Wangari Maathai and Hope

Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) was the founder of the Green Belt Movement and the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

I remember a moment shortly after she was awarded the Nobel Prize, I was celebrating her recognition; I was happy about her work being recognized and about finally a woman being selected. The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 96 times to 129 laureates. Of those 129 laureates, 26 are organizations and 93 are individuals.  Roughly 52% of the world’s population are women, so you would expect about 48 of those individuals to be women, but your expectations would be shattered. Only 16 women have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. So I am always delighted when a woman is named.

And I remember a splash of cold water that was sprinkled across my joy when I mentioned Wangari Maathai’s selection to one of my friends who said, “Her! All she does is plant trees!”  But of course, there is so much more to planting trees than just planting trees. So, here is a little bit about Wangari Maathai – just because she is on my mind these days . . .

Wangari Muta Maathai was born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya (Africa), in 1940. She obtained a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas (1964), a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1966), and pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, before obtaining a Ph.D. (1971) from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy. The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, Professor Maathai became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively. In both cases, she was the first woman to attain those positions in the region.

The Green Belt Movement (GBM) is an environmental organization that empowers communities, particularly women, to conserve the environment and improve livelihoods. GBM was founded by Professor Wangari Maathai in 1977 under the auspices of the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK) to respond to the needs of rural Kenyan women who reported that their streams were drying up, their food supply was less secure, and they had to walk further and further to get firewood for fuel and fencing. GBM encouraged the women to work together to grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil, store rainwater, provide food and firewood, and receive a small monetary token for their work.

And here is Wangari Maathai in her own words:

It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.

When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope.

African women in general need to know that it’s OK for them to be the way they are – to see the way they are as a strength, and to be liberated from fear and from silence.

And so I’m saying that, yes, colonialism was terrible, and I describe it as a legacy of wars, but we ought to be moving away from that by now.

 

And from this I will be remembering, attention to details, that every action contains within it the seeds of much larger actions, that there is strength in who we are as we are, and the importance of learning from the past and then getting over it and moving on to build the future for which we hope.

So, let’s get out our shovels and spades and begin to plant the seeds of the world of our best dreams!

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Emily Greene Balch a Woman for Peace

Time and place do matter. Where and when you were born, who you know and associate can make all the difference in how your life plays out, and in how your actions and work are regarded and remembered. Sometimes even monumental greatness is overshadowed by another person’s fame.

For example, Jane Addams comes as close to achieving household recognition as is probable for any social worker. And rightly so. She is a grand mother of the settlement house movement in the United States. Her Chicago based Hull House was the home to dozens of nationally recognized reform minded women. She helped to found the Women’s International League for Peace and freedom, and she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

And then there is Emily Greene Balch. “Who?” you ask.  To which I reply, “my point exactly!” Emily Greene Balch, born on January 8, 1867 in Boston, MA; died January 9, 1961, 94 years old. And what a 94 years they were.

Emily Greene Balch won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 when she was 79 years old. It is interesting to me that even discussions of her as one of very few women Nobel Laureates often begin by noting that she was a colleague of Jane Addams.  But, Emily Greene Balch stands as her own woman who warrants recognition for her contributions and accomplishments.

Emily Greene Balch graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1890, a member of the college’s first graduating class. She was awarded Bryn Mawr’s first Fellowship and used that to study Paris’s economy which led to the publication of her first book, Assistance of the Poor in France. She was 26 when the book was published.  She then returned to the United States, took a job as a social worker with the Boston Children’s Aid Society, and founded the Dennison House Settlement. After further studying economics, in 1897 she became a professor at Wellesley Women’s College where she taught for 21 years until 1918.  Of course while she was teaching she remained internationally active, working to improve economic and social living conditions, and actively advocating for peace throughout the world.

So, she ‘left’ Wellesley in 1918. Why would she leave an academic position when she was only 51? Clearly that was too young to retire. Depending on how you read the story, the long and short of it is that she was ‘let go’ by the college for her outspoken peace work.  Emily had taken a leave from Wellesley to study the living condition of Slavic people.  As the conflict of World War I spread throughout Europe in 1914, she became more vocal and active in her work for peace, working with Jane Addams and Alice Hamilton.  Emily asked Wellesley to extend her leave so that she could continue her work for peace, and Wellesley not only declined to extend her leave but choose to terminate her contract instead.

Undaunted – well, daunted but undeterred, she took an editorial job with the Nation and continued to write books analyzing economic and social conditions and advocating for peace.  She was active with the International Congress of Women and helped to cofound the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She remained active within the women’s peace movement throughout her life.

Her Nobel Prize acceptance speech is titled: Toward Human Unity or Beyond Nationalism. If you are of a mind, you can read it at http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1946/balch-lecture.html.

