Thursday, May 04, 2006

An awesome Sunday with Wangari Maathai

Last Sunday, I had the privilege to meet and hear Professor Wangari Maathai, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement. She had come to Palo Alto to launch the East Palo Alto Tree Initiative organized by the city of East Palo Alto with the assistance of Canopy, a Palo Alto-based environmental organization.

The goal of the East Palo Alto Tree Initiative is to plant 1,000 trees in East Palo Alto by 2010, but Wangari Maathai does not think this number is high enough. As she was planting the first tree — an African olive tree from her country, Kenya — at the new Wangari Maathai Grove, she challenged the local residents to plant not one tree but at least 10 trees each. She herself helped African women plant 30,000 trees on their farms, and in the vicinity of their churches and children's schools.

Professor Wangari Maathai is a beautiful and charismatic woman who knows how to deliver powerful speeches. “Citizens need to be empowered.” she says, “They can't wait for the government or someone else to do it for them; they need to take action themselves.”

To illustrate her point, she likes to tell the tale of the hummingbird, a story that she heard in Japan:

When the forest where the hummingbird lived went up in flames, the other animals ran out to save themselves. But the hummingbird stayed, flying to and from a nearby river with drops of water in its beak to pour on the fire.

From a distance, the other animals laughed and mocked it. "What do you think you are doing?" they shouted. "This fire is overwhelming. You can't do anything."

Finally, the hummingbird turned to them and said, "I'm doing what I can."

After the planting tree ceremony, Canopy had organized a reception and dinner in her honor during which guests and local businesses could contribute to the initiative. The wine that was served at the dinner was generously offered by K&L Wine Merchants, Mumm Napa, Picchetti Winery and Ridge Vineyards. From K&L Wine Merchants, we had an organic wine, Domaine l'Attilon from the unusual Marselan variety, while Mumm Napa donated a refreshing sparkling rosé, Picchetti Winery, their crisp Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay, and Ridge Vineyards, their fruity Zinfandel Three Valleys blend.

Wangari Maathai with my friend Catherine Martineau, Canopy’s Executive Director

As I am writing this, I look out the window and notice that the hummingbirds are back, attracted by the tiny red flowers of the Rosemary Grevillea bushes that grow in my garden. I am thinking about the four R's she talked about during her keynote address: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle ... Repair. And all of a sudden, I am asking myself: how can I also become a hummingbird?

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Kuassi Mensah said...

It was a great, educational,and tasteful evening, indeed! I liked very much Canopy's initiative to help East Palo Alto plant trees!

Tanakasan said...

it's beautiful ...

Catherine Granger said...

thanks for the pictures! They're so cute!