Writings, Essays, Lyrics, Musings, Commentary . . .

Article #26: What do trees have to do with peace?

Recently, Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman, was awarded what I perceive to be the world's greatest honor, The Nobel Peace Prize. As I read the newspapers and listened to the story on radio and TV, I mainly heard about the many trees she had planted all over Kenya. I mainly heard that she was an environmentalist. Seemed a bit strange to award the Peace Prize for planting trees, but, I rationalized, that in a sense,trees do bring peace. Yet, there had to be more to the story.

Like so many others in this rat-race day and age, I didn't bother to learn more. I just let the question linger in my mind, "what do trees have to do with peace?" Sure, I was proud of this black woman -- I felt a kindred spirit in color and gender. But, I didn't take the time to learn the rest of her story. . . I was too busy.

A few days ago, I received an email from Joy Appleton, a friend from Augusta's Blues Week. There, clearly and succinctly written, was the answer to my question. I asked Joy who wrote this, but she had received it anonymously. *If anyone knows the writer, please let me know so that I can give due credit.

(* Since this writing was posted, I have learned that the author of the following piece is Denise Roy www.familyspirit.com/recent.htm.) Wangari is now my shero. My new mantra: "It is possible!"


What do trees have to do with peace?

Thirty years ago, in the country of Kenya,
90% of the forest had been chopped down.

Without trees to hold the topsoil in place,
the land became like a desert.

When the women and girls would go in search
of firewood in order to prepare the meals,
they would have to spend hours and hours
looking for what few branches remained.

A woman named Wangari
watched all of this happening.
She decided that there must be a way
to take better care of the land and
take better care of the women and girls.

So she planted a tree.
And then she planted another.
She wanted! to plant thousands of trees,
but she realized that it would take a very
long time if she was the only one doing it.

So she taught the women who were looking
for firewood to plant trees, and they were paid
a small amount for each sapling they grew.
Soon she organized women all over the country
to plant trees, and a movement took hold. It was
called the Green Belt Movement, and with each
passing year, more and more trees covered the land.

But something else was happening
as the women planted those trees.
Something else besides those trees was taking root.
The women began to have confidence in themselves.

They began to see that they could make a difference.
They began to see that they were capable of many
things, and that they were equal to the men.
They began to recognize that they were deserving
of being treated with respect and dignity.

Changes like these were threatening to some.
The president of the country didn't like any of this.
So police were sent to intimidate and beat Wangari
for planting trees, and for planting ideas of equality
and democracy in people's heads, especially in women's.

She was accused of "subversion" and arrested many times.

Once, while Wangari was trying to plant trees, she was
clubbed by guards hired by developers who wanted
the lands cleared. She was hospitalized with head injuries.
But she survived, and it only made her realize that she
was on the right path.

For almost thirty years, she was threatened physically,
and she was often made fun of in the press. But she
didn't flinch. She only had to look in the eyes of her
three children, and in the eyes of the thousands of
women and girls who were blossoming right along
with the trees, and she found the strength to continue.

And that is how it came to be that 30 million trees
have been planted in Africa, one tree at a time.
The landscapes--both the external one of the land
and the internal one of the people--have been transformed.

In 2002, the people of Kenya held a democratic
election, and the president who opposed Wangari and
her Green Belt Movement is no longer in office.
And Wangari is now Kenya's
Assistant Minister for the Environment.

She is 65 years old,
and this year she planted one more tree
in celebration and thanksgiving
for being given a very great honor:

Wangari Maathai has been awarded
the Nobel Peace Prize. She is the first
African woman to receive this award.

After she was notified, she gave a speech entitled,
"What Do Trees Have To Do With Peace?"

She pointed out how most wars are fought
over limited natural resources, such as oil, land,
coal or diamonds. She called for an end to
corporate greed, and for leaders to build more
just societies.

She added:
"Our recent experience in Kenya gives hope
to all who have been struggling! for a better future.
It shows it is possible to bring about positive change,
and still do it peacefully. All it takes is courage and
perseverance, and a belief that positive change is possible.

That is why the slogan for our campaign was 'It is Possible!'"

"On behalf of all African women, I want to express
my profound appreciation for this honor,
which will serve to encourage women in Kenya,
in Africa, and around the world to raise their
voices and not to be deterred."

"When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of
peace and seeds of hope. We also secure the future
for our children. I call on those around the world
to celebrate by planting a tree wherever you are."

As she received the Nobel Peace Prize this week
in Oslo, she invited us all to get involved:
"Today we are faced with a challenge
that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that
humanity stops threatening its life-support system.
We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds
and in the process heal our own."