October 2004 was an exciting time to be a tree-hugger in Wangari Maathai‘s home country of Kenya. When she was announced as winner of that year’s Nobel Peace Prize, many of my environmentally inclined friends and colleagues were eager to help her figure out what to do with the giant megaphone she had just been handed. Earnest volunteers with ideas and expectations streamed in and out of the downtown Nairobi office hurriedly established to handle the crush of publicity, clutching notes on what they thought the new Nobel laureate should do.
She already knew exactly what she wanted to do: continue planting trees. And so, to the consternation of those who wanted her to launch new campaigns and travel the world nonstop, talking about the global crisis facing indigenous forests, she chose to keep close to home. One dazed friend noted that, in her office, requests from local elementary schools to come plant trees were given equal weight to invitations to speak at Oxford University.
Unlike her fellow African Laureate Desmond Tutu, who used the platform provided by the Nobel to travel the world speaking about the evil of apartheid and other human-rights abuse... Read more