You raise your consciousness to the point where you must do the right thing. -Wangari Maathai
Wangari Maathai died on Sunday after a long struggle with cancer at the age of 71. The Right Livelihood Award winner also became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1977, she organized rural women plant trees to address problems stemming from a degraded environment and spearheaded the struggle against state-backed deforestation in Kenya. It seems like they’re only trees but she didn’t just plant trees, she planted ideas.
Under her leadership, their tree-planting grew into a nationwide movement to safeguard the environment, defend human rights and promote democracy. Maathai was also the founder of the Green Belt Movement, which has planted some 45 million trees in the country. I could never forget the footage of her going up against a group of men trying to cut down the forest. She was attacked for it, she bled for it and she said the ancestors did that too to protect the forest and she would too.
In the U.S. we still think climate change is in the future, a problem for our grandchildren, but Wangari Maathai was an important voice on the scene reminding the world climate change is now and we can all do something now.
Here’s the trailer for the Independent film about her TAKING ROOT: The Vision of Wangari Maathai.