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Nobel peace prize laureate and environmental campaigner dies

Nobel laureate and environmental campaigner, Wangari Maathai, has died in Nairobi, Kenya, at the age of 71. (BBC, AFP, Daily Mail)

Maathai was the founder of Kenya’s tree planting initiative — the Green Belt Movement — which aims to empower women and improve the quality of their lives through better access to clean water and firewood for cooking, while conserving the environment. Since beginning in 1977, the movement has assisted women in planting more than 30 million trees.

Maathai, who was a veterinary scientist based at the University of Nairobi, won the Nobel peace prize in 2004 for her work in supporting democracy, human rights and the environment. She was the first African woman to win the accolade.

Maathai also served in Kenya’s parliament and was appointed assistant minister for environment and natural resources in 2002.

Announcing the award, the Nobel Committee said Maathai was “at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa. Maathai combines science, social commitment and active politics. More than simply protecting the existing environment, her strategy is to secure and strengthen the very basis for ecologically sustainable development.”

Achim Steiner, executive director of United Nations Environment Programme, said, “Wangari Maathai was a force of nature. While others deployed their power and life force to damage, degrade and extract short-term profit from the environment, she used hers to stand in their way, mobilize communities and to argue for conservation and sustainable development over destruction."

Maathai is survived by her three children.

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    Mwangi said:

    TRIBUTE TO THE LATE DR.WANGARI MATHAI.

    Behold I weep. From dawn to dusk I shall mourn. As I wail in sadness, allow me to shed all my leaves, for I am only a tree in mourning. Yes, it may not be fall season in Kenya, but all my leaves I will shed. As I stand right here, where the late Laureate, Dr. Wangari Mathai’s beautiful African hands placed me, when I was just but a seedling, in the same spot, I spread my branches wide to bask in the beautiful, hot African sun. Here, she named Green Belt Movement.

    The late Laureate, like the Desiderata, you whispered to me that I “have a right to be here”…contrary to Axe and Power Saw bearers! Some of us listened, while others listened not. Those who listened planted more trees…and that’s why, pregnant with water, the taps still run. And in Umoja, Kibera and Kayole, pupils still gather around the taps…in turn,between hula and hoops, they quench their thirst and belch …thanks to Ndaka-ini waters.

    I may shake in the Easterly winds, but like the late Matriarch, I am not easily swayed…..because by her, in the rich Green Belt Movement, I was planted. Dr. Wangari Mathai, You stood firm and nurtured the environment, shouted your voice hoarse for the sake of of trees…until the Nobel summoned you to Europe. Even while there, your sermon never changed. You preached trees, trees and more trees….Only some heeded your cries.

    As I mourn with abandon, my heart is searching. Searching.. yet to find one who will wear your shoes, Dr. Laureate, oh, Gum boots I should say, soil the hands in the name of planting trees! I want to blame it on my teary, cloudy eyes… why I cannot yet find you a replacement, Dr. Wangari Mathai. To the West I look…there, even the streets are donned with trees. As I take a drive along the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway in the North Carolina- Virginia Mountains, I cannot help but cry for my beloved Kenya- bare soil it has become! To the north, the Sahara beckons while to the south Kalahari awaits! The Mathioya River is nothing but a stream. Diving we used to, back in the day. Today, dive at your own peril.

    Let me mourn the late Dr. Wangari Mathai, for she was one of a kind. In her honor, three trees I shall plant; one in Muranga, another in Nairobi, and, Yes, one in North Carolina, although here trees are plentiful. Apparently, they heeded the African Matriarch laureate, Dr. Wangari’s advice long before she was born! As we mourn the late Matriarch, I beg Kenya, Africa and the world to plant one more tree…in her honor. This is because, to the Axe and Power saw, even the great Amazon is not immune… and like in Haiti, the sea shall turn brown with run off. In the late Dr. Mathai’s honor, Let us clothe the environment and in turn, the environment shall clothe us. Our nakedness shall not be left to crack in the hot African sun…And the African children will continue to belch with satisfaction, until kingdom come!

    But what do I know! I am just but a tree swaying in the wind this side of Green Belt Movement. Thanks to the late laureate, Dr. Wangari Mathai.

    MAY YOU REST IN PEACE

    Phan Mwangi, MSN ARNP-C

    Charlotte, NC USA

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