A tree for Wangari

By Chris Wamalwa in USA

Douglas Mwangi travelled more than ten hours from Tacoma to the US capital, Washington, DC and back to attend a tree planting ceremony in honour of the late Nobel Prize Laureate, Prof Wangari Maathai who passed away on September 25, 2011.

Though the whole tree planting ceremony lasted less than one hour, for Mwangi, the travel, accommodation and meals expenses associated with travelling half way across the continental US was a small price to pay for being a part of a historical moment meant to honour a true Kenyan hero.

For Mwangi, a college professor who has been living in the US since the early 1980s, the two thousand-plus dollars he spent on this trip was money well spent.

“We waste a lot more money and man-hours on Kenyan politicians who come here to campaign when its quite clear the only agenda they like to advance is the one that is meant to serve them, in most cases, at the expense of common folks.

How cool is it for me to spent my money and time honouring Prof Wangari, a woman who spent most of her life advocating for our basic human rights and preserving and protecting our environment?” Mwangi asked.

Mwangi is one of scores of Kenyans living in the US who turned up at the Kenyan embassy in Washington, DC on Mashujaa Day to witness a tree planting ceremony. Kenyan ambassador to the US, Elkanah Odembo, led the tree planting ceremony. For Mwangi and many others who attended the ceremony, the occasion provided an opportunity for them not only to mourn their fallen hero but also to celebrate her life in a symbolic tree planting ceremony.

“One of the major disadvantages of living far away from home is the reality that in most cases, you are not there to physically mourn your loved ones when they pass on. It’s therefore a blessing to finally have a visionary ambassador with an understanding of our needs and one who is willing to create a feeling of being at home away from home,” said Denzel Musumba, a radio host with East Africa Radio USA in reference to Odembo, who, in slightly over a year since he was appointed Kenya’s ambassador to US, has won the hearts and minds of many in the Diaspora.

Speaking shortly after the tree planting ceremony, Odembo said that the embassy in Washington, DC decided to use the occasion to honour the Prof Wangari who was not just a Kenyan but also an international hero.

“We all need to remember what a gift she was to us and so in her honour here today, in front of our embassy, we have planted a tree. This, I think is what Wangari (Maathai) would have wanted us to do on this day,” he said.

Making reference to the recent commissioning of Dr Martin Luther King’s memorial statue, which he had earlier visited, Odembo thanked the Kenya government for also erecting a statue in honour of the late Tom Mboya.

Eulogizing Prof Wangari later on in the evening during a reception at the National Geographic Centre, African Union ambassador to the US, Amina Ali said in Wangari’s passing, the Africa continent had lost a true people’s icon.

“Her Nobel Prize was not just a personal achievement. It was also an African achievement. The Green Belt Movement remains a unique contribution to the cause of humanity and mankind,” she said.

Speaking at the same function, Green Belt Movement US director, Stephen Mills assured the participants that the work that Wangari started shall live on long after she is gone.

“I’m here to tell you that the Green Belt Movement is strong because Prof Wangari ensured that it remains strong. In a month or so, we shall embark on elaborate commemorative meetings in Washington, DC, New York and San Francisco,” said Mills.

Others who spoke at the function included Elizabeth Guilband-Cox, head of communications at the UNEP regional office in the US and one of the late Prof Wangari’s student, Prof Callestus Juma.


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