Monday, March 28, 2005

Wangari Maathai.

It's not a name that you should be familiar with, nor will you probably read the name or see the name in your local or national news. And yet, she remains a powerfully humble and wonderful example of personal leadership that is sorely needed in our world today.

Beginning in 1977 in her corner of the world, Wangari took the time and energy to organize a network of rural women into the Green Belt Movement, which planted 30 million trees while also sowing the seeds of democracy. For her efforts, she was beaten, harrassed and jailed. In 2001, Wangari was placed under arrest for protesting the human rights and environmental abuses of her homeland of Kenya.

She simply took the time to meet rural women and help them create a solution for one of their personal needs: energy, firewood. Why not plant trees? And through this planting process, personal conversations brought to light other concerns... and the movement grew from there. The corrupt government of Kenya was not opposed to Wangari's efforts in getting others to plant trees. It was her conversations with the people of Kenya about how how important it is for citizens to stand up for their environment and their rights.

For her grass roots-born efforts to sustainable development, democracy and peace in her country, Wangari Maathai was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. And Wangari accepted the prize as the first environmentalist and first African woman to receive this honor. Today, Wangari is a member of Kenya's first free election in a generation and was recently appointed as deputy minister for the environment.

It begins with a question and concern, my friend: "What is wrong with this particular picture?" And then , it ends with the personal commitment to see through the question and into the answer. It doesn't take mounds of money or grand schemes; just everyday individuals trying to improve their everyday lives - for themselves and others.

But the question needs to be asked for the process to begin. Are you feeling unsettled about your life or the community around you? Then pose the question. Pose the question to your family, friends and neighbors. Brainstorm the concerns and brainstorm possible solutions. For there is tremendous freedom, power and peace in this process; personally and collectively. Choose one of your possible solutions and begin planting the seedlings of your movement; all the while, talking to one another. The movement will grow, as will your consciousness and heart about Life.

The Nobel Peace Prize is the ultimate honor, but a greater prize is the personal peace you will receive when you come to know that your efforts matter, in small and large ways.

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