START A PETITION 27,000,000 members: the world's largest community for good
START A PETITION
x

Honoring Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai

  • 1 of 4
Honoring Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai

Environmental activist Wangari Maathai passed away Monday, September 25th. In the following interview with Marianne Schnall, the Nobel Laureate talks about planting 40 million trees (including one with Barack Obama), her global perspective, and her philosophy of life.

Wangari Maathai was born in Kenya and was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. In 1976, she introduced the idea of planting trees with communities. She established The Green Belt Movement (GBM) in Kenya in 1977, initially to address deforestation. Later the issues of community empowerment and environmental conservation were incorporated. To date, over 40 million trees have been planted, primarily by women, across Kenya. She and the GBM received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, making her the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In January 2006, Professor Maathai, along with sister Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Betty Williams and Mairead Maguire founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative. She has written several books, including The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience, her memoir Unbowed, and her important new book, The Challenge for Africa .


Marianne Schnall: There are so many issues affecting Africa and our world, what was your pathway to the environment becoming your cause?

Wangari Maathai: Well, I think my understanding was very basic because I started with ordinary women from the countryside expressing their very basic needs for water, for food, for firewood, and for income, and then realizing that what the women were describing was an environment — they were coming from an environment that was failing to sustain them. And so looking at that environment and especially because I had grown up in the same environment, I realized that there are very serious activities such as deforestation, loss of the soil that was gradually destroying that environment and impoverishing them. And so that actually became my entry point. And I suggested that we plant trees and they agreed and we started, but as we did plant those trees, it almost became like a school for me to understand that what the women were describing were symptoms, and that it was necessary for us to go to the cause. And that cause became sometimes physical destruction of the environment, and then the question was by whom, and that led me into issues of irresponsible management of resources by government. So one thing just led to the other and eventually I got a much better understanding of how the environment is destroyed and how it could be restored.

MS: As the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, how do you see the connection between the environment and peace, in that region, and in the world?

WM: For me, as I say, as I got deeper and deeper into the issues, I came to realize that so often when we use the resources, first and foremost there is that degradation of the environment, as I was seeing in my own country. And I noticed that when resources degrade, there is less of them. And especially land, which is one natural resource that most people in the world want to access — or resources such as water, which we all need. When these resources are degraded or polluted, then there are fewer of them for the rest of us, and then we start competing for them and eventually as we compete, there are those of us, who have the capacity, who have the ability to be the controllers, to decide who accesses them, how much they access, and eventually there is a conflict. Those who feel marginalized, those who feel excluded, eventually react in an effort to get their own justice, and we have conflict.

So it became very clear to me that whether it is at the local level in Kenya, where we had tribal clashes over land and water, or whether it is at the global level, where we are fighting over water, over oil, over minerals — that a lot of the conflicts we have in the world are actually due to competition over resources. And that’s how I saw that one way in which we can promote peace, is by promoting sustainable management of our resources, equitable distribution of these resources, and that the only way you can actually do that, is that then you have to have a political, economic system that facilitates that. And then you get into the issues of human rights, justice, economic justice, social justice, and good governance or democratic governance. That’s how it ties up, and I was very happy when the Norwegian Nobel Committee saw what I was trying to do.

MS: The Green Belt Movement has now planted 30 million trees. What is the significance or importance of planting trees?

WM: Well, for me planting a tree is a very doable thing. It’s not complicated, it doesn’t require technology, it doesn’t require much knowledge, but it can be a very important entry point into communities understanding how they destroy their own resources, but how they can also restore those resources, and not wait for their government or international agencies to come and help them. And you can educate people therefore to understand how they can preempt their own conflict. And how they need to not only protect their resources themselves, but also demand that their government, which is supposed to be custodians of these resources, should take care of them. So quite often when people hear about our work, they only think about the actual action of planting a tree. But a tree for us is a symbol, it’s an entry point, and once you are into the communities then you help the communities to try and understand the linkages and to try to mobilize them for action.

