For those of us of a certain age, we remember well that shampoo commercial … ‘and she told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on and so on …’ until the screen multiplies infinitely. One person can truly make a worldwide difference … which describes the life of Wangari Maathai to a tee – or should that be tree? – who, at age 64, won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for planting trees and promoting the rights of women and children. [Click here to see/read Wangari's Nobel lecture.]
Wangari grew up revering, protecting, and loving the land. “‘Our people,’” her mother told her as a young girl, “‘the Kikuyu of Kenya, believe that our ancestors rest in the tree’s shade.’”
Unlike most girls of her time, Wangari’s parents recognized her cleverness and sent her to school. Gifted in science, she eventually finished her education in the U.S., but returned home to teach at the University of Nairobi during a time when few women – neither as professors nor students – were even seen on college campuses.
She witnessed the devastation of her country by corrupt government officials and greedy foreign corporations that thought nothing of clearing whole forests, ignoring the consequences to the people and animals who depended on the land’s bounty. She took action by first turning to her fellow mothers … together, they planted the seeds of change: “One tree turned to ten, ten to one hundred, one hundred to one million, all the way up to thirty million planted trees. Kenya grew green again.”
Together with the local women, Wangari began what would become the international Green Belt Movement. Corruption could not stop her. Jail could not stop her. As Mama Miti, “Mother of Trees,” she could not be silenced. Raising her voice with the women whose rights she fought for, Wangari was elected to Kenya’s parliament and eventually became Kenya’s minister of the environment.
Wangari’s one voice planted the seed. Her determination multiplied her message and helped change the world.
Author Jen Cullerton Johnson certainly has an inspiring story to tell … but what brings Wangari explosively to life are Sonia Lynn Sadler’s mosaic-like pictures, infused with the deepest, riches colors that somehow manage to harness the magic of the land. Check out the “Mother of Trees” portrait, a couple of pages from book’s end (no page numbers that I could find), with its far-reaching branches, each holding an important story in every leaf. Change keeps growing …