Wangari Maathai Her life through her pictures, her words, and the words of those whoknew her and reflections from nature through the photos of a young photographer 1
Wangari Maathai on what her receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize means for Africa “I have received so many messages from Kenyans—women, men and even children— saying how happy they are and how proud they feel as Kenyans and as Africans. I meet people around Nairobi and they hug me with tears in their eyes. This prize has given Kenyans a lot of energy. It really is the icing on the cake after the elections of 2002. While Kenya and Africa have many challenges, this prize is a signal that there is hope. For Kenyans, being recognized like this means we have been given a special challenge. I hope the Prize will inspire us as a government and as a people to set a good example for Africa and the rest of the world, to show them that no matter what problems we face we can still protect the environment and think of future generations. The message for Africans is that the solutions to our problems lie within us. The work we have been doing with the Green Belt Movement is a local response to a local problem.” Waweru Mathai (son), Oprah Winfrey, Wangari Maathai , Tom Cruise, Wanjira Mathai (daughter). Picture taken at Oslo, Norway. 2
“One can but marvel at her foresight and the scope of hersuccess. She was a true African heroine,” Desmond Tutu Wangari spirited effort to plant trees was to allow children enjoy a fresh future. She once addressed a UNICEF children conference and reminded children of the benefit of education and the fight for a good climate. “Whatever you are doing, wherever you are, do not feel discouraged. Be brave and take advantage of the situation you are in. Protect yourselves from distractive activities and be strong! Allow yourself to be healthy, to work hard, and do your best. Stay in school! Especially for the girls, I want to say the sky is the limit, give yourself a chance,” she said. Indeed, she loved children, and in another message to the world’s children, Wangari Maathai said, “There are many people who love you, who care for you, who want the best for you, and are working day and night, to give you a better life.” Photo by Daniel Mugo, taken in Makueni, Kenya. 3
Wangari Maathai on how youth can protect the environment Baruani Ndume, who is an orphan, was awarded the annual International Childrens Peace Prize for producing a radio programme for children in a Tanzanian refugee camp by Kenyan Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai - “I would like to call on young people to take inspiration from the Nobel Peace Prize. I want them to know that despite the challenges and constraints they face, there is hope. I want to encourage them to serve the common good. My experiences have taught me that service to others has its own special rewards. I also have a lot of hope in youth. Their minds do not have to be held back by old thinking about the environment. And you don’t have to be rich or give up everything to become active. Even simply using both sides of a piece of paper before recycling is conserving the environment. The situation, however, is serious because the youth of today will experience the consequences of their elders’ mismanagement of the environment. Unless we change course, the coming generations will inherit an impoverished environment that will mean a hungrier, less fertile, and more unstable world. More conflicts will erupt.” 4
Wangari Maathai lead by example . She understood and acted on the inextricable links between poverty, rights and environmental sustainability. “In the tropics, trees grow fast; in five to ten years, you can use them for fencing, building, and firewood. But planting a tree can also be an entry point for communities to understand how to restore their own resources. You can educate people on how to preempt their own conflict. http://www.oprah.com/world/O-Interviews- Nobel-Prize-Winner-Wangari- Maathai#ixzz1bOu7zP00 Maathais parents taught her to respect the soil and its bounty, and to love planting trees, she says. http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Phenomenal- Woman-Wangari-Maathai/2#ixzz1bOuW6WGx Photo by Daniel Mugo, taken at Masinga Dam, Kenya. 5
Wangari Maathai on the environmental challenges facing Kenya “In Kenya, few forests are left. The population is increasing and there is not enough land for everyone to grow crops. For the last 80 years or so we have been planting exotic species for the timber industry, often in indigenous forests. As the trees are planted, people are invited to go into the forests and grow crops along with the exotic trees. This is known as the shamba system. It is something I have been fighting to eliminate from indigenous forests. I have been trying to convince others in government and in the community that we need to stop cutting or cultivating crops in our indigenous forests. When the forests are cleared, rivers and streams dry up, biodiversity is lost, and rainfall becomes erratic. This threatens farmers’ livelihoods and has negative impacts on other species as habitats are lost.” Green Belt Movement 6
Wangari Maathai on Climate Change “Africa is the continent that will be hit hardest by climate change. Unpredictable rains and floods, prolonged droughts, subsequent crop failures and rapid desertification, among other signs of global warming, have in fact already begun to change the face of Africa. The continent’s poor and vulnerable will be particularly hit by the effects of rising temperatures and, in some parts of the continent, temperatures have been rising twice as fast as in the rest of the world. In wealthy countries, the looming climate crisis is a matter of concern, as it will affect both the wellbeing of economies and people’s lives. In Africa, however, a region that has hardly contributed to climate change, its greenhouse gas emissions are negligible when compared with the industrialized worlds; it will be a matter of life and death. Therefore, Africa must not remain silent in the face of the realities of climate change and its causes. We have a responsibility to protect the rights of generations, of all species, that cannot speak for themselves today. The global challenge of climate change requires that we ask no less of our leaders, or ourselves.” Photo by Daniel Mugo taken in Makueni 7
