Wangari Maathai can be described in many ways: as a scholar, activist, writer or politician; however, most people around the world know her by virtue of her great work protecting the environment. Her passion for the environment took her to the highest of heights, culminating in the Nobel Peace Prize, and her legacy will live forever.
On Friday 25 September, the world marked 4 years since the death of Prof. Wangari Maathai. She will be remembered for her great achievements and contributions to the world. Her story started from humble beginnings in a small village in Nyeri, within Kenya’s Mt. Kenya region. During her childhood in pre-independent Kenya, it was difficult for Africans and especially for African girls to obtain a high level of education. However, Proffesor Maathai rose above all odds to excel in her studies and eventually reached the pinnacle by obtaining a PhD, specializing in biological science and veterinary anatomy.
With these achievements she took on the role of pioneer, becoming the first East African woman to qualify for a PhD. This would give her a platform for some of her most lasting contributions, initiated largely through her organization, The Green Belt Movement. Her fearlessness in taking on ‘the system,’ to ensure better conservation of the environment was remarkable. She suffered violent beatings at the hands of security officers as well as jailing; and her resilience bore fruit as it successfully led to the conservation of a number of natural landmarks which still exist to this day.
In her book, Unbowed, she talks of her efforts in saving Nairobi’s Uhuru Park: “When I see Uhuru Park and contemplate its meaning, I feel compelled to fight for it so that my grandchildren may share that dream and that joy of freedom as they one day walk there.” This is a perfect example of the attitude we should all have, keeping in mind the impact our actions have on the world in which future generations will live. We must ask ourselves; “What legacy am I leaving behind for those yet unborn?”
With Prof. Maathai, her mission went beyond environmental conservation as she also fought for democracy and equality within Kenya. By championing the cause for current and future generations of Kenyans, she received a plethora of awards, with the big one coming in 2004 when she won the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first Kenyan and the first African woman to bag the award.
This anniversary saw a couple of events held in Nairobi to celebrate her life, including a gala dinner as well as family day celebrations held at the Karura Forest, which she valiantly fought to protect. In order to engage the public on these celebrations, the Wangari Maathai Foundation used the theme ‘My Little Thing.’ This theme was inspired by a statement by Prof. Maathai, “It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.”
By remembering Wangari Maathai’s life, we get inspired to dream big and work to achieve our ambitions. We should look to do ‘our little thing’ to the best of our ability. However, we should do ‘our little thing’ while considering the world which we have borrowed from our children, making sure that we leave the world in a better state than we found it. So the question that each of us should ask ourselves is, “What is my little thing?”
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