Women That Helped Change The World, The Series: Professor Wangari Muta Maathai, founder of The Green Belt Movement in Kenya

Wangari maathai

Wangari Muta Maathai

2004 Nobel Laureate, Founder of the Green Belt Movement, environmentalist and activist for social change

“It is the people who must make their leaders change so we must stand up for what we believe in.”



Wangari Muta Maathai was born April 1, 1940 in the small rural town of Nyeri, Kenya. During her long life, she was a tireless activist for social change and environmental responsibility.  She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004  “for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace”.  She was Wangari Maathai Nobel Prizeinternationally recognized as the first black woman and the first environmentalist to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  She passed away on September 25, 2011 at the age of 71 after a lifetime of hard earned achievements, including many firsts for women, that created lasting change in the world.

Her future of promoting positive change in the world may have gotten its foothold in 1960, after she was awarded a scholarship which allowed her to attend college in the United States. She obtained a Bachelors Degree in Biological Science from Mount. St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas in 1964 and then a Masters Degree in Biological Science from the University of Pittsburg in 1966.  She returned to Kenya where she attended the University of Nairobi and obtained her PhD in Biology in 1971 to become the first woman from East and Central Africa to obtain a doctorate degree.  Then, from 1976 through 1977, she was hired as an associate professor at the University of Nairobi becoming the first female professor from her home country of  Kenya.

Professor Maathai choice to major in biological science likely stemmed from her close relationship with  nature as a child. In her book, Unbowed: A Memoir, she discusses  happy childhood memories of growing up playing under a large fig tree and trying to scoop up in her hands the lovely frog eggs she mistook for beads in the stream near  her home. The later destruction of that fig tree Wangari Maathai 9 which caused the stream she played in to dry up and her beloved frogs to disappear may have been one of the flames that ignited her passion to promote the deep connection she saw between the environment and human survival and social stability.  She stated in an interview that “children of the concrete jungle” in the cities know only to buy food from grocery stores. They don’t know to respect nature as the actual source of the food they eat. “Children of the soil” like herself who are “part and parcel of nature” know where their food comes from and they learn respect for the environment. She went on to state that without clean air, water, and soil, humans cannot survive.

“The generation that facilitates or is responsible for the environmental degradation is not the one that pays the price.”

In 1977, in an effort to protect the environment and to promote social change, Professor Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement.  At the time, she was working with the National Council of Women of Kenya to address the needs of rural Kenyan women.  Through her outreach to the local people, she was made aware of the economic devastation that was occurring due to mass deforestation by industry. Without trees, the water sources were drying up and firewood became a scarce commodity. This was especially hard on local women who relied on the environment for food, water, and firewood to support their families. The Green Belt Movement helped local women, who in turn encouraged others, to grow and plant trees in order to restore the environment and economic stability to the area. The Green Belt Movement also provided the women with a small amount of money for their work which aided in providing more economic independence for the women who participated.  According to The Green Belt Movement website, it is “an environmental organization that promotes conservation of the environment through planting trees which improves the economic power and viability of communities.”  To date, the Green Belt Movement has planted over 35 million trees.

Wangari Maathai 7

During this time, Professor Maathai and others came to realize that what was causing these hardships for the people and the environment “were deeper issues of disempowerment, disenfranchisement, and a loss of the traditional values” that had for generations allowed the people to live in harmony with each other and their environment. Professor Maathai was not shy about voicing her opinion and when she participated in a protest in opposition to the government,  she was severely beaten and injured.  According to Biography.com she would later state, “Nobody would have bothered me if all I did was to encourage women to plant trees, but I started seeing the linkages between the problems that we were dealing with and the root causes of environmental degradation. And one of those root causes was misgovernance.” Accordingly, the Green Belt Movement later created an educational program, called Community Empowerment and Education seminars, which promotes democracy by encouraging people to question why their voices are not being heard in relation to political, economic, and environmental circumstances.

“Everyone of us everyday of our lives either conduct ourselves in a way that promotes peace or in a way that invites conflict.”

Professor Maathai was very vocal for the rest of her life about her passions for the environment and democracy. She  went on to hold many important roles through which she could raise awareness and contribute to change.  In Kenya, after Moi’s political party lost control in 2002, Professor Maathai became a member of Kenya’s Parliament. From 2002 through 2007 she held such important positions in Parliament as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources and the Goodwill Ambassador to the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem.  In 2009, the United Nations Secretary General named  Professor Maathai a United Nations Messenger of Peace which served as yet another platform for her to voice her position on the environment and climate change.

