Inauguration of the Wangari Maathai Memorial Garden: A Canopy of Hope

When we plant trees, we plant seeds of peace and hope.
Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her grassroots work on ecological restoration, as well as for demonstrating that there is a link between peace and environmental issues. The School for Field Studies (SFS) Kenya program has established a memorial garden in honor of the legacy of Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai. The garden is conceived as a space for teaching, research and community engagement as aligned with the Kenya program’s strategic research plan and overall goals. The garden was officially opened on 17th of December 2019 by the Chairperson of the Green Belt Movement (GBM), Marion Kamau. In attendance were guests from various schools in the US, community members, and government officials. The program began with a blessing ceremony led by community members. They also led the participants in invoking the divine through a prayer anchored on call and response as is common in many African traditions. In this tradition, the lead person makes a statement and the audience responds in unison. In the case of the Maasai people, the response is Nae.
We pray for the land
Response: Nae!
For the forest to be prosperous
Response: Nae!
For the trees to grow big
Response: Nae!
We pray to God to make it beneficial to us
Response: Nae!


Community members lead guests to the ceremony.


Marion Kamau, the Green Belt Movement chair, inaugurates the garden.

We all faced Kilimanjaro during this prayer because it is the mountain of God in Maasai cosmology. We used grass because grass is a sacred artifact. It is grass that feeds the cows and cows are a gift from God. Grass is also a symbol of peace. We began with this blessing ceremony to demonstrate that our scholarship is respectful of Maasai Indigenous environmental thought and culture.

Culture gives a people self-identity and character. It allows them to be in harmony with their physical and spiritual environment, to form the basis for their sense of self-fulfillment and personal peace. It enhances their ability to guide themselves, make their own decisions, and protect their interests. It’s their reference point to the past and their antennae to the future. Conversely, without culture a community loses awareness and guidance, and grows weak and vulnerable.
Wangari Maathai


Guests participate in the blessing ceremony.

We are thrilled by the success of the inauguration event and the garden. The trees are thriving and that is a great source of joy. We are working towards creating what Wangari Maathai referred to as ‘a canopy of hope’. We will continue to nurture them, to plant more trees, and to draw from the spirit and philosophy of Wangari Maathai, as articulated by the SFS president in an excerpt from his speech:

Despite being beaten and jailed for having the courage to speak truth to power, I never saw in her a trace of bitterness or self-pity. She always carried with her the willingness to see good, or the opportunity for good, in anything or anyone. To be in the presence of Wangari was to be in the presence of greatness that is also good; greatness that came from the heart; greatness that flowed from the courage of her convictions. So, today, as we celebrate Wangari through the dedication of a memorial garden in her name, let us reaffirm our commitment to acknowledging the dignity of our fellow human beings; being responsible stewards of the earth; and having the courage to be faithful to those principles that give our lives purpose and meaning.
James Cramer



A tree is planted in memory of SFS Kenya alumna Heather Jo Leibowitz.


Guests help plant new trees for the garden.

→ Wildlife and Water Studies in Kenya