AN HOUR WITH DR. WANGARI MAATHAI
Went to a luncheon today for Dr. Wangari Maathai of Kenya, a member of parliament and the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Dr. Maathai is the founder of the Green Belt Movement, which introduced the idea of empowering ordinary women to plant trees to conserve the environment and improve their quality of life.
She was funny, engaging and inspiring. She spoke of her childhood in Kenya and how she credits her brother and her mother for the opportunity for her education. Her two brothers were going to school, but she wasn't -- in her culture daughters were their mother's right hands and expected to wait upon the men of the family. Her older brother asked her mother one day, "Why isn't Wangari going to school like us?" Her mother replied, "I can't think of any good reason why she shouldn't," and so off Wangari went. She went on to receive degrees from three U.S. universities before returning to her homeland to advocate a society that respects "democracy, decency, the rule of law, human rights and the rights of women."
"What's the connection, you might ask, between Peace and Trees?" she asked. She pointed out that where resources are scarce, and where there is no equity, conflict arises. She recommended that everyone see An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's film about the threat of global warming. In Kenya, she said, they're already seeing visible evidence in the melting of the snow on Mount Kenya. She noted the diminishing of the great forests of the world, and remarked how important it is for humankind to respect and protect the other species of nature, saying, "There is no species that could not survive if humankind ceased to exist; but we could not survive without those other species." She used the story of creation from Genesis to illustrate her point and noted that all the other species were created before man, for man. "If God had created us on Tuesday, we'd have been dead by Wednesday," she said.