Professor Wangari Muta Maathai was passionate about the environment and social justice right up to the end when ovarian cancer took her life in 2011. After her death, memorial ceremonies were held in Kenya, New York, San Francisco, and London to honor this beautiful unstoppable woman whose intelligence, courage, empathy, and persistence helped create lasting change on the issues of environmental responsibility and social justice. But perhaps more importantly, she helped change attitudes toward women and their potential to contribute to lasting change that will make this world a better place for us all.



Excerpt from the next article:

Women That Helped Change The World, The Series: Audrey Hepburn, Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF

Audrey Hepburn


Audrey Hepburn

Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF

I can testify to what UNICEF means to children, because I was among those who received food and medical relief right after World War II…”


Audrey Hepburn is most known for her acting, with such notable movies as My Fair Lady and Breakfast at Tiffany’s on her resumé.  But, this accomplished actress was at one time a child who experienced the devastation of World War II first hand.  She grew up to work with the very organization that came to her aid as a child after WWII,  The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).  She worked as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF to aid children just like herself.  She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George H.W. Bush for her work with UNICEF. Then, in 2002, a statue of Ms. Hepburn called “The Spirit of Audrey” was unveiled at the UNICEF headquarters in New York City.  It was dedicated to her posthumously in recognition of her work with children through UNICEF.


NEW SERIES: Women That Helped Change the World

To start off the New Year and to honor the incredible strength and deafening roar of millions of women over the last year who have claimed their rights to their voices and their futures with such monumental movements as the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement, I will write a series of articles showcasing the brilliant women throughout history whose inspired actions helped change the world.

Throughout human history, the accomplishments and contributions of women have been glossed over, forgotten, left out, or even attributed to men.  A few years back the names of Eleanor Roosevelt and Betty Friedan were front page news and today we have such fierce women as Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton as leaders to look up to.   The amazing accomplishments and contributions of these intelligent, capable,  and fearless women are well known and well deserved.  There are also many other women whose contributions to this world are equally important but their names and accomplishments have been forgotten or gone unrecognized.

This series will share the accomplishments and contributions of  brilliant and courageous women from all over the world whose inspired actions helped create change, for we must remember that perseverance and courage are the keys to change.

Below is an excerpt from the first article in the series:

Wangari Muta Maathai

2004 Nobel Laureate and Activist for Environment and Social Change

Wangari maathai

“It is the people who must make their leaders change so we must stand up for what we believe in.”

-Wangari Muta Maathai

Wangari Muta Maathai, creator of the Green Belt Movement and winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize,  was born April 1, 1940 in a small rural town in Kenya.  She grew up on a homestead near a large fig tree and small stream that she credited for helping her to understand the delicate connection between a healthy ecosystem and the survival of human kind.  She passed away September 25, 2011 after a lifetime of firsts for women in Africa including earning a PhD from the University of Nairobi in 1971.


The Enigma of Music

Have you ever listened to a song that caused the hair on the back of your neck to stand up? It’s called a frisson.  Your skin is reacting to the simple sound waves picked up by your ears. The question is: Why does it happen?

the brain

Image from: topnews.in

A frisson is defined as “a brief moment of emotional excitement” (A shudder or a thrill). Merriam-Webster.com   Scientists have long debated why some people have uncontrollable physical reactions, like goosebumps, to music. Researchers from Harvard and Wesleyan University conducted tests to answer that question. What researchers found is that people who react to music with frissons have a brain that is wired differently, with more nerve connections between the auditory and emotional centers of the brain, than people who don’t have this reaction. To learn more read: Smithsonian magazine online

It’s still unknown whether this reaction is an innate trait.  For those that have this ability, it’s an awesome physical gauge to judge a really great song.  If you’re in the mood for a frisson experience try listening to the late great singer/song writer Chris Cornell perform his song, “The Promise”  from the movie The Promise.

Update: Grammy Award nomination. The song “The Promise” written and performed by Chris Cornell has been nominated for a Grammy Award.  The Armenian Weekly has published a great article about the song “The Promise” which was written about the Armenian genocide that took place in Turkey in 1915 killing more than 1 million people.

Quote of the Day
“Music is supposed to be inspired.”
-Chris Cornell, American singer and song writer
(R.I.P. 1964-2017)

Who Was The Jewish Man Named Jesus?

