Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In Memoriam: Wangari Maathai

What was most distinctive about Wangari Maathai was her warm humanity, a quality that she never lost no matter how famous she became. When she greeted you, you felt as though you had entered a spacious place of peace. She listened with her whole attention; she opened new depths and new horizons simply by engaging you. And there was that smile: a smile that lit up the entire world.

She could have followed the course of so many people from developing areas who, having obtained a Western education, decide to take advantage of more lucrative possibilities in a foreign land. Instead, she went back home, the first woman from her part of the world to earn a doctorate.

Her concern was for the ordinary: water, trees, biodiversity, the coinherent relationship of environment and human well-being and dignity. She encouraged her country-women to collect seeds and to plant millions of trees. She fought irresponsible development, corruption at all levels; she was arrested and beaten for her pains. Her husband divorced her, saying that she was "too educated, too strong, too successful, too stubborn and too hard to control."

The BBC obituary sums up her work as follows:

'Her unique insight was that the lives of Kenyans - and, by extension, of people in many other developing countries - would be made better if economic and social progress went hand in hand with environmental protection ... The straightforward environmental benefits of that would have been important enough on their own in a country whose population has grown more than 10-fold over the last century, creating huge pressure on land and water.

'But what made the movement more remarkable was that it was also conceived as a source of employment in rural areas, and a way to give new skills to women who regularly came second to men in terms of power, education, nutrition and much else.'

She was awarded the Nobel Prize, but for once it was the Nobel panel who was far more honoured than the recipient of their prestigious medal. Through it all she remained Wangari: an African woman, without Western affectations or cynicism.

Plant a tree in her honour; give to a charity that works for the visionary ideas that she fostered.

Her life epitomizes what I think of as sanctity; if anyone deserves an instant place in the calendar of saints it is Wangari Maathai.


Anonymous AM said...

Bless her soul. Thank you for her spacious heart.

I just finished reading about Catherine of Siena, Margery Kempe and Elisabeth Leseur - chapters from Ann Astell's book Lay Sanctity, Medieval and Modern: A Search for Models. They were ordinary laywomen in the first place, who provided models of sanctity during their time. Our age are again in need of models and no doubt, Wangari was very timely and relevant to the hunger.

7:53 am, September 28, 2011  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

A loss which reminds all of us of the potential inherent in and the courage necessary for reaching out in service of others.

A loss which leaves us all enriched by the results achievable when this way is chosen.

Welcome back!

5:29 pm, September 30, 2011  

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