Wangari Maathai on the Women of the Green Belt Movement “I placed my faith in the rural women of Kenya from the very beginning, and they have been key to the success of the Green Belt Movement. Through this very hands-on method of growing and planting trees, women have seen that they have real choices about whether they are going to sustain and restore the environment or destroy it. In the process of education that takes place when someone joins the Green Belt Movement, women have become aware that planting trees or fighting to save forests from being chopped down is part of a larger mission to create a society that respects democracy, decency, adherence to the rule of law, human rights, and the rights of women. Women also take on leadership roles, running nurseries, working with foresters, planning and implementing community- based projects for water harvesting and food security. All of these experiences contribute to their developing more confidence in themselves and more power over the direction of their lives.” Green Belt Movement, Photo taken in 1983. 8
In May 2006 Noble Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai addressed 7,000international educators who had gathered in Montreal for NAFSA’s 58thannual conference. Here is the story she shared about the hummingbird One day a terrible fire broke out in a forest - a huge woodlands was suddenly engulfed by a raging wild fire. Frightened, all the animals fled their homes and ran out of the forest. As they came to the edge of a stream they stopped to watch the fire and they were feeling very discouraged and powerless. They were all bemoaning the destruction of their homes. Every one of them thought there was nothing they could do about the fire, except for one little hummingbird. This particular hummingbird decided it would do something. It swooped into the stream and picked up a few drops of water and went into the forest and put them on the fire. Then it went back to the stream and did it again, and it kept going back, again and again and again. All the other animals watched in disbelief; some tried to discourage the hummingbird with comments like, "Dont bother, it is too much, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is too tiny, it’s only a drop, you cant put out this fire.“ And as the animals stood around disparaging the little bird’s efforts, the bird noticed how hopeless and forlorn they looked. Then one of the animals shouted out and challenged the hummingbird in a mocking voice, "What do you think you are doing?" And the hummingbird, without wasting time or losing a beat, looked back and said, "I am doing what I can.“ Photo by Daniel Mugo taken at the window of their home, Nairobi Kenya 9
As she told the world, "we must not tire, we must not giveup, we must persist." Her legacy will stand as an example to all of us to persist in our pursuit of progress”, by Barack Obama “I have invested 20 years of my life in this campaign for the environment and I’m still only scratching the surface. I am confident of winning. Nobody will build anything [in the forest] as long as we live. We cannot dignify theft.” "The reality that sustainable development, democracy, and peace are indivisible concepts should not be denied. Peace cannot exist without equitable development, just as development requires sustainable management of the environment in a democratic and peaceful space. In order to advance peace, we must promote its underlying democratic institutions and ideals. In large part, this is only possible if management of the environment is pursued as a universal priority. Only a holistic approach that takes these interlinked factors into account can ensure effective, ecologically sustainable development." -- Wangari Maathai, "An Unbreakable Link: Peace, Environment, and Democracy," Harvard International Review, vol. 29, issue 4 (Winter 2008). “ Photo by Wangari Maathai. 10
Wangari Maathai on Genuine Priesthood “A genuine priesthood stands between a community and its God, who chooses that priesthood for itself so that it can stand between it and its people to interpret the will of their God to them. A genuine priesthood nurtures the community, identifies with its aspirations and concerns, and guides it toward their God and their destiny. Such a priesthood cannot be imposed from above; it cannot exist in the absence of culture. A foreign priesthood cannot recognize the God of the colonized or its destiny; nor can it cannot take them toward their God and destiny. Led by a foreign priesthood, a people will perish, either because the foreign priesthood is genuinely unable to lead them or because it deliberately leads them toward the wrong God and the wrong destination. This is one of the reasons why the destruction of traditional priesthood, through the destruction of culture, becomes necessary to any colonizing power.” Wangari Maathai standing at the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. 11
One lasting memory is Prof’s inimitable words “I’ve beenthinking…..” By Maggie Buxter “Prof’s presence was felt wherever she went. I remember a visit to Womankind when she simply said thank you to everyone for what they were doing to gain women’s rights around the world – no lecture, just plain appreciation. On international public platforms her presence added gravitas. In attending training sessions with colleagues she showed support and solidarity. Small and big things, local and global, bridging the communities of the elite and the every day, never losing the sight of the reason why it was important to do so. Her passion was to gain human rights, human dignity and equality of opportunity for those so often overlooked. One lasting memory is Prof’s inimitable words “I’ve been thinking…..” This used to come after a night’s sleep on the previous day’s deliberations, and always resulted in a change of the decision of the day before. It became a continuing joke at every meeting as well as a dread that decisions would be revisited, unpicked and remade! ” 12
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