Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kenya donation: Remembering Wangari Maathai

I received the news of the death of Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Kenyan environmentalist on Monday night from BBC.  It brought tears to my eyes. We were part of the large community of people whose lives she touched and inspired.

We were introduced to Maathai when Whirls and Twirls went to Kenya.  A number of the picture books we read were about Maathai's work and life.  When we read these books together, they imparted an understanding of the importance of helping others, protecting our environment, and standing up for what is right.  The Whirl Girl asked lots of questions as we read them.  She learned that some people in the world have less than others and we talked about what kinds of things we can do to help. 

At the same time, I read Maathai's memoir.  I was moved by her story, and especially, of her description of how her courage grew over time.  She did not set out to be such a force in Kenyan society and politics, but rather kept responding to the great needs that she saw in her country.  It was a good reminder to me of the importance of fighting injustice on scales small and large.

We gave our first donation to her organization, The Green Belt Movement, with a card made by The Whirl Girl.  The Whirl Girl still asks me out of the blue - four months later - if Wangari got her card. 

That isn't the only way Wangari is remembered in our house.  Each night when The Whirl Girl takes a bath turns the water off quickly instead of playing so that she doesn't waste water.  She tells us that doing so "makes Wangari happy."  And as we were driving around Singapore last week, we noticed that they were cutting down a row of trees near our house to widen the road.  The Whirl Girl told us that Wangari wouldn't like that, as she remembered the description of Maathai planting trees in the books we read.

One of my main goals for starting Whirls and Twirls was to encourage The Whirl Girl's capacity for empathy and to develop her sense of responsibility to the wider world.  Learning and talking about Maathai was our first "experiment" in actively doing so.  It was just as good of a lesson to me as a parent as it was to The Whirl Girl.  I am grateful to see firsthand that there are age-appropriate ways to expose my daughter to the harsher realities of the world and to nurture her ability to care for others and our environment.  

Thank you, Wangari, for sharing your story, your dreams, and your determination with us.  Thank you for inspiring our family to make the world a better place. 

1 comment:

  1. Very sad news, indeed. I'm happy to see that Sahana remembers and acts on what she learned from the book. Every month your wrap up post expresses doubts that she really got the whole project, but it appears that she is learning valuable lessons from all of this!