Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement and the first woman to earn a doctorate in East Africa, has often been asked “Why bother?” The Green Belt Movement is an internationally acclaimed tree-planting movement developed in Kenya, and has resulted in the planting of millions of trees throughout East Africa in order to provide sources of fuel and food, and a way to stop soil erosion and environmental degradation.
Here’s Maathai’s answer to “Why bother,” about the value of working for the greater common good of communities:
“My life as been greatly influenced by the formal education I received during the early part of my life both at home, in Kenya, and abroad. The privilege of a higher education, especially outside Africa, broadened my horizons and was responsible for my deeper understanding of the linkages between the environment, women and development.
I was myself a beneficiary of the common concern of others and, once successful, wanted to improve the quality of life of those I had left behind, in my country in particular, and in the African region in general.
The foreign experience deepened my spirituality rather than my religion and encouraged me to seek God in myself and in others, rather than in the heavens. It gave me values worth pursing and sharing. I set out to share those values with others through service in voluntary organizations.
It is partly as a result of all these experiences that I came to understand the linkage between environmental degradation and the felt needs of communities. This understanding was unsettling and inspired me to action.”