Who was the Jewish man named Jesus? What did he look like? No one really knows.  There were no selfies back then. What did his voice sound like?  No one really knows. There were no voice recordings back then. What do we know?  From multiple writings from multiple sources we know that Jesus, the very real historical person, was a very intelligent, loving, and generous Jewish man who taught and exercised generosity, kindness, and forgiveness to all, for everyone, for those that agreed with him and those that didn’t, inclusive not exclusive, united not divided. That is what we do know of the Jewish man named Jesus.

For the new year: To all, to everyone, inclusive not exclusive, to those of all faiths and to all those without, for those that agree with me and those that don’t, I wish for you, a kind, loving, generous, and forgiving new year.  And, wishing that you too, will pay it forward, with kindness, love, generosity, and forgiveness to all, to everyone, those that agree with you and those that don’t,  inclusive not exclusive, united not divided.

Quote of the Day

“God bless us everyone.”

-spoken by the character, Tiny Tim, in Charles Dicken’s classic tale A Christmas Carol.


Actress Hedy Lamarr, The Mother of Modern Technology

Thanks to an invention by the incredibly intelligent actress Hedy Lamarr, modern technology includes cell phones, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. She invented the technology for frequency hopping (Spread Spectrum Invention) which made modern technology possible.

Hedy Lamarr

Photo found on Wikipedia

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria to Jewish parents on November 9, 1914.  Her beauty was striking. She was quickly noticed and at a young age she was introduced to acting.  She moved to Berlin to pursue an acting career in the movies during the time of the rise of fascism.  In Berlin, she made a movie called Ecstasy that was banned in several countries, including the United States, and by the Pope.  It garnered her much attention as it was seen by some as erotic art and by others as pornography.

In 1933 at the tender age of 19, either knowingly or unknowingly, she married a very wealthy fascist arms dealer. Their marital home was a huge mansion however she was a virtual prisoner.  She was not allowed to leave the home nor to continue her acting career.  She was the beautiful trophy wife and her main contact with the outside world was during extravagent dinners her husband hosted for people like Sigmund Freud and fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.  She escaped to Paris in 1937 and made her way to America by a ship that happened to be carrying the likes of Louis B. Mayer of MGM fame.  She used the meeting to her advantage and was soon signed to MGM. According to her new contract, she had to change her name to Hedy Lamarr and she had to learn English.  She agreed.

Once in America, she began her acting career in Hollywood but she was well aware of the war going on in Europe and the Nazi pursecution of Jews.  Being Jewish herself, this knowledge was likely unbearable.  Her family and friends had to endure the violence of the Nazi’s while she was safe in America. Unable to help in any other way, she sold United States War Bonds to aid in financing the war.

During this time, Hedy absorbed any news she could about the war.  She learned that supplies on allied ships were being lost because German U-boats (submarines) were sinking the ships.  The radio signals for allied torpedos were being jammed by Germans so there was little in way of defense given to the supply ships.  Being an incredibly intelligent woman who loved to tinker with inventions at her drafting table,   the brilliant Hedy Lamarr hypothesized that if the radio signal could be changed rapidly at random intervals, it would be impossible for Germans to lock onto the signal to jam it.  With the help of George Antheil, a musician and fellow inventor, they invented and patended a system known as frequency hopping (or Spread Spectrum Invention).

As their part of the war effort, the two partnered up and patended their design.  George presented the invention to the United States Military in Washington, D.C., but the military declined to use the new technology during World War II.  Even though the technology was not used by the military at the time, the diagram of the invention was not released to the public due to the national security threat it posed.

The idea for frequency hopping made a comeback in the 1990’s for use in cell phone technology and later for technological advances like GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and finally for use in communications by the United States Military, just as its inventors intended.

Hedy Lamarr was still alive when she was awarded multiple honors  for her  invention that finally found its place in history.  She passed away on January 19, 2000 at her home in Florida at the age of 85 from heart issues.  Hedy Lamarr, known as the most beautiful woman in the world during WWII, was also the Mother of modern technology.  Without her, we would still be using landline phones and paper maps!

*Below is the patended diagram of frequency hopping (found on Buzzfeed )

frequency hopping


Don’t Be Shy, Show Some Gratitude

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.

-William Arthur Ward

What is gratitude?  Dictionary.com defines gratitude as, “the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful”.  Saying the magic words, “thank you”, can show your appreciation for the kind action of another or receiving a gift, but is can also show appreciation for the sun in the sky, the coat on your back, the shoes on your feet, or the friend at your side. There are so many things to be grateful for.  Where has gratitude gone?

