“I am just a small thing. What can I do?”

This morning while I was running my negative self-talk said, “You are going to embarrass yourself at Jungle Jog. You’re going to be slow. You’re going to have to walk parts of it. You won’t be happy with your finish time.”

And then I thought, No. All of that is true EXCEPT the part about embarrassing myself. I’m up. I’m off the couch. I’m out there, wanting to make a difference for me, and for conservation. The people who should be embarrassed are the ones not even cheering me at the sidelines, but sitting at home, waiting for someone else to take action.

I’ve been privileged to spend time with Malagasy researcher Mahandry Hugues Andrianarisoa this month. We first met Mahandry a year ago when he was a research student assigned to our One Cubic Foot project team in Madagascar. We have had many serious conversations about the future of conservation in Madagascar, and his role in it.

When we picked up Mahandry in Washington D.C. last month, where he had been interning at the Smithsonian Institution, we sat on the front steps of our friend’s home and he said to me, “I am a small thing. And the problems are so big. What can I do?”

Isn’t that the exact question we should all be asking ourselves? What can WE do? The environmentalist Edward Abbey said, “The antidote to despair is action.” The problems are overwhelming, but if we determine a goal, a path we can take to make even a small difference, we have to take that action and begin to be a part of the solution. We cannot sit back and hope someone else is moved to action, or hope the problem solves itself.

Mahandry is beginning to focus his path on reforestation in Madagascar. More than 90% of Madagascar is deforested, and Mahandry has been astounded by the vast forests we have all around us in New York. Last night, at dinner with Mahandry and another colleague, he asked us, “Do you think it is possible to bring back the forests in Madagascar?”

The answer, of course, is yes. But it takes action, and garnering support, and patience, and even the knowledge that you might not live long enough to see the results of your efforts. The magnificent tree stands along the road in Letchworth State Park were planted in 1912. That reforestation effort took foresight and action.

What does all of this have to do with running or walking a 5k? Nothing, and everything. I have found running to be a metaphor for achieving any goal. You must first have the goal in mind, and then you have to carve out the plan that will take you to that goal, and set the foundation in place to be successful. And then you have to act. You will encounter obstacles and pain along the way, but as you get closer to that goal, the sense of accomplishment is like no other.

So – one last plea for you to join me on Sunday, July 16, for the Jungle Jog 5K and Conservation Walk. Run, walk, or cheer me on at the finish line. Consider this your first step toward making a difference for yourself, and making a difference for conservation in Madagascar. You can also support lemur conservation through my Crowdrise fundraiser.

— Pamela Reed Sanchez, Seneca Park Zoo Society Executive Director