Everyone at PHS was saddened to learn of the passing of international environmental and women’s rights activist Wangari Maathai. Maathai, who passed away Sunday at 71, led the Green Belt Movement—an effort to promote sustainable development, human rights, and democracy in Kenya. Her work led to the planting of more than 30 million trees throughout Africa in the 30 years since its inception. In 2004, Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work—the first time the prize had been awarded to an African woman, and arguably the first “green Nobel” ever given.
In 2006, Maathai was invited to speak in Philadelphia at the Growing Greener Cities Symposium, a national symposium hosted by PHS to promote sustainable urban development and the role of community-based participation. Those who attended remember Maathai as perhaps the most inspiring speaker on the roster: Then-PHS President Jane Pepper came away from the symposium with the feeling that “if each of us will do the best we can, we can do great things together.”
Wangari Maathai reminded us that social change “is a process, not something that happens in a bang,” and helped make visible the oft-ignored, yet inextricable link between a healthy planet and a healthy populace. As PHS strives toward its own goal of Planting One Million trees, we are both inspired and humbled by Maathai’s amazing life and work.