Tribute to Wangari Maathai

Tribute to Wangari Maathai

Wangari Waathai Tribute

A Tribute from Jan Roberts, Founder, Earth Charter US

Wangari Maathai Tribute
The first time I met Earth Charter International Commissioner Wangari Maathai was on a bus that was taking participants from The Hague Peace Palace to the Mayor’s Reception following the international launch of the Earth Charter in 2000. It was a serendipitous moment for me as I had entered the bus late and there was only one seat remaining and it was right next to a vibrant woman in flowered African garb and turban. She smiled that huge Wangari smile and engaged me immediately in an energized discussion about what I was doing with the Earth Charter—asking at one point for me to send her my manual on the Earth Charter Community Summits. She had so many questions and was so interested that I did not even get a chance to ask her about her work. My short bus ride experience with Wangari speaks reams about her humility and her enthusiastic cheerleading and empowering of others especially women.

Wangari founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 to plant trees across Kenya as a way to alleviate poverty and end conflict. More than 900,000 Kenyan women benefited from her tree-planting campaign by selling seedlings for reforestation. Her vision for the Green Belt Movement transcended the obvious healing of the environment and poverty to light a political fire among the women for equity and power. She delighted in repeating the women’s overheard conversations as they toiled together and shared stories of their mutual oppression and growing sense of empowerment. Wangari saw her work with the Green Belt Movement as a translation of the Earth Charter and its principles into everyday behaviors and activities.

When Wangari won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, it was not only a humongous achievement for an African woman but also a critical acknowledgment that a culture of peace includes environmental protection, economic justice and human rights. She lived the Earth Charter into being and taught others by example to do so, too. Her devotion, courage and spirit live on through her Light-filled legacy that will wrap itself around this planet for generations to come.

Jan Roberts