Wangari Maathai – Accidental Activist

When I recently read of the death of Wangari Maathai, my mind flashed back to the first time that I became aware of her.  I heard her being interviewed by Krista Tippett for the ‘Speaking of Faith’ podcast.  My first impression – and my abiding impression – was of an irrepressible spirit, who enjoyed life and lived her life to the full.  (It’s one of a handful of podcasts that I have retained for future reference/ to lift my spirits/ to restore my faith in humanity.  I will listen to it again in the next few days.)

Subsequently, I read her autobiography “Unbowed” and my admiration for her increased.  Over the next few days I want to post a few of my thoughts about Wangari Maathai.  Others have written knowledgeably and eloquently about her life – my intention is simply to record a few reflections.

Wangari describes herself as an ‘accidental activist’.  She found herself in a situation of observing and experiencing injustice and set out to do something about it.  What started as an effort to address the working conditions that she and a few female colleagues had to endure, became a much larger movement.  She acknowledged that spending time in the Unites States when the Civil Rights Movement was active was a significant influence on her life.

For me, this begs a question.  If we are shaped by the society that we grow up in, what is to become of my generation.  Has the ‘me first’ philosophy of the 1980s in the UK, led us to be unthinking passivists?

None of us can control every situation we find ourselves in.  What we can control is how we react when things turn against us.  I have always seen failure as a challenge to pull myself up and keep going.  A stumble is only one step in the long path we walk and dwelling on it only postpones the completion of our journey.  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.

(Unbowed, 164)

When I get into an environment, I tend to take it as it is.  I don’t presuppose what it should be like, so I’m therefore not disappointed if it is not what I expected; instead, I’m excited by its newness and difference.

(Unbowed, 107)


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