What would you do if you found a little girl struggling to find her way through the crowd just to shake the hand of a very prominent person who happens to be her role model? Well, they say that in every smiling face lies a hidden story, 14 Years ago, I had a dream. I had always wanted to meet and shake the hand of the late Professor Wangari Maathai to an extent of always squeezing my tiny self through the crowd whenever she held political rallies. Having been born and raised in Nyeri County, Tetu constituency, the late professor Wangari Maathai was my member of parliament at a time when I was only 7 years old. I always loved and admired her love for the environment and particularly trees.
While sitting round the fire place in the evening, I loved how my grandmother would share story’s concerning Wangari Maathais’ conservation works. Little did she know that she was planting a seed in me to emulate this great conservationist. My grandmother valued education so much and I remember, she always encouraged me to study hard just like Wangari Maathai if at all I ever wanted to meet her. I heeded to her advice and my performance began improving in school because I had a driving force. I planted my first tree at the age of 7 years old when I joined the wildlife and environmental club in primary school. I was so sensitive about trees to an extent that I always got home early as I wasn’t playing around with leaves on my way home from school. Professor Wangari Maathai used her heart and hands to sow seeds for the future which we are now reaping. She was selfless and fought for the environment jealously with future generations in mind.
There is always a price attached to every positive change, but when it came to environmental conservation, Wangari Maathai stood out, she didn’t mind paying the heavy price. Some called her mad, she received all sorts of insults, risked her own life and they even jailed her but she had a vision and was confident about spreading the same message. Despite all this, her struggle and legacy stood out. She had no selfish motives, she was only fighting for a better future. She spent most of her life planting trees, empowering people, promoting peace and creating awareness on environmental conservation.
Well, the journey to my dream wasn’t so easy, but lets see if it ever came to pass. My love for the environment doubled when I got to high school because my knowledge on the same was also scaling up. I worked towards my envisioned dream and I remember reviving the Weather and Environmental club in Kangubiri Girl’s High School where I was admitted after passing my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE). By the time I was in form two, I already knew that I wanted to become an environmentalist. Well, I sounded crazy because I was the odd one out in my class alongside; doctors, nurses, pilots, managers and engineers, but I had a dream and giving up was not an option. My geography teacher always encouraged me and the school also assigned us a portion of land where we planted and adopted trees. 25th of September 2011 was a very sad and emotional day for me when I heard of the demise of the late professor Wangari Maathai. I knew that it marked the end of my dream of ever meeting her or even shaking her hand. This meant that every effort that I had made to fulfill this dream had all gone down to the drain. At first, I lost the meaning of studying but then something in my inner spirit kept telling me that all was not lost and I immediately began walking into libraries just to check for any written material about the late professor Wangari Maathai.
I read books about her; the first one being unbowed; which I realized motivated me and inspired me to stand strong and follow in her footsteps. I may not have met her physically, but her legacy reigns on, I’m happy that I am now reaping the seeds that she sowed during her time and the only way I can give back is to follow in her conservation footsteps for the sake of my future generations. I am now more than ever before, determined to leave my mark just as the late Nobel prize winner did. She always loved quoting that “We are called to assist the earth heal her wounds and, in the process, heal our own.”
I am not only passionate about the environment but I also study a course in environment and I love exploring different ideas just to be part of the solution towards different global environmental challenges. Today is Wangari Maathai Day, a day set aside in honor of the late Nobel prize winner; professor Wangari Maathai. I decided to honor her by sharing part of my untold childhood story as she plays a major role in my journey as an environmentalist. Your legacy reigns on and you will forever remain in our memory. Let us together protect and fight for our environment jealously and never let whatever she fought for get down to the drain. Happy Wangari Maathai Day and remember to always plant trees in her honor by making tree planting your habit.
Writer, Elizabeth Wanjiru Wathuti – Liz Mazingira 4th Recipient of Wangari Maathai Scholarship Award.
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