We join the rest of the world to celebrate the eventful life of an African icon, the late Wangari Maathai, who stands tall as a shining example of greatness for all to emulate. The first female Ph.D holder in anatomy from Kenya, the first female East African professor, the first African woman and the first environmentalist to win a Nobel Prize; Maathai is celebrated for her many firsts as well as her passion for the environment, democracy, sustainable development and womanhood.
But it wasn’t always rosy. She was born into a family of humble means, but that didn’t stop her. Maathai proved to be a bright student and earned scholarships to pursue her studies. After years of struggling for his political success, her ex-husband Mathai, asked for a divorce, claiming she was too strong-willed and independent for his liking. He publicly accused her of infidelity and cruelty, and had the marriage annulled. He demanded she dropped his name Mathai, and in defiance she added an “a” to become Maathai. But even that didn’t stop her.
Her mobilization of women for their emancipation, her passion for the environment and for the entrenchment of true democracy in Kenya made her an easy target for the Government of the time. Assassination threats, police brutality, and plenty of prison-time became the norm for her. But all that still didn’t stop her. She kept at it and made a name for herself and for her work with the environment. Because she wouldn’t let life’s difficulties stop her, she soon caught the world’s attention, and in 2004 she became Africa’s first female Nobel Laureate.
So what will be your excuse? If Wangari Maathai could turn around her life’s story – by planting trees and making her voice heard everywhere she went – then surely you can make a name for doing anything worthy so long as you keep at it. Your challenge might be from your background, it may be financial, it may be the relationship in which you currently find yourself, or from societal pressures. Refuse to be held back by circumstance, and turn what could otherwise be an ordinary life into a story worth telling.
*Wangari Maathai 1940-2011