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.