Johan Hari of The Independent/UK has reported an amazing story this week about a woman who set out to save trees in Africa.
She was born on the floor of a mud hut with no water or electricity in the middle of rural Kenya, in the place where human beings took their first steps. There was no money but there was at least lush green rainforest and cool, clear drinking water. But Maathai watched as the life-preserving landscape of her childhood was hacked down. The forests were felled, the soils dried up, and the rivers died, so a corrupt and distant clique could profit. She started a movement to begin to make the land green again – and in the process she went to prison, nearly died, toppled a dictator, transformed how African women saw themselves, and won a Nobel Prize.
Her name is Wangari Maathai, and she considers herself a “daughter of the soil”. Humbled be humans needs for trees, she returned to Africa after coming to the U.S. for college. She was the first woman ever to get a PhD in East or Central Africa. She convinced international aid organizations to pay some woman from the National Council of Women of Kenya to plant trees. As Hari says, planting trees turned to planting ideas, and her own husband began to see her Maathai as a threat.
The very public divorce from her husband did not deter her from protesting and soon other men began to see her as a threat also.
But the initial reaction to her protests was frightening. She began to receive anonymous phone calls telling her should shut up or face death. Moi called her a “madwoman,” and announced: “According to African traditions, women should respect their men! She has crossed the line!” When she carried on, she was charged with treason – a crime which carried the death penalty – and was slammed away in prison. She had arthritis, and she says: “In that cold, wet cell my joints ached so much I thought I would die.” But she would not apologise, or give in. “What other people see as fearlessness is really persistence. Because I am focused on the solution, I don’t see the danger. If you only look at the solution, you can defy anyone and appear strong and fearless.”
She went on to get national recognition and has left Africa to spread her knowledge
The rainforests can be killed from two directions – by the saws of men like Moi, or the warming gases of people like us. That is why she has left the land she loves, armed with the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 2004, and travelled so far: to try to persuade us to let the forests live. “There are moments in history when humans have to raise their consciousness and see the world anew. This is one of those moments. We are being called to assist the earth in healing her wounds, and in the process we can heal our own. We can revive our sense of belonging to a larger community of life. We can see who we really are.”
I strongly suggest reading the rest of this amazing woman’s life here