The Center for Neighborhood Technology  recalls a 2007 visit to a Chicago school by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai, who died Monday in Nairobi at the age of 71.
Maathai graced the Al Raby School for Community and Environment in East Garfield Park to attend the dedication of a natural garden that was named for her, one of CNT’s first green infrastructure projects. The 1,500 square-foot native woodland garden at the school’s entrance is “not only beautiful; it also connected the students to nature by providing a hands-on experience in landscape design, creation, and maintenance,” CNT writes.
“At the garden dedication, Ms. Maathai drew a connection between the work of the students on Chicago’s West Side to students around the world who ‘get down on the ground’ to plant gardens as a means of making the world more peaceful and just.
“Ms. Maathai said that the project was a microcosm of what can be repeated globally, from Chicago to Kenya. ‘It is this type of activity that should be replicated a billion times throughout the world,’ she stated.”
Obituaries in the Tribune  and Sun Times  recount the threats, jailings, and physical attacks Maathai endured as her Green Belt Movement  moved beyond planting trees to pressing for democracy in Kenya. (See this 2007 Newstip  for more on Maathai’s visit to Chicago.)
Yes! Magazine  recently carried an excerpt from Maathai’s 2010 book, “Replenishing the Earth”:
“After a few years I came to recognize that our efforts weren’t only about planting trees, but were also about sowing seeds of a different sort—the ones necessary to give communities the self-confidence and self-knowledge to rediscover their authentic voice and speak out on behalf of their rights (human, environmental, civic, and political).
“Our task also became to expand what we call ‘democratic space,’ in which ordinary citizens could make decisions on their own behalf to benefit themselves, their community, their country, and the environment that sustains them.”
Ultimately Maathai inspired the planting of millions of trees; as she taught, it’s an action so basic and yet so transformative. How wonderful that Chicago students planted trees and built a garden in her honor – a most fitting tribute to this heroic visionary.