“Every person who has ever achieved anything has been knocked down many times. But all of them picked themselves up and kept going, and that is what I have always tried to do.

You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own, that they must protect them.”

Wangari Maathai at the Svalbard Global Seed VaultThe Nobel laureate from Kenya died yesterday in a Nairobi hospital from a prolonged battle with cancer. We had the privilege of interviewing interviewing Wangari Maathai several years ago, and she remains one of our more treasured interviews. But, it’s a song she sang for us that is etched in my memory.

In the waning moments of our conversation in a Minneapolis hotel room in the midst of a blizzard, we asked Ms. Maathai if she remembered singing any songs during her days of planting trees (estimated to be more than 45 million now) in Kenya. She replied:

“…we do sing sometimes, but those are very local songs. Like, one song I always sing when we are together with the women — here comes my faith — because there is a lot of our — people are still very religious, and so quite often when I’m talking to them I use religious songs. And one song that we always sing is one that says ‘There is no other god. There is no other god but Him. There is no other power but Him.’ It is like a chorus. You want me to sing for you?

And this kind of song would be appropriate because when we are singing, when we are moving, we always want it to be peaceful, non-violent, so singing religious songs was very common.”

She left us with this song (audio above), a native tune in Kiswahili that is often sung by members of the Green Belt Movement while planting trees. I used to sing it to my baby boys when they were upset in the middle of the night, a pacifier for both them and me.

On her Facebook page, fans are posting some beautiful, loving memories about her and the work she did. They’re definitely worth reading.

Share Your Reflection



I really enjoyed her interview....listened to it while I was Nicaragua looking out over tin roofs, dreaming of trees.  Thank you for posting this. Candles alight around the world for Mama Maathai. 

I thank God for her life and for your interview with her. Her story touched me greatly. I am a pastor in the United Methodist Church and I have used her story about the missionaries who destroyed the trees to force her people into churches and, in turn, destroying the land as well many times in sermons and other presentations, either in the context of colonization, forced conversion or environmental stewardship.

And in every seed I collect today I will remember...truly saddened.  May she continue to inspire.

May her spirit live on in her good works. She was inspirational. 

I heard about her death this morning on the way to work. I was saddened by the news. I have Krista's interview of her on my phone and had just listened to it again last week. I know she will rest in peace. Her job here is done.

Wangari Maathai was one of a kind. She survived multiple beatings, teargas, and arrests -- all at the hands of the Kenyan government under Daniel arap Moi. In spite of everything she never gave up. She was a unifying figure in a country that has been and continues to be deeply divided. Had she been able to ascend to the Kenyan presidency the lives of all wananchi would have been so much better. Mama Miti, we will always remember you and love you!

How about every one planting a tree in honour and memory of this amazing woman?

That would be one of the finest ways to honor this lovely woman. I'm going to do just that. Thank you, Clare.

I so appreciate your sharing the audio clip of Professor Maathai's song along with your blog post about her. Hearing the sound the sound of her voice brings back wonderful memories.  I was fortunate to work with her for a short while two decades ago, but the impression she made on me has lasted a lifetime.  I have linked to your blog post from mine so that readers of my story can hear her voice for themselves.  The sound brings her story to life so beautifully and is a lovely way to continue to keep memory close.

My story of her as at: http://storiesatstudiolu.wordp...

Thank you for leaving such a beautiful message from a beautiful lady.

Wangarri Maathai speaks of her deep faith in God and leaves us with her song of praise. Being in touch with her most innermost self, this special woman was able to guide the women of her country to create significant changes in their environment. Planting ten million trees to ward off erosion, providing firewood and meaningful work for the community brought the community from a place of degradation to a more stable and healthy ecosystem.

She will be missed by all , may god bless her.

I consider Ms. Maathai a modern prophetess and a relevant saint whose indomitable soul sailed over the waves of human ignorance, greed for power, wealth by not only planting millions of trees but most of all by making the world  become aware of the intimate parallelism of the ability and power of trees and women in giving life and nurturing life in different creative forms of services so that in disrespecting and exploiting them both, humanl life is not only degraded but in danger of fatal consequences. to human existence and our earth's ecology.

Crista, and all you folks that are responsible for this show, I just marvelled at the interview with Wangari Maathai!  I know it took place a few years ago, but still, it was just wonderful!  Thank you!

It may have been her Catholic upbringing, we have that in common, in any case, she and I arrived at many of the same observations about the meaining of life and the role we individuals are to play while on earth. And even all the connections you made with trees, the well-being of people, etc. Wonderful!  I feel the same way.
We are so closely connected, Wangari - sisters!  I'm sure of it. You died at 71 and I'm already 76.
So, I look forward to being with you someday. (No pun intended.)  Do you suppose it'll work like that?  

Lorrie Greco

Thank you for sharing this song and the interview with Dr. Maathai this weekend. The world has lost a gentle soul.

What an inspirational woman! May her spirit sing with the rustling leaves!