At launch, the Wangari Maathai Foundation unveils major project for environment and society

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Wanjira Mathai (L) and Kenya’s First Lady HE Margaret Kenyatta at the launch of the Wangari Maathai Foundation. Photo courtesy via Twitter.

Hundreds of friends, partners and supporters joined the family of Kenya’s celebrated environmentalist and Africa’s first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in launching the Wangari Maathai Foundation, on 11 March 2016.

The colourful event at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi was hosted by the Foundation’s Chair, Professor Maathai’s daughter Wanjira Mathai, and had Kenya’s First Lady, HE Margaret Kenyatta, EGH, as Chief Guest.

As part of the launch the Maathai family unveiled the Foundation’s premier legacy project, the Wangari Muta Maathai (WMM) House, a development that will, through its design and programs, perpetuate the vision, spirit and green ethos of Maathai, who passed away in September, 2011.

Seeds of hope and peace

People will go to the house to learn more about, and be inspired by Wangari Maathai’s unwavering action for trees, which she called “the seeds of hope and the seeds of peace.” The house will also be a venue for meeting, sharing and organizing for green and peace-building initiatives.

Envisioned as a “Restorative sanctuary, Living memorial and Green classroom,” the WMM House will be built on a 6-acre parcel of land within the training center of the Green Belt Movement in Karen, a Nairobi suburb, using the most sustainable ‘green’ materials and approaches possible. The Foundation is currently raising the remaining resources for the House’s construction, expected to begin in 2017.

In her speech to inaugurate the Wangari Maathai Foundation, HE Margaret Kenyatta spoke of the myriad environmental challenges facing the world in the 21st century, but also her hope in the vision of Wangari Maathai, the Foundation and the WMM House project. HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, and American media proprietor, talk show host, actress and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey, also sent video messages putting their weight behind the Foundation’s vision and exciting WMM project.

Social transformation

“From climate change to conservation, from policy to political responsibility, from civil war to terrorism, our world is not perfect… So our work is not done just yet,” said Kenya’s First Lady.

“The Wangari Muta Maathai House will serve as a hub for global catalysts for change. It will inspire and educate. It will be a place where all kinds of people—creatives, thinkers, organizers, students, politicians and professionals—can collaborate towards social transformation. Where they will be challenged to discover what ‘little thing’ they can do to serve the world.

“Wangari Maathai did her part; it’s now our time,” she stated.

Wanjira Mathai, who is also the Chair of the Green Belt Movement, said the WMM House, whose idea was born nearly five years ago, would allow people from Kenya and around the globe to share in the values, aspirations and accomplishments of her illustrious mother.

Its permanent and interactive exhibition will be designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the world’s leading museum designers, and have as a centerpiece Wangari Maathai’s 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

Maathai’s many other global and local awards, and personal mementos will also be showcased there. These will include her unpublished writings.

“Many people don’t know that our mother wrote all her speeches. Deep in the night, my brothers and I would hear the ‘click, click, click’ of the computer; mummy would be literally downloading her thoughts and musings…” said Wanjira Mathai.

Artist's aerial impression of the Wangari Muta Maathai House. Photo courtesy of the Green Belt Movement

Artist’s aerial impression of the Wangari Muta Maathai House. Photo courtesy of the Green Belt Movement

Gathering place

Oprah Winfrey said she met Wangari Maathai at the 2004 Nobel Awards ceremony, and the two “quickly became fast friends.”

“The Nobel Peace Prize housed at the WMM house will inspire a generation of young people to believe that anything is possible for them,” she said, and offered her vision of the Wangari Muta Maathai House:

“The House has to capture Wangari’s spirit: Open to all…thought-provoking…and beautiful. It will be a sanctuary, a memorial, a gathering place of women and change agents, a source of inspiration for future African and global leaders to lead purposeful lives. People young and old who visit the house will be able to tap into the life force of this great environmentalist,” said Winfrey.

Restorative power of nature

HRH Charles, Prince of Wales said the beautiful grounds of the WMM would “allow the restorative power of nature—which fed this remarkable woman and her indomitable spirit—to inspire more people to take up their responsibility to protect the rights of all species—including those that cannot protect themselves.”

“Wangari showed me, and so many others, the possibilities of hope and optimism, however difficult the situation,” said Prince Charles, a globally noted champion and campaigner for the sustainable farming and the environment.

“The house will encapsulate Wangari’s joy, her passion and her wisdom,”

The Green Belt Movement that Prof. Maathai founded has planted over 5 million trees and championed women's empowerment and good governance. Photo courtesy of the Green Belt Movement:

The Green Belt Movement that Prof. Maathai founded has planted over 5 million trees and championed women’s empowerment and good governance. Photo courtesy of the Green Belt Movement:

En-Courage Leadership and WanaKesho

“We want everyone who visits the WMM House to become more socially engaged, more compassionate, and more dedicated to the public good, said Wanjira Mathai.

She described the En-Courage Leadership and the youth-focused WanaKesho flagship projects to be run at the WMM, both designed to inspire and support courageous leadership and civic engagement in Kenya and beyond.

Ideas whose time has come

World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), a longstanding partner of the Green Belt Movement, was part of the Official Launch and tribute gala.

“The Wangari Maathai Foundation and its legacy project, the Wangari Muta Maathai House, are both ideas whose time has come. Their true magnitude and impacts on the environment and society will be felt for generations to come,” said the World Agroforestry Director General Anthony Simons.

These words recall those in Libby Roderick’s famous poem Winter Wheat, read in part by Wanjira Mathai at the launch event to illustrate the Foundation’s vision:

We will plant shade trees that we will not sit under
We will light candles that others can see their way
We’ll struggle for justice though we’ll never see it flower
Our children’s children will live in peace one day.


Learn more about:

Wangari Maathai Foundation:

the Wangari Muta Maathai house at:


Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences ( and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012. Twitter: @daisyouya

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