  • 1 of 4

Read more: Do Good, Make a Difference, News & Issues, Women's Health, ,

have you shared this story yet?

go ahead, give it a little love

Marianne Schnall

Marianne Schnall is the founder of Feminist.com, a leading women’s website and nonprofit organization, and the cofounder of EcoMall.com, a website promoting earth-friendly living. She is the author of Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice.Through her writings, interviews, and websites, Marianne strives to raise awareness and inspire activism. For more information, visit daringtobeourselves.com and marianneschnall.com.

21 comments

+ add your own
11:58AM PDT on Oct 4, 2011

RIP......

9:27AM PDT on Sep 28, 2011

I did not know about this till this article. Thank you. She was a wonderful inspiration. Rest in peace. Namaste

10:55PM PDT on Sep 27, 2011

Wangari Maathai will surely be missed.

10:36PM PDT on Sep 27, 2011

didn't hear of her until this story - thanks for sharing!

8:25PM PDT on Sep 27, 2011

I will be a hummingbird. Wangari Maathai is truly an angel, the loss of her in this world is heartbreaking for so many.

namaste

4:39PM PDT on Sep 27, 2011

What a great loss. I wish more US citizens knew more about her. I admit that I am not a huge "tree-hugger" type, caring more about people, poverty, and human rights than about the environment (not an easy admission to make on this site). But Wangaari Maathi helped me appreciate the linkages more than most do, and her amazing leadership and spirit, for women, for Africans, for impoverished people everywhere, will be sorely missed.

3:17PM PDT on Sep 27, 2011

Thank you Ria T. green star to you even though i cannot 'find' you...
and....
Blessed be Wangari Muta Maathai's Living Legacy

1:15PM PDT on Sep 27, 2011

@Rosemary Rennes@
Thank you for the hummingbird video! How moving! One woman, one strong woman, caused hundreds of thousands of trees to be planted. She taught women how to do this and why, paying what is a pittance here, but what gave Kenyan women the means to live. May she leave each of us a drop of her courage, wisdom, and stamina! Blessed be.



12:34PM PDT on Sep 27, 2011

Wangari Muta Maathai was a great inspiration to me personally. I was first introduced to her amazing work on tree-nation. Sadly she is gone but her Living Legacy & Love for humanity, especially children, and for our planet will live on !

I invite friends at Care2 to join tree-nation and plant trees in Wangari Muta Maathai's Forest. Watering trees is wonderful too, easy and free but so worthy !
Here is the link to her Forest
http://www.tree-nation.com/forests/274/1419

Please let me know if you wish to join tree-nation I will be honored to send your personal invitation.

Enjoy Wangari's very special video
"I will be a Hummingbird"
Wangari Maathai's video "I will be a Hummingbird"


Work is done as the setting sun's chorus rises...
When dawn breaks a hopeful tomorrow awaits
With shovels in hand we will plant trees again
Wearing smiles helping hands honor Wangari Maathai's vision...
rosebud 007

12:33PM PDT on Sep 27, 2011

Wangari Muta Maathai was a great inspiration to me personally. I was first introduced to her amazing work on tree-nation. Sadly she is gone but her Living Legacy & Love for humanity, especially children, and for our planet will live on !

I invite friends at Care2 to join tree-nation and plant trees in Wangari Muta Maathai's Forest. Watering trees is wonderful too, easy and free but so worthy !
Here is the link to her Forest
http://www.tree-nation.com/forests/274/1419

Please let me know if you wish to join tree-nation I will be honored to send your personal invitation.

Enjoy Wangari's very special video
"I will be a Hummingbird"
Wangari Maathai's video "I will be a Hummingbird"


Work is done as the setting sun's chorus rises...
When dawn breaks a hopeful tomorrow awaits
With shovels in hand we will plant trees again
Wearing smiles helping hands honor Wangari Maathai's vision...
rosebud 007

add your comment



Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

people are talking

I have gained valuable information from dreams over the years, when I really spent time thinking abo…

Continue what you do at Christmas all year.

Superb way of explaining, and great blog to get wonderful information. Alsia T. Alsia T.
on Stylish Bedrooms That Keep the Bugs Out
7 minutes ago

Some very good hints there, thanks for sharing.

CONTACT THE EDITORS



Select names from your address book   |   Help
   

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.