by Wangari Maathai
I didn’t think digging holes and mobilizing communities to protect or restore the trees, forests, watersheds, soil, or habitats for wildlife that surrounded them was spiritual work.
During my more than three decades as an environmentalist and campaigner for democratic rights, people have often asked me whether spirituality, different religious traditions, and the Bible in particular had inspired me, and influenced my activism and the work of the Green Belt Movement (GBM). Did I conceive conservation of the environment and empowerment of ordinary people as a kind of religious vocation? Were there spiritual lessons to be learned and applied to their own environmental efforts, or in their lives as a whole?
When I began this work in 1977, I wasn’t motivated by my faith or by religion in general. Instead, I was thinking literally and practically about solving problems on the ground. I wanted to help rural populations, especially women, with the basic needs they described to me during seminars and workshops. They said that they needed clean drinking water, adequate and nutritious food, income, and energy for cooking and heating. So, when I was asked these questions during the early days, I’d answer that I didn’t think digging holes and mobilizing communities to protect or restore the trees, forests, watersheds, soil, or habitats for wildlife that surrounded them was spiritual work.