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What do Trees have to do with Peace?

An African woman, Dr. Wangary Maathai, is this year’s Nobel Peace Prize
Laureate. Her story...

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, 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."

* * *
Can we accept Wangari's invitation?

As we look around our neighborhood or city, as we look at our own
country, What is needed? What is our equivalent of planting one tree?

 


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