The world mourns the loss of Professor Wangari Muta Maathai, who passed away on September 25, 2011. Just ten years ago, Dr. Wangari Maathai was still vilified as the community leader who founded the Green Belt Movement and decried the unethical treatment of Kenya’s commons and people. In this final decade of her life, she was elected to parliament in 2002 with 98% of the vote, was appointed Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in 2003, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. As the first African woman Nobel Laureate, Dr. Maathai was praised for her “holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women’s rights in particular.” Always a Hummingbird, she used her voice to douse the flames of environmental destruction and disconnection. Professor Maathai embodied a restorative commitment, standing up in the current to create eddies of empowered space for others to reclaim their wisdom and to reconnect with each other and the Earth. She once said that, “My greatest satisfaction is to look back and see how far we have come. Something so simple, but meaning so much, something nobody can take away from the people, something that is changing the face of the landscape…. I never knew when I was working on my backyard that what I was playing around with would one day become a whole movement. One person can make a difference.” Asante sana, beloved Wangari Maathai, for the billions of planted trees and the millions of altered lives.
Just as Professor. Maathai urged us to celebrate the Nobel Peace Prize by planning a tree, let us celebrate her life and legacy by planting another, perhaps one that attracts hummingbirds.
Photo credit: Alan Dater and Lisa Merton/Marlboro Productions