In our busy world, gratitude is even more important than ever but perhaps easier to simply forget. From keeping up with kids and careers to housework and homework, it may be harder and harder to remember to be grateful for the simple blessings life presents us with.  Or perhaps, in this culture of sarcasm, it may just seem weak to some people to shed the tough facade the world expects and dawn a smile with a kind thank you to follow. Gratitude is present but it may simply be shyly hiding in the shadows.

Do you have to actually say “thank you” to show gratitude? No. Sometimes a wave, a thumbs up or even a smile will do. Smiling itself actually rewards you for the effort.  Did you know that if you smile, you will actually feel joy.  The act of smiling causes the brain to fire up its reward center.  According to Psychology Today , “Smiling has hormonal and physiological consequences which make us feel better and want to smile more.”

Express your gratitude. If you are too shy to shout your gratitude to the world, try making a list of all the things you are thankful for.  Have a notebook ready because once you get started its hard to stop! You can also try saying  “thank you” for the three things you are grateful for each day when you wake up or when you go to bed.  If you are more brave about expressing yourself, send a note of gratitude to someone who has helped you, supported you, or loved you.  If you are more brave still, share your gratitude with the world. Social media makes this possible!  Not only will it make you feel better but it’s also contagious.


I’ll start:  I’m grateful I still have my dog.  I nearly lost him recently due to a serious health issue. Now, every time I see that funny face, I smile and say “thank you” that he is still here to make me laugh.

Now you.  Go ahead.  Share some gratitude.  I dare you!



Quote of the Day

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it.

-William Arthur Ward, American inspirational writer

Fragile Human, Unbreakable Love

I am going to deviate from my normal Living Life In Wonder posts and share a short story with you. It’s the wonder of love, loss, and life.  I hope you enjoy it.

Home with Marta

-By Wanette Lenling


“Cancer, ” said Dr. Vahn apologetically, “anaplastic cancer. There is nothing I can do.  It will go fast.  You need to start making arrangements Jim.  Jim?”

Jim heard only snippets of what Dr. Vahn said.  Jim felt an odd sense of freedom and relief overwhelm him.  Marta had died months ago and Jim had lost all the joy this life had once presented him with. Now he would once again be home with Marta.

“How long?” Jim asked.

“Maybe a month or two.” replied Dr. Vahn.

“I’m coming home Marta.” Jim whispered and smiled.

“What?” asked Dr. Vahn.  “What did you say? Jim? Jim wait, we need to discuss this. Jim!”

Jim did not reply as he made his way toward the door. Dr. Vahn frowned as Jim slowly shuffled through the doorway.  Jim’s odd reaction to the news of his demise alarmed the doctor. He had been worried about Jim for some time now.  Jim was a shadow of his former self.  He had transformed from a healthy active man eight months ago into the shriveled shell of a man that just left the doctor’s office. Marta’s death had taken its toll.

Dr. Vahn looked out the window. Moments later he watched as Jim came out of the clinic door, his faithful companion now his walker instead of his wife. Dr. Vahn looked on as Jim struggled to seat himself in the old blue Buick.

“I feel for you old friend,” Dr. Vahn said under his breath as he watched Jim pull his car out of the parking lot.


Jim pulled out into the street. A smile rested on his face as he pictured Marta’s beautiful face.  Jim realized he should have asked the doctor more questions such as,  would there be pain, but he didn’t care.  All he could think about was being with Marta again.

Jim’s mind wandered to days long past.  He could smell the rose perfume of Marta’s hair as her head rested on his shoulder, the warmth of her cheek penetrating his skin.  Jim could feel the goose pimples on Marta’s skin as he slipped his arm around her smooth bare shoulder.  He pulled her close as they sat on that old rickety dock watching the sun go down, dangling their feet in the cool still water of the lake.

“Marta, can I ask you something?” Jim said hesitantly.

“Mm-hmm.” She answered him softly, snuggling in closer against him.

Jim cleared his throat. “Marta, I…I have loved you my whole life,” Jim confessed slowly.  “I loved you when we were kids…and…I love you now.  Um…would you…um… do me the honor…of…becoming…my…wife?”

Jim held his breath.  What would she say?  Would she say no? His whole world would crumble if she said no.  He would be hollow, his future gone.  He loved her so much he knew if she said no his heart would stop beating and he would die right there. Oh God please let her say yes, he prayed silently.

Jim was in a full blown panic attack by the time Marta’s answer finally came.  He was sweating and shaking, his heart pounding.  He was sure he was having a heart attack when he heard Marta’s reply.

