Winning the Noble Peace prize has consequences.
For Wangari Maathai whose Green Belt Movement's planting 30 million trees got the world's attention, the Nobel win has brought on an expansion of her work to the United States. She and her daughter, Wanjira Mathai, who have extensive travel schedules, numerous interviews and fielding the world's lecture circuit on their plates, now have an outpost in Westchester, a suburb of New York City.
The role of this office is to promote key points in their strategic plan, which includes empowering individuals worldwide to protect the environment and to promote good governance and culture.
"If there is a fit in the United States and elsewhere, like Haiti, we will pursue it," the thirty- something Wanjira Mathai tells the AFRican cheerfully over lunch. GBM International will take the novel approach of working with individuals and grassroots organizations."
Acknowledging how more Americans are using recyclables, working with green design and steadily consuming hybrid vehicles, Mathai is optimistic that it will become the norm soon. "The wave will happen from the people and the government will have to follow. This country is full of people who are environmentally conscious," she says.
In recent years, with parts of America's Gulf Coast's being battered by deadly hurricanes, GBM International is continuously discussing what steps are needed to cover and rebuild this area, and the ecosystem there. It is determined to identify and work with concerned citizens towards facilitating the goals of the local communities. GBM International would like Gulf Coast area homes to have at least 10 trees on the grounds as part of the continuing rebuilding process. But is planting trees really enough to address ecological imbalances? Especially when they are tightly wound in historic structures of racism and poverty? Politics and ecology are complicated and environmental groups can be territorial. Clearly, Mathai has much to learn about environmental racism in the U.S.
However, their work in Africa continues. Mathai described the importance of their coordination efforts with high-ranking officials from Central African governments. Both Maathai and Mathai engage in the work of the Central African Forests Commission, known as COMIFAC
A recent documentary, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathia?was produced, telling the dramatic story of the Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate whose simple act of planting trees grew into a nationwide movement to safeguard the environment, protect human rights, and defend democracy.
Mathai requests that Africans living in America be good spokes-people for the continent. ”There's a lot of hope for Africa. Galvanize your resources. Your work emphasizing corporate responsibility programs is needed, but support grass roots programs like the Green Belt movement. Be their ambassador.”
For those of us living in the glass and brick huts of densely built cities, the advocacy of and protection of open green spaces in our cities is a small but necessary step. Mathai advises that they needn't always be parks but simple common spaces and road reserves. Her parting words noted that activism starts when we develop attachments to the natural world. Ultimately GBM International aims to raise our level of consciousness to the point where there is outrage when green areas are taken away.
Today, there are more than 6,000 Green Belt nurseries throughout Kenya that generate income for 150,000 people, and thirty-five million trees have deeply altered the physical and social landscape of the country…and as Maathai would say, “and counting…”
(EDITOR'S NOTE: ALL UPDATES BY EDITOR)