Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai

Past Event: Wednesday, September 19, 2007

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

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SAL Presents

Co-presented by North Cascades Institute with support from Goldman Sachs & Co., NBBJ, and Reed, Longyear, Malnati, Ahrens, & West, PLLC.

Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement has planted more than 30 million trees, as well as seeds of hope for women and the rural poor of Kenya. She defied custom, tradition, and her own government to carry out the groundbreaking reforestation and human rights work that culminated in winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

Wangari Muta Maathai was born the third of six children in 1940 to peasant farmers in the central highlands of then British Kenya. Although most girls of her time and place were uneducated, Maathai distinguished herself at Catholic missionary schools in nearby Nyeri and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the U.S., becoming the first woman in East and Central Africa to obtain a Ph.D. and head a university department. She married in 1969, and, in fulfilling one of her politician husband’s election promises, opened an agency that paid women and poor people to plant trees. Though her husband subsequently divorced her on the grounds that she was “too educated, too strong, too successful, too stubborn and too hard to control,” Maathai’s tree-planting agency eventually evolved into the broad-based, grassroots Green Belt Movement, which mainly employed women in conserving the environment and improving their quality of life. Besides altering Kenya’s ecosystem, her movement became an emblem of social change and democracy during the repressive Moi regime. Maathai opposed corruption, rapacious development, and one-party rule in the face of humiliation, jail, and physical abuse. In 2002, however, she was elected to parliament with 98% of the vote and was subsequently appointed Kenya’s Assistant Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife.

In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Maathai has twice received the Woman of the Year Award, as well as the Goldman Environmental Prize, the Africa Prize for Leadership, the Edinburgh Medal, the Legion d’Honneur, and the Sophie Prize. Not content to rest on her laurels, Dr. Maathai continues to live and work in Nairobi, sharing the successes of her Green Belt Movement in the rest of Africa and worldwide.

Excerpt from Unbowed (2006)
A great river always begins somewhere. Often it starts as a tiny spring…But for the stream to grow into a river, it must meet other tributaries and join them…So, when people learn about my life and the work of the Green Belt Movement and ask me “Why trees?,” the truth of the matter is that the question has many answers. The essential one was that I reacted to a set of problems by focusing on what could be done.

I have always been interested in finding solutions. This is, I believe, a result of my education as well as my time in America; to think of what can be done rather than worrying about what cannot. I didn’t sit down and ask myself, “Now let me see; what shall I do?” It just came to me: “Why not plant trees?” The trees would provide a supply of wood that would enable women to cook nutritious foods. They would also have wood for fencing and fodder for cattle and goats. The trees would offer shade for humans and animals, protect watersheds and bind the soil, and, if they were fruit trees, provide food. They would also heal the land by bringing back birds and small animals and regenerate the vitality of the earth.

This is how the Green Belt Movement began.

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, the largest event space at Benaroya Hall. 

Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Seneca Street exit and move into the left lane. Turn left onto First Avenue and proceed one block. Take the next right (at the Hammering Man sculpture) onto University Street. Continue up the hill two blocks to Third Avenue. Turn left onto Third Avenue. Continue to the next block and turn left onto Union Street. Make the next left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Southbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Denny Way/Downtown exit. Keep right and cross over Denny Way onto Wall Street. Proceed approximately five blocks and turn left onto Second Avenue. Continue south on Second Avenue approximately eight blocks. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Bus
Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by bus and light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).

The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. Blink charging stations are available for electric vehicles. The event rate is $16.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.


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