It is worth the read.  Here are the last few paragraphs:

I have spoken against fear as a basis for peace. What we ought to fear, especially we Americans, is not that someone may drop atomic bombs on us but that we may allow a world situation to develop in which ordinarily reasonable and humane men, acting as our representatives, may use such weapons in our name. We ought to be resolved beforehand that no provocation, no temptation shall induce us to resort to the last dreadful alternative of war.

May no young man ever again be faced with the choice between violating his conscience by cooperating in competitive mass slaughter or separating himself from those who, endeavoring to serve liberty, democracy, humanity, can find no better way than to conscript young men to kill.

As the world community develops in peace, it will open up great untapped reservoirs in human nature. Like a spring released from pressure would be the response of a generation of young men and women growing up in an atmosphere of friendliness and security, in a world demanding their service, offering them comradeship, calling to all adventurous and forward reaching natures.

We are not asked to subscribe to any utopia or to believe in a perfect world just around the comer. We are asked to be patient with necessarily slow and groping advance on the road forward, and to be ready for each step ahead as it becomes practicable. We are asked to equip ourselves with courage, hope, readiness for hard work, and to cherish large and generous ideals.

 

Shortly before she died, Nobel Peace Laureate Emily Greene Balch wrote a poem she addressed to the “Dear People of China.” The last stanza read as follows:

Let us be patient with one another,

And even patient with ourselves.

We have a long, long way to go.

So let us hasten along the road,

The road of human tenderness and generosity.

Groping, we may find one another’s hands in the dark.

 

Let us all hasten along the road of human tenderness and generosity, groping to find one another’s hands in the dark!  Not a bad way to spend a life, I think!

Jane Addams and her meeting with Leo Tolstoy

Jane Addams has long been one of my heroes.  The woman had guts and grit. She took a while to find herself, but find herself she did, and she did it in an era when women were expected, when women were all but required to pass their lives barefoot and pregnant tending to hearth and home.

Miss Jane was born in Cedarville, Illinois on September 6, 1860. To help with time reference, the Civil war was fought from 1861 until 1865. Her mother died when Jane was very young, so she was mostly raised by her father. Jane and her dad had a very close relationship, and he saw to it that she was well educated, which was pretty ground breaking at the time. So, Jane finished college, and then stood there looking into the future and trying to envision her life and she drew a blank. For lots of reasons including health, she sank into a malaise – today we would probably call it depression. Fortunately for her, Jane was the daughter whose father had some means, so she was able to take a couple of trips to Europe and England.

While she was in England on her second trip she visited Toynbee Hall, which was a community of young people committed to helping the poor of London by living among them. She was inspired by what she saw, by the effect of their social reform efforts. So, home she came, she connected with her friend Ellen Starr Gates, and in September of 1889, together they started Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago. Now, it two sentences I have summed up years of work, some of it stumbling and bumbling. But, the outcomes were quite amazing.  Hull House initiated a little theater, a juvenile court, and labor organizations; worked for child labor laws, sponsored adult education courses, cultural exchange groups, and an endless list of progressive initiatives.  Hull House became a haven for independent women of fierce creativity and initiative. Many of the women were single, quite a few of them lived in committed relationships with other women. It is fairly well documented that Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith sustained a long term committed relationship.

So all of that is background for who Jane Addams was and the work that she did. But one of my favorite stories about Jane Addams is related to one of her heroes, Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy was a writer and an activist in Russia.  He profoundly advocated solidarity with the common laborer.  In 1896, just about 7 years after she founded Hull House, Jane was recovering from typhoid, and so took a bit of a vacation to Europe with Mary Rozet Smith. While they were there they traveled to see Tolstoy. Story has it that Tolstoy came in from working in the fields, wiped his hands in a towel, took one look at the pair of women who were dressed in the style of the time in long dresses with billowing sleeves, and he said, “Madame I was told you were a reformer who worked with the poor, but the fabric on one arm of your dress would generously make an entire frock for a girl!” Jane was taken aback, but stood her ground. They talked for a while longer, and then Tolstoy learned that part of the funding for Hull House came from Jane Addams estate which included a working farm. Tolstoy then bellowed something like, “So you are an absentee landlord? Do you think you are helping the people more by adding yourself to the crowded city than you would by tilling your own soil?”

A bit taken shaken by the encounter, Jane and Mary left their interview with Tolstoy and continued their trip with the luster of her hero tarnished and with Jane questioning her own confidence and her approach to working at Hull House. When she returned to Chicago she began working in the Hull House bakery. But, by the time her hours at the bakery were done, there would be lines of people waiting to see her, piles of letters waiting to be answered, and human needs and wants waiting. So she decided that saving her soul by baking bread did not justify setting aside the need of real human beings. Rather she saw the value of compassionate and caring leadership.

Was Jane Addams extravagant in her dress? Was Tolstoy self-indulgent in his labor? Time and place matter. The lessons that I take from all of this include the importance of finding your own passions and working to nurture them, and the importance of open, honest, ongoing self-awareness and self-criticism, and the importance of a wide circle of friends whose ideas differ from your own, and who will speak the truth of their hearts to you.

