on her lecture circuit. When he showed up with puppets to one of her talks she “fell in love with them,” he said. Ever since then, Hoffman and his puppets have been invited to Roots & Shoots gatherings.

“I was having lunch with Jane after she was appointed a UN Messenger of Peace and she was showing me her peace dove pin that Kofi Annan had given her, and I was like, ‘Jane, you know I can build some giant peace doves in commemoration,’ and she was like, ‘Yes, and then we’ll cover the planet with them,’” said Hoffman. “I walked out of that lunch like, ‘OK, that’s a lot.’ But sure enough, over the next year, that’s what we did.”

Doves, just like the ones Hoffman envisioned, have now flown in over 80 countries. The Oakland Zoo Meadow, situated appropriately next to the chimpanzee exhibit—chimps are the animal Goodall is famous for researching—hosted an estimated 500 participants for the California Day of Peace event.

Children began their journey with a “Passport to Peace” booklet made of reusable materials. They then worked towards filling their passports with stamps from the 17 organizations represented, by participating activities like coloring in bee cutouts of pollination with flowers. Nearby in the Wildlife Theater, zoo-goers enjoyed songs performed by Roots & Shoots California Youth Leadership Council member Jackie Givelber on acoustic guitar, as well as talks on animals from guest speakers Michael Starkey of Save the Frogs! and Alessandra Phelan-Roberts of the Oakland Zoo.

16-year-old Robyn Rhodes, who sits on the Roots & Shoots California Youth Leadership Council, came out to volunteer at the event, which she has attended in previous years at the Santa Monica Pier.

“I don’t know what I would have done without Roots & Shoots,” says Rhodes, who is from Moreno Valley. “Before Roots & Shoots I never heard of youth actually doing as much as they did. I remember hearing one of the councilmembers had gotten plastic bags banned in her whole city, and that had an impact on me because I didn’t know youth could do this. I always heard about adults doing it but never youth.”

Lee Knodel, 48, and her students traveled from Santa Barbara High School to have their own peace dove puppet fly in the parade. Of hearing Goodall speak in Montecito, Knodel said, “I would’ve taken my shoes off and followed her anywhere.” Her class is a student-run entrepreneurial business and Roots & Shoots group which functions much like any other non-profit, she said—except with the students as the business executives. Last year they were able to send two orphans to school in Jakarta with proceeds from their website,, which sells customizable items for gifts and the “Do Ubuntu” bracelet which benefits orphans in South Africa.

“The stuff we sell is for helping other people, like selling fair trade bags to help trash-pickers in Indonesia, or doing taxes for people in the community. It’s all for a good cause—we like doing some good in the world,” said Jenny Aguilar, 16, a student at Santa Barbara High School.

According to organizer Viera-Orr, the Bay Area has always been very important to the Jane Goodall Institute’s efforts. Their first West Coast office was in Berkeley. Many Bay Area non-profits had booths at the event, such as Worth a Dam, which advocates for preserving beaver habitats in Martinez.

Jessica Dillon, 28, Philanthropy Coordinator at the Nature Conservancy in San Francisco and a former Roots & Shoots intern, was looking forward to hearing from children at the event. “I think one of the hard things about working in the environmental field is that it can feel sort of doom and gloom and a lot of bad news on the horizon,” said Dillon. “And then you meet all these kids who are doing these fantastic projects like cleaning up their local streams and making their communities a better place—it’s really inspiring. There was this one group in Cambridge, Massachusetts who got all their schools to do waste-free lunches.”

Katie Christal, 16, a Zoo Teen at Sacramento Zoo and Roots & Shoots volunteer, has followed Goodall extensively. “You know she barely started when she was 24 and she had no idea she was going to make this big of an impact on the world,” said Christal, cradling a stuffed animal monkey. “I’d like to do the same.”


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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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