Open Letter to Wangari Maathai

Professor Maathai,

It was during my second year in college when I first heard of your name. It was probably the answer to a trivia question. "Who was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize?" I didn't know the answer, but it meant that I had to do more research for myself when the response was finally revealed. Wangari Maathai. Environment. Green Belt Movement. Trees. Kenya. Women. Sustainability. Death threats. The words floated from the screen, creating scenes in my mind. Scenes of places I'd never been, people I'd never seen.

Then, your name reappeared a few weeks ago, on the radio. And more words were used this time like "Remembering" and "Cancer". And your voice came on. Vibrant. Full of conviction, talking about how you planted a tree when you heard you were awarded the Nobel prize. If I had a chance to ask you a question, I would have asked about what got you started and kept you going. I'm sure, though, that you would have said something along the lines of "just doing what you saw was the right thing".

It's women like you who inspire girls and young women like me. Not necessarily to plant 1,000 trees, but to stay true to ourselves, to pursue our convictions and to respond to the needs around us. They say that creative people, whether they be painters, writers, singers, when they die are never really dead. Their creations carve a place for them in the present and propel them into the future. Though the world loses a giant, he or she still lives on through their work. I believe the same is true for you too. Your efforts, the trees that you've planted, the lives that you've invested in continue on as your legacies.

Thank you for your message. Thank you for legacy, and I hope that you'll allow me to say this,

Stupid Cancer!

More about The Green Belt Movement.

Picture courtesy of Charley Gallay via NPR

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3 Responses to Open Letter to Wangari Maathai

  1. AK says:

    Love this post- Wangari Maathai was featured prominently in my college essays. in high school i was a fervent environmental activist, and Ms. maathai was my role model at the time. I always admired her, and she will be missed.

  2. Pingback: Kenya: Open Letter to Wangari Maathai · Global Voices

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