Tribute to Wangari Maathai at European Parliament

On 17 October, Member of the European Parliament Kriton Arsenis hosted the screening of the film “Taking Root”, which tells the story of Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai, who passed away on 25 September last after having lost a brave fight against cancer at the age of 71. Her simple act of planting trees grew into a nationwide movement to safeguard the environment, protect human rights, and defend democracy and women’s rights.

Monica Jacobs at screening for Wangari Maathai Photo: IUCN/Liza Drius

The screening was organized by MEP Arsenis in cooperation with IUCN and UNEP and was introduced by a panel of speakers.

Monica Jacobs, Head of the IUCN EU Representative Office, stressed the importance of forests and trees: “The current financial crisis shows us that we have to focus on finding the balance between economic, social and environmental aspects. IUCN believes that investing in forests offers a high return for humanity. What Wangari has done for Kenya and us all will always be remembered and inspire the present and future generations."

Wangari Mathaai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace prize and the first woman in Eastern Africa to hold a PhD. She was internationally recognized for starting the “Green Belt movement”, an initiative for which she became an iconic inspiration. To date, the Green Belt movement has planted over 35 million trees and employed about 900,000 women in tree nurseries.

H.E Kembi-Gitura, Ambassador of Kenya to the Kingdom of Belgium, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and Mission to EU referred to Wangari Maathai as an “admirable woman, a deep person and very forceful. She was the voice that changed pro-democracy in Kenya”. He also explained how she asked not to be buried in a wooden coffin but to be cremated so that no tree had to be sacrificed for her burial. A special casket was created for her by three artisans, made of hyacinth and bamboo.

Chris Vanden Bilcke, Head of the UNEP Liaison Office in Brussels said: “Wangari Maathai was the patron of UNEP’s billion tree campaign. UNEP lost a friend and an icon to the environmental movement but her spirit will move on and fight for a better future for all.”

“People don’t know how much they depend on the survival of the forest ecosystem. When they cut it down they are digging their own graves.” Extract from the movie, words by Wangari Maathai.

Ulrike Lunacek, Member of the European Parliament: “Wangari Mathaai was the first in so many areas, such as establishing a political party in Kenya that was not connected to a tribe but that was based on political ideas. Her talent was to make people understand how environmental problems are related to other problems. For example how health problems are related to the water retained in plastic bags is a breeding ground for insects that can transfer many diseases.”

Kriton Arsenis concluded by calling participants and society for action: “She taught all of us the value of the trees. Wangari Mathaai is now gone, but she left her legacy to all of us to continue her work and to fight for forests and the world not to be wasted”.

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