The Death of a Great Woman

Have you ever heard of Wangari Maathai? She was a pretty awesome woman, and she died on Sunday night.

Wangari Maathai was born in a small village in Kenya and went on to become

“environmentalist, feminist, politician, professor, rabble-rouser, [!] human rights advocate and head of the Green Belt Movement, which she founded in 1977.”

(New York Times)

Dr. Maathai paid people--mostly women--a few pennies per tree that they planted and that lived.

She was educated in the US at Mount St. Scholastica and the University of Pittsburg, and she earned a doctorate in veterinary anatomy at the University of Nairobi–the first woman in East or Central Africa to earn a doctorate.

She was also the very first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” (She knew that ecological crises are often at the root of conflicts and wars.)

She was an elected member of Kenyan Parliament and served as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources between January 2003 and November 2005.

And she also had personal and political problems like crazy.

Her husband thought she was too headstrong for a woman–and too difficult to control–and divorced her. She stood up to the corrupt Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi, losing her university job in the process. She oversaw the planting of 30 million trees to fight creeping desertification. She was imprisoned and maligned for her activism. And yet she remained unbowed.

Wangari Maathai's memoir. Definitely worth reading.

She embodied a bold kind of beauty. She was brave and principled. She had a reverence for Creation:

“So these observations [of environmental degradation in her native Kenya] for me aroused an interest that there must be something that is happening that is bad, but it wasn’t the faith [that made me realize the ecological crisis.] And I wish it was, because it should have been. I should have been reading the book of Genesis a little more closely.

And she will be missed. Thank you, Wangari, for the inspiration!

{You can listen to an interview with Wangari Maathai here. In it she talks about how she’s encouraged that faith-based groups are beginning to take conservation seriously, and how her own faith was shaped. Definitely worth a listen!}

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