It is with great sadness that I read this morning of the passing of Wangari Muta Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement. By listening to poor rural women in her native Kenya, Professor Maathai learned how the deteriorating environmental and social conditions affected poor, rural Kenyans—especially women. They told her that they lacked firewood for cooking and heating, that clean water was scarce, and nutritious food was limited.
She suggested planting trees and founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977. Trees provide wood for cooking, fencing for livestock, stabilize the soil, protect the watershed and thus improve the lives of the rural agriculturist. But through the work of the GBM, Maathai also came to realize that behind poverty and environmental destruction were deeper issues of disempowerment, bad governance, and a loss of the values that had enabled communities to sustain their land and livelihoods, and what was best in their cultures.
Much of Professor Maathai’s work has since then been a massive push on many fronts to bring together academics, governments, and those working at the grassroots to learn from and educate each other about the linkages between livelihoods and ecosystems. Joining other peace activists she fought for justice, equality and peace, not only at home, but on the international stage.
Read more about her fascinating work here.