Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Wangari Maathai and her tree planting movement

Wangari Maathai gesturing whilst giving a speech shortly after receiving her Nobel Prize in 2004.
Receiving the precious Nobel Prize indicated the recognition of her contribution to mankind and the Mother Earth.

Wangari Maathai (Wangari Muta Mary Jo Maathai – April 1 1940-Sept. 25th 2011) died at age 71 of ovarian cancer, and Kenya of East Africa continent lost its only lady Nobel Prize Laureate. Wangari Maathai was the first African woman PhD. holder when she completed her research in veterinary anatomy at University of Nairobi, Kenya in 1971. She had studied at University of Pittsburg, USA for her first degree. In 2004 she was bestowed the coveted Nobel Prize for her life time contribution for sustainable development, democracy and peace.

President Barrack Obama of USA was overwhelmed with exaltation to meet Wangari Maathai of Kenya as he had some Kenyan root. (His father was Kenyan.)
The movement incalcated meaningful purpose and fun in tree planting among school children.

In 1977 Wangari Maathai spearheaded a movement she formed, aptly known as The Green Belt Movement in which she appealed to the Kenya women folks to plant seedlings throughout the country. They searched the nearby forest for seeds to grow trees native to the area. By the time she passed away at 71, her unyielding effort had seen results of more than 40 million trees planted with her calling, both in Kenya and other parts of Africa.

A lone tree standing amongst shrubs and bushes in the wide grassland cast a forlorn sight; where were the tall trees under which the Lion King and its consorts would be perching, while waiting for preys?

Wangari Maathai was a lady who wore many hats; she was a mother and wife, a biologist, environmentalist, a veterinary anatomy professor, and a  human rights and pro-democracy advocate.

A small effort is also accounted for; this was an excercise of tree planting in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The event was sponsored by Ford International Inc. The long-haired girl Winnie Kanhary forwarded this pic to me to report their endeavour for a healthy and green environment.

Her political life was not very successful as she faced lots of obstacles as the male dominance in her nation’s political scene was too deep-rooted and prejudiced against women. In 1982 she was not allowed to contest for a parliament seat when she began to campaign. She was told to resign her post as a professor at her university and for that she did, but the court still barred her from contesting, citing a technicality. When she asked for her post at the university to be restored, she was turned down bluntly. She believed that the president at that time Daniel Arap Moi was behind the plot to deny her a chance at the parliamentary election. In 1979 her husband Mwangi Mathai filed for divorce, claiming that Wangari had become too strong a woman, and that he was unable to control her. The divorce was granted. She was asked to drop her husband's family name “Mathai”, instead she added another “a” into it. Eventually she faced financial hardship in her life as her meagre income at the university was not sufficient for her bringing up the children. Fortunately The African Economic Commission and The United Nations Development Program appreciated her distinguished caliber and offered her a job that required her to travel widely in African Continent. She accepted the post gladly, but she had to be based at Lusaka, Zambia. Her children were sent to her lecturer former husband though she visited them frequently.

Farmer Su, an ethnic Manchurian stood on his roof which was engulfed with one foot thick of sand, feeling helpless. His ancestral home and his village of  Langtougou, Hebei was fighting a losing battle against desertification for many years.
Look at the barren ground where it used to be a farmland in Hebei. This little student girl found it hard to cycle home riding on uneven dirt ground.

The Green Belt Movement has stirred and inspired many countries to follow suit. More and more worldwide corporations are sponsoring poorer nations to cover the earth with more trees. China, Thailand and Cambodia are the few nations that have responded to do their part. Malaysia too does its part, particularly at the coastal areas where mangrove tree seedlings planting has been an ongoing project. For China, it is urgent as the nation is working very hard to avoid their northern territories covered with the encroachment of desert sand by means of sandstorms, particularly in the province of Hebei, bordering Inner Mongolia. For the Chinese authority, the threat of desertification is more crucial, critical and pressing. There are some notable improvement after massive tree planting in China; it clearly shows the roots of the trees are able to consolidate the hold of the subsoil, thus preventing the rampage of the sandstorm. Still, for a few times in a year, northern cities of Beijing and its neighbours suffer in their visibility as tens of ton of sand landed onto them.


For her achievement in campaigning for tree planting through her Green Belt Movement Wangari Maathai had got this to say, in her unpretentious simplicity and convincing words:

I don’t really know why I care so much. I just have something inside me that tells me that there is a problem, and I have got to do something about it. I think that is what I would call the God in me. All of us have a God in us, and that God is the spirit that unites all life, everything that is on this planet. It must be the voice that is telling me to do something, and I am sure it’s the same voice that is speaking to every body on this planet – at least everybody who seems to be concerned about the fate of the world, the fate of this planet.

I kept stumbling and falling and stumbling and falling as I searched for the good. “Why?” I asked myself. Now I believe that I was on the right path all along, particularly with the Green Belt Movement. But then others told me I shouldn’t have a career, that I shouldn’t raise my voice, that women are supposed to have a master, that I needed to be someone else. Finally I was able to see that if I had a contribution I wanted to make, I must do it, despite what others said. That I was okay the way I was. That it was all right to be strong.

Alan CY Kok

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