Monday, November 15, 2010

Planting Ideas

Wangari Maathai, Kenya, October 2004
Photo by Mia MacDonald
It’s 10:30 at night and I have until midnight to write today’s post. That’s the deal I made with myself – to write one blog post every day to raise funds for the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Well, the day is almost over and all I can think of is the immensity of the task I set for myself. What was I thinking, that I could even scratch the surface of African insight? Every topic I’ve thought of today is complex, every person on my list of people to write about has such significant contributions that I don’t see how I can do them justice.

But, that’s the reason for doing A Dare To Remember, I guess. Pushing oneself, doing what seems "impossible".

So, I thought I’d go back to the source. Back to my first encounters with the work of people that led me to new ways of seeing, to new possibilities.

Back to Wangari Maathai.

Wangari Maathai, environmental and political activist, and winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. The first African woman recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, in fact. And the first woman to earn a PhD in East and Central Africa (in 1971) and to head a university department in Kenya (the Department of Veterinary Anatomy at the University of Nairobi, in 1976). And founder of the Green Belt Movement.

I first learned about Wangari Maathai when I was doing graduate studies on social aspects of agriculture and forestry in Sub-Saharan Africa. I learned about the Green Belt Movement, a non-profit organisation which Maathai started in Kenya in 1997. Then, it was a grassroots organisation that promoted tree planting. It became a pan-African movement, and then a global one.

The Green Belt Movement continues to promote environmental protection but in doing so also advocates for human rights, democracy and peace. By planting trees -- over 40 million across Africa so far – the Movement has restored forests and reduced erosion. Moreover, according to the Green Belt Movement, "hundreds of thousands of women and their families are standing up for their rights and those of their communities and so are living healthier, more productive lives."

Wangari Maathai’s accomplishments are astounding. She has won a long list of international awards, and sits on numerous international committees and boards. She served in Kenya’s parliament and as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources from 2003-2007. In 2005, Time Magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2006, she founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative with several other Nobel Peace Laureates.

She’s written several books, including Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World (2010), The Challenge for Africa (2009), Unbowed: A Memoir (2006), and The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience (2003). She continues to publish articles and to speak on environmental issues.

See what I mean by not being able to do justice to a person's contributions?

"The planting of trees is the planting of ideas. By starting with the simple act of planting a tree, we give hope to ourselves and to future generations." – Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai planting a tree at
the Outspan Hotel, Nyeri, Kenya to mark
the launch of her autobiography,Unbowed
Photo by Wanjira Mathai, 2006

1 comment:

  1. The fact that Wangari and the many other inspiring Africans you've profiled here, are so invisible to the rest of the world, is shocking. Then again, I suspect that the majority of inspiring people round the world, do live relatively quiet and uncelebrated lives. What you do highlight is our wholesale 'western' myopia about an entire continent and its many and varied peoples. Crucially, Wangari's example is one to inspire all humans...thanks for including the video links. You can't possibly encompass each life in this short space, but you can and have signposted ways to continue to discover. Seedlings continue to be planted...