Today, Professor Wangari Maathai would be turning 81.
This marks the end of the wangari@80 campaign, launched by the Wangari Maathai Foundation and the Green Belt Movement International on 1st April last year to celebrate her 80th birthday. To continue advancing her legacy to the world, the Wangari Maathai Foundation has been sharing videos and stories of how Wangari Maathai touched the lives of so many. The Wangari@80 Campaign celebrates and honours Wangari Maathai’s achievements by highlighting her work and the impact she had on others around the world.
Our Chair, Wanjira Mathai, shared how her mother, Wangari Maathai’s deep sense of patience, commitment and persistence remains a source of inspiration.
In another reflection, Carter Via, the Executive Director of Crossing Thresholds counts himself among the lucky people to have known Wangari Maathai in person. He recounts how Wangari Maathai calmed his nerves and that of his team when the US Embassy was bombed by directing their fear and sense of helplessness into acts of kindness and compassion. The lesson that there is always a non-violent response to the violence in the world remains an inspiration to him.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit hard on just about every aspect of our lives – some have lost jobs and others have lost their loved ones, while others are battling with the virus. This is the time when the world needs to unite more than ever before by embracing acts of courage and offering help to one another throughout these tough times. Professor Maathai always believed in service to others.
As the world faces overlapping planetary health emergencies of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, we echo words from Professor Wangari Maathais’ speech upon winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. “Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking so that humanity stops threatening its life-supporting system, we are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and, in the process, heal our own-indeed to embrace the whole of creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder.”
She understood profoundly the linkages that exist between environmental degradation and the challenges that humanity faces. She believed that young people should lead, and that’s why Lesein Mutunkei, Rahmina Paulette and Elizabeth Wathuti have also demonstrated that indeed the legacy of Professor Wangari Maathai lives on.
There are so many lessons that the world can pick from Professor Wangari Maathai. In her 81st birthday and beyond, let us continue standing up for what is right, public opinion notwithstanding. As Hussein Khalid, Executive Director of Haki Africa reflected in his video celebrating wangari@80 “As long as you stand on the right side of history, with justice and human rights, then it matters not what your detractors are telling you.”