National Geographic Society Newsroom

In Remembrance of Wangari Maathai

  Anyone who had the privilege of meeting Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai knows that a good dose of the inspiration she so generously imparted emanated from her amazing smile.   As courageous as she was warm, Maathai stood tall and strong in the face of incredible adversity in her Kenyan homeland, just as she hoped the...

 

Anyone who had the privilege of meeting Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai knows that a good dose of the inspiration she so generously imparted emanated from her amazing smile.   As courageous as she was warm, Maathai stood tall and strong in the face of incredible adversity in her Kenyan homeland, just as she hoped the 30 million trees planted through her Green Belt Movement would stand over time.

Maathai, who died last month at the age of 71, had a special appreciation for water.  In the conclusion of her 2004 Nobel speech in Oslo, Norway, she told of visiting a stream next to her childhood home to collect water for her mother, and how she drank straight from it and watched thousands of tadpoles wriggle free from their eggs into the clear water.

“This is the world I inherited from my parents,” Maathai said.

“Today, over 50 years later,” she continued, “the stream has dried up, women walk long distances for water, which is not always clean, and children will never know what they have lost. The challenge is to restore the home of the tadpoles and give back to our children a world of beauty and wonder.”

I met Wangari Maathai only once, but my friend, the award-winning film producer Linda Harrar, spent considerable time filming Maathai for the 1990 Race to Save the Planet series for public television.

Listen to Harrar’s remembrance of Wangari Maathai– and the voice of Wangari herself – in this WGBH radio tribute.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of the world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit www.nationalgeographic.org or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Sandra Postel
Sandra Postel is director of the Global Water Policy Project and author of Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity. From 2009-2015, she served as Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society. Sandra is also co-creator of Change the Course, the national water stewardship initiative awarded the 2017 US Water Prize for restoring billions of gallons of water to depleted rivers and wetlands. The recipient of several honorary degrees, she works to bridge science, policy, and practice to promote innovative ways of securing water to meet both human and ecosystem needs.