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Meet Environmentalist Wangari Maathai

Meet Environmentalist Wangari Maathai

One person is enough to change the world, says Jennifer Scarlott. Meet Wangari Maathai, an environmentalist, who was inspired by a little hummingbird’s tale.

Dear Cub kids,

There are many beautiful stories about determination and courageous struggle against great odds. One of my favourites is a parable (a simple story usually with a moral lesson) cherished by people all over the world who love and care for nature.

Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman, who created the Green Belt Movement in her country, mobilising rural women to restore their country’s degraded natural environment by planting trees, preventing deforestation, and preserving soil.
Photo: Antônio Cruz/Public Domain.

It has been told in many forms, and goes something like this. Lightning strikes, or a human is careless with a match, and a fire begins in the forest. All of the animals flee in great fear and alarm. When they reach a safe distance, they stop and watch the leaping flames in sorrow. They feel helpless and overwhelmed as they watch their forest home burn.

And then, Dukdukdiya, a tiny golden hummingbird, decides she must take action. Flying to a nearby stream, she swoops down and takes up a drop of water in her tiny beak. Then she flies swiftly to the burning forest, as all of the animals gaze at her in amazement.

Over and over again, Dukdukdiya flies from stream to forest, from forest to stream, releasing her little drops of water on the fire. Meanwhile, much larger animals including the elephant, with his great long trunk so useful for spraying water, sit and watch, feeling powerless to stop the terrible fire.

Finally, one of the creatures calls to the hummingbird. “Dukdukdiya, what in the world are you doing? You cannot hope to put out that great fire with your tiny drops of water! Your wings are too little, and your beak is so small!”

Pausing for a moment in her flight, Dukdukdiya turns to the other animals and says, “I am doing the best I can.”

This story is so powerful, because the tiny hummingbird, up against a raging fire, knows in her heart that the only way to respond is to act. She knows she is tiny. She knows she is insignificant against those big flames. But she can’t bear to simply sit and do nothing.

Two wonderful people who have worked hard to protect our planet from forces seeking to destroy it have always loved this little story of Dukdukdiya, and received inspiration from it. They are the Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibet, and Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman, who created the Green Belt Movement in her country, mobilising rural women to restore their country’s degraded natural environment by planting trees, preventing deforestation, and preserving soil.

Maathai is famous for a lifetime of hope and hard work for nature. Echoing the wisdom and courage of the hummingbird, she said, “We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!”

Doing something, Maathai always said, is better than doing nothing at all! Each one of us individually may be insignificant, but imagine our power if we all act, collectively! Imagine the fires we could put out then!

If you have access to a computer at home or school, here is a beautiful, animated film of the hummingbird’s story, narrated by Wangari herself. It will make you smile, and spend your lifetime carrying drops of water in your own small beak.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-btl654R_pY.

Your friend,

Jen.

Author: Jennifer Scarlott, First appeared in: Sanctuary Cub, September, 2014.

 
 
 

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