“Yes.” she said softly and calmly.  “I’ve been waiting for you to ask me.  I love you too.”

Marta lifted her head and looked into Jim’s eyes.  She smiled and kissed his awestruck mouth with her warm soft lips.  She caressed his cheek tenderly, and then, without hesitation, she pushed Jim into the water, laughing as she fell in with him.  That was Marta.

That night, the two of them played in the water, laughing and making love.  Soul mates sharing and enjoying one another in their own quiet universe.  Jim closed his eyes to enjoy the old memories.

Suddenly there was a tremendous jolt.  Jim was hurled from the car, flying through the windshield and landing violently on the paved street.  Jim lay still, not breathing, his body an impossible tangled web of broken limbs. His car twisted around an old oak tree.

Jim looked up briefly and smiled, then closed his eyes one last time.

Hello Jim.” Marta said tenderly, a smile on her beautiful face. “Welcome home.”



Books…How I Love Thee…

Why are paper books so amazing? Many people say paper books are outdated and that technology has taken over. People may laugh over the top of their IPad as you walk by carrying a paper book. But they know not what they do! Nothing can compare to the  tactile feeling of holding that book in your hand with the voracious expectation of the beauty within.

You can’t get that feeling from an ebook.

The majesty of walking into a room filled to the rafters with shelves upon shelves of books, each one holding its own unique story.  Your eyes wide, drinking in the mountainous landscape of paper and wood. Your mind swimming from the possibilities that lie within each cover.   Your fingers itching to grasp one book after another. Your mind unsure of which book to devour first.

You can’t get that feeling from an ebook.

Slowly running your hand across the cool smooth cover of your chosen book. You open the book, the perfume of the pages wafting up to tantalize your senses. Slowly you turn each beautiful page after reading the wisdom, wit, satire, romance, drama, or adventure within.  Eyes wide open late into the night, still craving the next sentence.  Your hands gripping the book, daring anyone to snatch it from you.  Then, after hours of savoring the beautiful words within, you come to the last aching page of your brilliant paper book and slowly drink in the last glorious sentence. You close your eyes, lay the book on your chest, and your head on the pillow.  You’re spent.  Smiling, relaxed, and completely satisfied.  That is the love affair between a book lover and a paper book.

You can’t get that feeling from an ebook.

Why are paper books so amazing?  Cause you can’t get that feeling from an ebook!


Quote of the Day

” There is no friend as loyal as a book.”

 -Ernest Hemingway, author

Lost Art of Silent Films

When I was a child, it was tradition for my family to visit “Ike’s Chicken Shack” on Lake Traverse in Minnesota every Mother’s Day. The restaurant was so busy that families had to take a number and wait to eat. Therefore, entertainment was provided. Inside the entrance, to the left, in a large dark room,  there was a theater screen, popcorn, and rows of seats. Classical music played in the background as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appeared on the screen creating havoc with their on-screen antics.  I was captivated. Not one word was spoken and yet I understood completely. So began an appreciation for the art of the silent film.

In case you are unfamiliar with silent films, they were moving pictures (movies) without sound, made popular from around 1900 through the late 1920’s.  “Talkies” or movies with sound, had not yet been invented.  The first movie released with sound was the The Jazz Singer in 1927.

In silent films, actors had to play out the scene using only their bodies and their faces  to make the audience understand what was happening on the screen.  Background music was provided during the film, originally performed by a live orchestra, or in smaller venues, an organ or piano.

The invention of moving pictures was the craze of its day. The stars of  silent films were the first Hollywood celebrities. They could make you laugh out loud or cry in anguish, all without saying a word. Actors such as Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, and Douglas Fairbanks brought out the drama and emotion in a scene.  Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy made the audience roar with laughter with their pratfalls and comedic timing. There were actors willing to do very dangerous stunts like Buster Keaton, nicknamed Buster by Harry Houdini himself, riding the front of a moving train engine in Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) and Harold Lloyd who, in the unforgettable scene from  Safety Last (1923), perilously dangled high above the street from the hand of a clock. And, there was Rudolph Valentino, arguably the very first male sex symbol, known for movies such as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) and The Sheik (1921) whose untimely death in 1926 at age 31 caused near hysteria and garnered a funeral attendance of over 100,000 people.

Valentino as the sheik

Rudolph Valentino

Silent films are a lost art and the actors were masters of their craft. They were pioneers that left their legacy on the screen in black and white, for the world to watch, but no one to hear.


Quote of the Day:

“Writing your own story is a bit like drilling your own teeth.’

– Gloria Swanson