"The planting of trees is the planting of ideas. By starting with the simple step of digging a hole and planting a tree, we plant hope for ourselves and for future generations."
Those were the words of Wangari Maathai. An ardent environmentalist and social activist, Maathai had long been a hero to many in her native Kenya. In 1977, she founded the Green Belt Movement, which uses community-based tree planting as the entry point for organizing to fight poverty and boost civic engagement. Its projects range from food security initiatives to citizen education trainings and raising HIV/AIDS awareness through theater.
In 2004, Wangari became the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In addition to her work at the grassroots level, she also authored several books and accessed the political avenue to forward her efforts, garnering international attention and support. Her passion for uplifting her fellow Kenyans is an inspiration that goes beyond borders, and her organization’s expansion to GBM International signals the spread of environmental activism and awareness. In a region where the green movement is so clearly indivisible from poor people’s struggle for justice, Wangari was truly a visionary leader.
After a lifetime dedicated to the fight for a healthier and more sustainable world, she passed away yesterday at age 71 from cancer. Over 30 million trees have been planted through GBM over the years, a testament to her life’s work. "To me they represent life, and they represent hope," Maathai once said. "I think it is the green color. I tell people, I think heaven is green."
Members of the Green Belt Movement plant trees on an eroding hillside in Kenya. Photo by Mia MacDonald
GBM tree nursery. Photo by Cassandra Pataky
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