“I will be a hummingbird’ | Wangari Maathai
Kenyan environmentalist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai died late Sunday from cancer. At 71, Mrs Maathai was one of the most widely respected women in Africa, wearing many hats as an environmentalist, feminist, politician, rabble-rouser, human rights advocate and head of the Green Belt Movement.
Born into a progressive-thinking family near Nyeri, in the Central Highlands of Kenya, Wangari Maathal attended Loreto Girls’ High School in 1959, at a time when the majority of girls in Kenya were not educated. Her elder brother Nderitu insisted that she become an exception.
Upon graduation, the young woman became part of the “Kennedy airlift,” a scholarship program of the U.S. government and the Kennedy family that took her to Mount St. Scholastica (now Benedictine College) in Atchison, Kansas, where she completed a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences. writes Green Belt
In 1966 she earned a master’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh. That year she returned to a newly independent Kenya, and soon after joined the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Nairobi. In 1971 she received a Ph.D., the first woman in east and central Africa to do so. She became the first woman to chair a department at the University and the first to be appointed a professor.
Professor Maathai’s work on behalf of the environment and the poor began by paying poor women a few shilling to plant trees. Her determined views on behalf of the unprivileged made her a thorn in the side of Kenya’s powerful men for decades.
“Wangari Maathai was known to speak truth to power,” said John Githongo, an anticorruption campaigner in Kenya who was forced into exile for years for his own outspoken views. “She blazed a trail in whatever she did, whether it was in the environment, politics, whatever.” via NYT
Her husband divorced her, saying that Mrs Maathai was too strong for a woman. Losing her divorce case, she criticized the judge, causing her to be thrown in jail.
Her Green Belt Movement has planted an incredible 30 million trees in Africa and provided assistance to nearly 900,000 women, according to the UN.
“Wangari Maathai was a force of nature,” said Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nation’s environmental program. He likened her to Africa’s ubiquitous acacia trees, “strong in character and able to survive sometimes the harshest of conditions.”
Dead of ovarian cancer, we must remember this great leader’s words expressed during her Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other,” she said.
“That time is now.”
This belief is a core value of Anne of Carversville.