• Jean Linville

First Leaves & Wangari Maathai


This week's musings are in celebration of Arbor Day, which is today! This spring, as in years past, I have been on a mission to witness the emergence of baby tree leaves. It should be an easy task, but somehow it never is. Once I notice buds swelling and the blossoms bursting forth, I know that I need to start checking the branch tips several times a day. Even with this heightened awareness and frequent scanning of the tree tops, somehow I still miss the arrival of the leaves. I'm convinced that it happens while I sleep. Afternoon check, no leaves. Sunset check, no leaves and then BOOM the next morning and suddenly a tree is full of little leaves. Inevitably, whenever I am pondering the miracle of trees I am reminded of Wangari Maathai.

One of my favorite shows to listen to on the radio is On Being with Krista Tippet. Her broadcast last Sunday on my local NPR station was actually a rebroadcast of a 2006 interview she did with one of my heroines, Wangari Maathai (1940-2011). Maathai was born in Kenya and there she experienced hardships that most of us could never imagine. But, rather than letting these difficulties limit her, she chose to learn from them and use what she learned to help others. Early on Maathai saw the link between conservation and human rights and she dedicated her life to improving the lives of women and their families through improving and conserving the land they lived on. Through her efforts she became a renowned social, environmental and political activist. Maathai would also become the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree and even more impressive, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to her in 2004 for her work with establishing The Green Belt Movement. To hear Krista Tippet's wonderful interview click on Wangari Maathai's image.

The Greenbelt Movement has continued on since her death and is an environmental non-governmental organization that is focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women's rights. Established in 1977, it arose out of Maathai's vision for helping the women of Africa, who at that time needed to travel for many hours on foot to gather firewood for cooking. The simple act of teaching women how to plant trees combined with a bit of training in forestry, food processing, bee-keeping, and other trades have helped them earn income for their families while also improving soil and water quality which thereby provides locally available resources such as firewood. So far, this global movement has contributed to the planting of over 52 million trees and has transformed thousands of impoverished villages and landscapes. To learn more about The Green Belt Movement, click on the image to the left. Happy Arbor Day!

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