African Nobel Prize Winner Passes Away, Leaves Ethical Legacy & Call to Action

“Wangari Maathai died September 25 of cancer, age 71. The first female African Nobel Peace Prize-winner, the first woman to receive a doctorate in Central or Eastern Kenya; the organization she founded, the Green Belt Movement, is responsible for the planting of millions of trees. But Maathai planted more than trees. She planted ideas, specifically the idea that conflict and climate change are linked, that climate action will come from the bottom, and the idea that women must be in leadership of the necessary next transformation.” Wangari Maathai: The Mushrooms and the Canopy both need Light, Laura Flanders on September 27, 2011 – 1:20pm ET

Dr. Maathai was inspirational not only to the Africans she touched, but across the world.  She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work promoting conservation, women’s rights and transparent government. She was the first African woman to receive the award.

Wangari Maathai is a heroine and world leader in sustainable development working to eradicate poverty, promote environmental conservation, enhance women’s rights, fight climate injustice and shed light on government corruption. All of these components of the sustainability movement were her passion and she was able to bring awareness to them, embracing them all as necessary for a better future. She will be deeply missed.

Wangari was supposed to speak at an upcoming conference, Association for the Advancement in Higher Education (AASHE) 2011.  Personally  I was really excited to hear her present. AASHE asked Dr. Maathai to keynote the conference because “her life embodied the conference theme of ‘Creating Sustainable Campuses and Communities.’  One portion of her legacy is the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies at the University of Nairobi. She refers to the mission of the institute in her latest book, Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World.

The mission reads: To transfer knowledge and skills on sustainable use of natural resources from academic halls and laboratories to the citizenry in villages and rural communities throughout Africa and beyond, and in doing so encourage transformational leadership grounded and focused on improving peoples livelihoods and sharing cultures of peace.

A few inspiring words from the late Dr. Maathai: “we must not tire, we must not give up, we must persist.” (2004, Nobel Prize acceptance speech)

“Conflict and Climate Change are Linked” is a provocative concept; what does it make you think about or how does it make you feel?

Do you think the root of the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies at the University of Nairobi mission: transferring sustainability knowledge from academia to communities, encouraging the improvement of peoples livelihoods and sharing cultures of peace: is possible? Necessary? Not important?

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