In Honor of Wangari Maathai, Remember What One Person Can Achieve

The world lost a brave and visionary champion when Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai passed away on Monday. Rightfully much has been written about her life, the Green Belt Movement she launched, and the 40 million trees that have been planted as a result of her work.

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But one of the things I find most inspiring about Maathai was her belief in people’s ability to change their surroundings. She was driven by a desire to fix a problem she saw in her own community in Kenya: impoverished women walking miles to get enough wood to cook for their families. Thanks to her creativity and determination, she identified a solution that spread around the globe. But she never forgot the power of one person to make a difference.

I had the privilege of meeting Maathai on several occasions, but I will never forget the first time. She was the guest preacher in a church I was visiting, and she told the story of a hummingbird. She said one day a terrible fire broke out in the forest, and all the animals were arguing about what to do and running in opposite directions.

The hummingbird, meanwhile, quietly went to the river, put a drop of water in its beak, flew back to the fire, and threw the water on the flames. She went back and forth between the river and the fire. The other animals watched her in disbelief. Finally one shouted, “What do you think you are doing?” The hummingbird answered, “I am doing what I can.”

Like the hummingbird, Maathai showed us just how powerful that can be.


Photo credit: Scott Schumacher