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Farewell, Wangari Maathai, Hummingbird of Hope

Farewell, Wangari Maathai, Hummingbird of Hope

 

Wangari Maathai has planted her last tree, but she will never stop cultivating inspiration in the hearts of all who care about justice for the earth and its people. Sunday night, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize died at the age of 71.

Long before the environmental movement took hold, Wangari Maathai was planting trees. As a child in rural Kenya, she watched forests being cleared to make way for huge plantations. Early on she understood the role of these forests in preserving biodiversity and conserving water. She saw that loss of clean water and firewood for cooking and heating was having a devastating impact on families. So in 1977, she started the Green Belt Movement. The idea was simple: plant trees.

Hundreds of thousands of women and men planted 47 million trees. They restored damaged environments and lifted families from poverty. The movement grew to become a major force for peace and democracy. In its tribute to her, the Green Belt Movement’s site stresses, “The planting of trees became an entry-point for a larger social, economic, and environmental agenda.”

In a 2006 speech (video below) in Boston’s Faneuil Hall, Wangari Maathai said, “We started recognizing that the government, or those who were in power, instead of being custodians of these resources and managing these resources responsibly, instead of promoting equity and justice, they were very busy acquiring wealth themselves. They were practicing corruption. They were greedy. They were not responsible.”

Even the Smallest Can Play a Role

The Green Belt Movement became part of the pro-democracy movement calling for more responsible government. Professor Maathai and her staff were jailed, harassed and intimidated because, as she said, “those who were in power did not want to be exposed and did not want to be called into account.”

The fierce campaigner for justice never backed down. She was elected to Parliament in 2002 and became Deputy Minister for the Environment in 2003. When violence erupted after the 2007 Kenyan elections, Professor Maathai helped to mediate peace. She and the Green Belt Movement played a role in making sure the health of the environment was included in the new constitution.

Wangari Maathai was also a tireless worker on the global stage, working for peace, justice and equity. As her stature grew, she never lost sight of what one person can do to change the world. For the animated movie Dirt! she told the story of the hummingbird.

When fire breaks out in a huge forest, all the animals flee, except the hummingbird. The little bird flies back and forth, its beak filled with water. The other animals are terrified into inaction. When they ask what the hummingbird can possibly do with its small beak, the little bird answers, “I am doing the best I can.”

Professor Maathai adds, “I certainly donít want to be like the animals watching as the planet goes down the drain. I will be a hummingbird. I will do the best I can.”

Related Care2 Stories

How the Green Belt Movement in Kenya Fights Climate Change

Planting Trees for Women and the Planet: Wangari Maathai

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52 comments

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8:33PM PST on Nov 4, 2012

inspiring woman.

4:01PM PDT on Jun 22, 2012

I was always a big fan of hers. She went in and started the campaign to reforest Kenya. She organized women, who usually were the causes of deforestation through collecting firewood, to be the planters of the forests instead. She helped bring an end to the one-party dictatorship of Kenya, and help transform the country into a democracy. She may no longer be here, but I sure hope her legacy will go on. She inspired all of us.

12:18PM PDT on Oct 2, 2011

the world has lost a wonderful woman.

12:47PM PDT on Sep 28, 2011

Great project, you will live on with the continuation of your initiatives and hopes for a better world.

7:44AM PDT on Sep 28, 2011

Rest in Peace, Hummingbird, and many thanks, for everything.

Green Leaf Power!

4:01AM PDT on Sep 28, 2011

So sorry to hear this, but she will live in our memories, in our hearts and in every tree she planted.

4:00AM PDT on Sep 28, 2011

So sorry to hear this, but she will live in our memories, in our hearts and in every tree she planted.

1:11AM PDT on Sep 28, 2011

May your contributions and efforts never go unnoticed and your legacy continue to do good. Mother Earth and the world has lost another "Keeper".

5:59PM PDT on Sep 27, 2011

Rest your wings little Hummingbird. Your spirit carries on in those you touched around the world.

Blessed be until we meet . . .

Heri kuwa mpaka sisi kukutana . . .

5:00PM PDT on Sep 27, 2011

Pambazuka News - many articles about this brave and amazing sister:
http://www.pambazuka.org/en/

A great source for news on Africa and the diaspora.

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A very caring and compassionate man we need many more like him.

I really don't like people like that guy. He is one of many trying to persuade himself that the cruelty…

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