Written by guest blogger Denise Deby, who writes on local and global social and environmental issues.
In Minto Park, at the corner of Elgin and Gilmour Streets downtown, there’s a new sugar maple tree. It was planted this week to honour environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Muta Mathaai, who passed away on September 25, 2011.
Wangari Mathaai never lived in Ottawa, but her life’s work has influence and relevance here—and throughout the world. Dr. Mathaai was a Kenyan environmentalist, scientist, human and women’s rights advocate, political activist and parliamentarian.
Wangari Mathaai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 as a grassroots community-based tree-planting program to address environmental degradation and empower women; it’s become a global movement working for human rights, democracy, peace and climate justice as well. Her work was challenging, at times dangerous, but she persevered. “It is the people who must save the environment. It is the people who must make their leaders change,” she said, “So we must stand up for what we believe in.” Professor Mathaai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 and has received dozens of other awards and recognitions.
To celebrate Wangari Mathaai’s life and achievements, the Nobel Women’s Initiative, an organization based in Ottawa that Dr. Mathaai herself helped found in 2004, along with Ecology Ottawa, hosted the tree-planting ceremony on Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at Minto Park, with the High Commissioner of Kenya, Simon Nabukwesi, the Ambassador of Norway, Else Eikeland, and Mayor Jim Watson attending.
For Wangari Mathaai, sustainability, human rights, peace and justice were interconnected. “She did not put women’s rights, democracy and the environment into separate boxes,” said Liz Bernstein, Executive Director of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, at the ceremony.
Mathaai also believed that every person could take action. Ecology Ottawa’s Trevor Haché summed it up this way: “May this tree that we will plant today in the ceremony serve as inspiration and an important reminder to all Ottawa citizens that we have the power to effect change and we will always encourage our elected officials to do more to protect the planet.”
Trailer “I will be a hummingbird”
Trailer for Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Mathaai http://greenbeltmovement.org/w.php?id=82