RIP Wangari Maatthai

Wangari Maathai: When I first started, it was really an innocent response to the needs of women in rural areas. When we started planting trees to meet their needs, there was nothing beyond that. I did not see all the issues that I have to come to deal with. For me, one of the major reasons to move beyond just the planting of trees was that I have tendency to look at the causes of a problem. We often preoccupy ourselves with the symptoms, whereas if we went to the root cause of the problems, we would be able to overcome the problems once and for all. For instance, I tried to understand why we didn’t have clean drinking water, which I had when I was a child. The link between the rural population, the land, and natural resources is very direct. But when you have bad governance, of course, these resources are destroyed: The forests are deforested, there is illegal logging, there is soil erosion. I got pulled deeper and deeper and saw how these issues become linked to governance, to corruption, to dictatorship.

John Barrett/Globe Photos/Zuma

I began to appreciate that there was something that inspired and sustained the GBM (Green Belt Movement) and those participating in its activities over the years. Many people from different communities and regions reached out to us because they wanted us to share the approach with others. I came to realize that the work of the GBM was driven by certain intangible values. These values were: love for the environment; a gratitude and respect for Earth’s resources; a capacity to empower and better oneself; and a spirit of service and volunteerism. Together, these values encapsulate the intangible, subtle, nonmaterialistic aspects of the GBM as an organization. They enabled us to continue working, even through the difficult times.

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