Just to bring things to their proper conclusion, Hull House was not Jane Addams only significant engagement or contribution. She was also a major figure in work for peace in her era. Her peace work was initially strongly criticized, but ultimately she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. She spent the last years of her life working for world peace and an end to racism. Addams died of cancer on May 21, 1935, may she rest in the peace for which she so tenaciously labored.

 

Malala Yousafzay and Kailash Satyarthi and the Nobel Prize 2014

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2014

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 is to be awarded to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.  Children must go to school and not be financially exploited.  In the poor countries of the world, 60% of the present population is under 25 years of age.  It is a prerequisite for peaceful global development that the rights of children and young people be respected.  In conflict-ridden areas in particular, the violation of children leads to the continuation of violence from generation to generation.

Showing great personal courage, Kailash Satyarthi, maintaining Gandhi’s tradition, has headed various forms of protests and demonstrations, all peaceful, focusing on the grave exploitation of children for financial gain.  He has also contributed to the development of important international conventions on children’s rights.

Despite her youth, Malala Yousafzay has already fought for several years for the right of girls to education, and has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations.  This she has done under the most dangerous circumstances.  Through her heroic struggle she has become a leading spokesperson for girls’ rights to education.

The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.  Many other individuals and institutions in the international community have also contributed.  It has been calculated that there are 168 million child labourers around the world today.  In 2000 the figure was 78 million higher.  The world has come closer to the goal of eliminating child labour.

The struggle against suppression and for the rights of children and adolescents contributes to the realization of the “fraternity between nations” that Alfred Nobel mentions in his will as one of the criteria for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Oslo, 10 October 2014

 

 At 17, Malala is the youngest person ever to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. Here is a little bit about who she is and the work she is doing, from her web page http://www.malala.org/#1

Malala Yousafzay was born on 12 July 1997, in Mingora, the Swat District of north west Pakistan. She was named Malala, after Malalai, the famous Pashtun Heroine. Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai is a poet, and runs a public school. He is a leading educational advocate himself. In 2009, Malala began writing an anonymous blog for the BBC expressing her views on education and life under the threat of the Taliban taking over her valley. During this period, the Taliban’s military hold on the area intensified. As the Taliban took control of the area they issued edicts banning television, banning music, and banning women from going shopping and limiting women’s education. A climate of fear prevailed and Malala and her father began to receive death threats for their outspoken views. As a consequence, Malala and her father began to fear for their safety. After the BBC blog ended, Malala was featured in a documentary made for The New York Times. She also received greater international coverage and was revealed as the author of the BBC blog. In 2011, she received Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize and she was nominated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize. Her increased profile and strident criticism of the Taliban caused Taliban leaders to meet, and in 2012, they voted to kill her. On 9 October, 2012, a masked gunman entered her school bus and asked for Malala by name. Malala was shot with a single bullet which went through her head, neck and shoulder. Two of her friends were also injured in the attack. Malala survived the initial shooting, but was in a critical condition. She was later moved to Birmingham in the United Kingdom for further treatment at a specialist hospital for treating military injuries. She was discharged on January 3, 2013 and moved with her family to a temporary home in the West Midlands. It was a miracle she was alive. Ehsanullah Ehsan, chief spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that Yousafzai was a symbol of the infidels and obscenity. However, other Islamic clerics in Pakistan issued a fatwa against the Taliban leaders and said there was no religious justification for shooting a schoolgirl. Her assassination attempt received worldwide condemnation and protests across Pakistan. Over 2 million people signed the Right to Education campaign. The petition helped lead to the ratification of Pakistan’s first right to education bill. Her shooting, and her refusal to stand down from what she believed was right, brought to light the plight of millions of children around the world who are denied an education today. Malala became a global advocate for the millions of girls being denied a formal education because of social, economic, legal and political factors. She started the Malala Fund to bring awareness to the social and economic impact of girls’ education and to empower girls to raise their voices, to unlock their potential, and to demand change.

 

 

And, here is a bit about Kailash Satyarthi from his web page Kailash Satyarthi was born on January 11, 1954. He is a human rights activist from India who has been at the forefront of the global movement to end child slavery and exploitative child labor since 1980 when he gave up a lucrative career as an Electrical Engineer for initiating crusade against Child Servitude. As a grassroots activist, he has led the rescue of over 78,500 child slaves and developed a successful model for their education and rehabilitation. As a worldwide campaigner, he has been the architect of the single largest civil society network for the most exploited children, the Global March Against Child Labor, which is a worldwide coalition of NGOs, Teachers’ Union and Trade Unions. As an analytical thinker, he made the issue of child labor a human rights issue, not a welfare matter or a charitable cause. He has established that child labor is responsible for the perpetuation of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, population explosion and many other social evils. He has also played an important role in linking the fight against child labor with the efforts for achieving ‘Education for All’.