Inauguration of the Wangari Maathai Memorial Garden: A Canopy of Hope
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.
For the forest to be prosperous
For the trees to grow big
We pray to God to make it beneficial to us
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.
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:
A tree is planted in memory of SFS Kenya alumna Heather Jo Leibowitz.
Guests help plant new trees for the garden.