‘It is 30 years since we started this work. Activities that destroy the environment and society continue. We must assist the Earth, to heal her wounds. In this process we will heal our own wounds. We must hold the whole creation close, in all its different forms, beauty and wonder.’
It was 2004. Wangari Maathai stood before a large crowd of people. She had just received the Nobel Peace Prize. Maathai was the first African woman to receive this global prize. It recognized her work for the environment, for women, and for democracy.
This article is on Wangari Maathai. In the 1970s, she started work to prevent the cutting down and damaging of forests. But this work led her into many other parts of Kenyan and global life.
Wangari Maathai was born in Kenya, in 1940. She said later that she was highly influenced by the natural world. As an adult, she remembered the clear stream of water next to her home as a child. She loved to play in this stream, and drink the water. In her Nobel Prize speech, she said,
‘I think about my childhood experiences. I would visit a stream next to our home to get water for my mother. I would drink water directly from the stream. I would play with the leaves in the stream. And I would try to touch the groups of frogs’ eggs. Later, I saw thousands of young frogs: black, energetic, and swimming through the clear water. This is the world I received from my parents.’
At this time, it was unusual for women to get an education. But Maathai received higher education in Kenya, and then studied in the United States and Germany. She was the first woman from East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree - the highest level of education a person can earn. She studied biology, and in the 1970s, she returned to Kenya to teach.
But Professor Maathai’s work was just beginning. She also became involved with women’s groups, including the National Council of Women. She began talking to poor women in the country. They told her about the many difficulties they faced.
But she also saw the bad environmental policies of the government. She was particularly concerned about the cutting down and damaging of forests. This process is called deforestation. In Kenya, people were cutting down trees to make larger farms.
Professor Maathai wanted to do something about deforestation. But she also wanted to do something for poor women. Women were greatly affected by deforestation. They had problems finding wood for cooking fires. The loss of forests polluted their water. This meant that they had to travel long distances to get water. And the larger farms were competing with the women’s small farms. This made it more difficult for poor women to make money, and to buy healthy food.
马塔伊教授 想要对森林砍伐之事有所行动，但她也希望为贫困的妇女们有所付出。这些 妇女们深受森林砍伐的后果所影响。连拾取木材来烹煮食物，对她们而言都成了问题。森林的流失也使得水源受到污染，造成她们要步行很远的路，才能找到可用的水。而大型农场，也和这些妇女所经营的小农场形成竞争，使得穷困的妇女赚钱更加不易，也很难买到有益健康的食物。
Professor Maathai had a simple idea to fight these problems: tree planting. She believed that if enough people worked together to plant trees, they could make a difference to the environment. And this would help many women. However, at first not many people believed in her ideas. She said,
‘It took me a lot of days and nights to persuade people that women could improve their environment without much technology and without much financial resources.’
But, she succeeded. From these small beginnings grew a successful project - the Green Belt Movement, or GBM. The Kenyan group was made up of mainly poor women. They came from the countryside areas of Kenya. GBM started in 1977. Since then, the women of GBM have planted around 40,000,000 trees across Kenya.
Planting trees is the most important part of their work. But it is not the only thing they do. These women work towards food security. Trainers educate group members in land management. They teach methods of farming healthy crops - without the use of chemicals.
And they help to empower people. They encourage local groups to act. They encourage them to help build river dams, transport tree seeds and plant them. GBM says that an empowered community does not only prevent environmental destruction. An empowered community also puts back what has been destroyed.
GBM’s work has also provided many jobs for local people. Over 30,000 women work at GBM. But it is not only the women who gain from the work of GBM. The work affects the whole county. An empowered community is a stronger community. A cleaner healthier environment is better for all people to live in.
People around the world have recognized the work of Professor Maathai and the GBM. However, the work was not easy. Professor Maathai was arrested several times for protesting against deforestation in Africa. She led demonstrations of women. And she opposed plans that damage the environment. She had to deal with many difficulties. But she did not permit such difficulties to stop her. In her Nobel Prize speech she said,
‘Many people have asked me through the years of struggle how I have kept going. They asked how I have continued even when people fought against my ideas. But we must not tire and we must not give up. I would like all young people, particularly, to be encouraged by this prize. Even though they face struggles, there is hope in the future in serving the common good. My experiences have taught me that service to others has its own special awards.’
Professor Maathai died on September 25, 2011. But her work will continue for many years. She planted thousands of tree seeds in her life. But more than this, she planted the seeds of hope into people’s hearts and minds. She said,
‘When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace. And we plant the seeds of hope. We also secure the future for our children.’
（此文经Spotlightradio同意做转载和翻译。你可以上网 http://www.radioenglish.net 听以慢速读出的这篇文章- ‘The Green Belt Movement’）
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