Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wangari Maathai

Wangari Muta Maathai caught my attention many many years ago.
It was 1971 when I was at the doctor's office and from the corner of my eye I saw a small message in the university paper at the table: "First East African woman promoted at Nairobi University. She was 31 and studied in the USA".
At that time it was unusual for a girl there to go to school, let alone to go to a far away country and finish a university study.
I was about 15 at the time, just realising I was rather bright and maybe could go to univeruty too.
All my doc said was: "What she can do, you can do too."
I don't know if she influenced my decision to go to university. Sure I felt that my uncle who went to university should not be the only one in the family and that I, a woman, could do what he did.

She was in my mind however when I stood in front of the examination board without family and friends, because the final examination was moved forward and there was no time to warn the people who should have been there. I waited alone for the final results. Maybe she did too.
I was lucky that my father was always early. He was just in time to see me happy all over because I made a dream come true. I'd finished my studies.

By then Wangari had already started campaigning for the Green Belt Movement (she initiated in 1977) to keep the forest of Kenia alive and replant what was already damaged. By now more than 40 million trees have been planted.
By then I didn't know she was also protesting against dictatorship and fighting against injustice. I heard about that just before 2000 I think, in an overview of the century in which she was mentioned as someone who had done a lot for the nature of Africa, but also for the people.

As she seemed to pop-up in my life so often I looked her up and found out that she was valued very much for what she tried to do to end injustice and strive for peace between people.
She had a hard time fighting for the rights of women, but she kept on working hard, against all odds, threats and acts against her life.
As precisely at that time something about the Nobel prize was on the radio I thought it a good idea to bring her to the attention of the committee, as never before an African woman had won the Nobel Prize.
She won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2004.

By that time she was part of the new democratic government of her country, but the old ways and the male dominance where too powerful to enable her to reach all her goals.
Nevertheless has she created a lot of awareness for the value of nature, for the way rich people deal with nature and poor people, and she has empowered the african people.

Wangari has won a lot of prizes, travelled all over the world to bring her message, she even adressed the UN a couple of times. She became professor and a lot more.
But most of all she kept true on what she saw as her mission in life.
And she stayed the wonderful woman she was.

She died from cancer at the age of 71 at september 25.

Thank you Wangari for be an inpsiration in my life too.


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