Chimps and Chess in Chicago
By Betsy Dynako   
March 31, 2008
Dr.Jane Goodall speaks
I have always admired Dr. Jane Goodall, primatologist, environmentalist and humanitarian, but I never expected she would be interested in chess players. But I was wrong. The woman best known for living among the chimps in Gombe, Africa spent the evening of March 24 with chess students and teachers involved with Yury Shulman's non-profit, Chess Without Borders.
The Jane Goodall Foundation invited youth volunteers to a special evening at the Chicago Botanical Garden. The Foundation is the founder of Roots and Shoots , a network of youth volunteers in almost 100 different countries. Dr. Goodall developed her love for animals and the environment at a young age and works with Roots and Shoots to encourage youth volunteers to take action wherever they see a need. Youth from the Great Lakes region, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, attended the event.   Chess Without Borders was invited to bring a display to illustrate the good work it is doing for others.

As Shulman’s proud students manned their display, their parents enjoyed refreshments and watched the festivities. Dr. Goodall held a stuffed animal chimp holding a banana and smiled as the children told her about the things they are doing, “We go to nursing homes and play chess with the elderly. We also help to set up chess clubs throughout the world.” Though the chess players were nervous to meet Dr. Goodall, they let their excitement of the situation take over and sang happy birthday to her. It was a bit early as her birthday is during the first week in April. “I will remember this on my birthday,” she told the children before she moved on to another display, adding with a grin, “You can call me Jane.”
Dr. Jane Goodall inspects the Chess Without Borders display

The young chess players couldn’t resist playing a game or two. The blitz chess fun at the Chess Without Borders booth was a constant draw for children from other volunteer groups. Some children watched the games being played and others jumped in to take a turn.

Never miss a chance to practice!

In addition to sharing the fun of chess with all the attendees, Chess Without Borders explained how their activities combine passions for chess and volunteering.   Some of their actions are simple, like sending the money they raise during food sales at tournaments to another charity. Other projects take more planning, like traveling to Mexico or India to deliver chess books and sets and staying to help start chess clubs.
Dr.Goodall poses with Chess Without Borders kids

The evening continued with presentations and speeches by the children, explaining the various groups accomplishments and projects. To save the earth from the waste of disposable water bottles, children from the 7 Hills Root and Shoots club of Cincinnati, Ohio sold reusable bottles to the student body. To ensure the students would use their bottles, the 7 Hills group convinced the school board to install a water cooler with a filter so there would be fresh water available for refills. Creative students from Michigan’s Wyandot Volunteens made paper mache zebras for the lions at the local zoo to hunt. They also showed the crowd how to crochet plastic grocery bags in to a reusable tote. Students from Winetka High School in Illinois built a peace dove and flew it during a peace assembly at their school.

Dr.Goodall and students with the "Peace Dove"

The highlight of the night was a when Jane Goodall spoke to the crowd. I have been a fan of Dr. Goodall’s since I was a young girl. I use to hurry home after school to watch animal and nature shows on PBS. I am shocked that my pictures from the evening are any good because I was a bit overwhelmed to be so close to Dr. Goodall and found that my hands were shaking a majority of the time. She greeted us with a chimp call that meant, “Hello, I am here. How are you?” She told us inspiring stories spanning from her childhood to the present. When she talked about the first time she and a chimp touched, I think I saw tears of joy glisten in her eyes. When she told us about a chimp named JoJo that a man saved from drowning at the Detroit Zoo, our eyes were filled with tears.

I left the evening enlightened and excited. I was able to learn directly from a childhood idol. I had the pleasure of watching young children doing the same, and all because of chess. 

Find out more about Yury Shulman’s Chess Without Borders , The Jane Goodall Foundation , Roots and Shoots and How to Crochet Plastic Grocery Bags into a Reusable Tote.