Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) was a visionary who was dedicated to addressing the roots of social and environmental issues. She has served as an inspiration for many in the fight for democratic rights and especially encouraged women to better their situation in Africa. She studied abroad in the United States during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and was the first woman to earn a doctorate degree in East and Central Africa. She reconnected with the rural women of her childhood, helping her fellow Kenyans deal with the issues stemming from a degraded environment: lack of firewood and clean drinking water, soil erosion, government corruption and human rights abuses.
Her passion for the environment led to the creation of the Green Belt Movement. In 2004, she was recognized for her efforts by being honored with the Nobel Peace Prize for her contributions to sustainable development, democracy and peace.
I found myself a woman fighting for justice, a woman fighting for equity. I started planting trees and found myself in the forefront of fighting for the restoration of democracy in my country.
Instead of viewing poverty, debt, human rights, social justice, environmentalism and women’s rights as isolated issues, Wangari Maathai addressed their connectivity and the relationships between them. Examining symptoms and root causes is how she succeeded in taking a seemingly simple idea, like tree planting, and used it to fight larger, underlying problems.
“Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai” is a wonderful documentary about the life of this champion of Africa and Africans. It includes resources that can be incorporated into the classroom to teach students about the work of Wangari Maathai.