Celebrating ‘My Circle’

For me, this year’s International Women’s Day is deeply personal. It is a celebration and acknowledgement of the amazing circle of women who inspire, encourage and support me.

Last fall depression came knocking on my door. I struggled, stumbled and fell. But instead of hiding, I spoke my truth.  The rally from my circle was overwhelming.  I was full of gratitude and awe. Friends and family, both in person and on-line, reached out to lift me up when I needed it most.

Looking back, the evolution was so natural, so subtle, that at first I wasn’t even aware of it forming. But through life’s experiences – education, work, recreational activities, conferences, meetings, travel, and even on-line connections – my circle has grown and is diverse, dynamic and robust.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more cognizant of what I admire, respect and value in the women around me, both personally and professionally.

Authenticity. Gratitude. Kindness. Joy. Compassion. Empathy. Humour. Positivity. Encouragement. Dedication. Fearlessness. Teamwork. Determination. Life-long learning.

I am fortunate to have so many phenomenal women who support me not only within my comfort zone, but also nudge – or sometimes pull me – beyond my safety net showing me how much more I am capable of accomplishing. They help me shine brightly when all I want to do is hide under the covers. They celebrate my successes and help me learn when things don’t go as planned.  They point me in the right direction when I’m feeling lost.  They laugh with me, dance with me, listen to and stand by me. They inspire me with their intentional lives, acts of kindness and bravery.  Their presence in my life has made me a better person.  Knowing they are there for me is both reassuring and empowering.

Allowing myself to be vulnerable and honest about my struggles last fall made me acutely aware of the expanse and depth of my circle. A reminder to continue to build, nurture and embrace it. A reminder to express my appreciation to the incredible women who inspire and support me.

This quote sums it up well. Here’s to my circle and to yours.  Happy International Women’s Day!

A circle of women may just be the most powerful force known to humanity. If you have one, embrace it. If you need one, seek it. If you find one, for the love of all that is good and holy, dive in. Hold on. Love it up. Get Naked. Let them see you. Let them hold you. Let your reluctant tears fall. Let yourself rise fierce and love gentle. You will be changed. The very fabric of your being will be altered by this, if you allow it. Please, please allow it.”
― Jeanette LeBlanc

 

 

#BeBoldForChange ― Remembering Wangari Maathai

“The tree is living, it is beautiful, it inspires, it grow upwards, it gives shade, it brings back life, and so the tree becomes a symbol of hope.” ― Wangari Maathai Photograph: Sandi Knight

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #BeBoldForChange. A woman who embodied this, long before being bold was acceptable, was Wangari Maathai. She was a fearless visionary who faced problems head-on and implemented solutions with determination, grit and heart.

From the first time I heard of Wangari Maathai, her story resonated with me. Born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya, in 1940, this self-proclaimed “child of the soil” loved the feeling of contentment she experienced when working on the land alongside her mother. She had a deep connection with the environment, with trees and with people which led her to a host of achievements in her 71 years.

She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, the first female head of a university department in Kenya and the first African woman and first environmentalist to become a Nobel laureate. Wangari Maathai was an elected member of Parliament in Kenya and assistant Minister of Environment. She authored four books. Her list of credits and accomplishments is lengthy but did not come without significant struggle. Over the years she was arrested, jailed and beaten, but she never gave up on her beliefs. Until her passing in 2011, she continued to strive for improvements in environmental conservation, democracy and human rights.

Members of the Green Belt Movement prepare seedlings.  Photograph: Wendy Stone/Reuters

The world became much more aware of Professor Maathai in 2004 when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots, non-governmental organization which she founded in 1977. After hearing rural women of Kenya speak of their struggles to find firewood and water, of the loss of topsoil, of malnutrition diseases in their children, she understood that deforestation was connected to it all. Her response, “Why not plant trees?” And so, despite ridicule and many hurdles, her mission began.

The women were paid a small fee to plant and care for trees. Earning an income, while protecting and preserving their land and resources improved their lives, but also ensured a better future. Professor Maathai understood by empowering these women to break the cycle, change would reverberate in the world around them. She  understood the connection between the environment and social, economic and political issues, “…not only were we planting trees, but we were planting seeds of peace, seeds for democracy, seeds for respect for human rights.”

The Green Belt Movement’s mission is to “strive for better environmental management, community empowerment, and livelihood improvement using tree-planting as an entry point.” Through this program, more than 51 million trees have been planted throughout Kenya. The growth and impact of this movement since 1977 is astounding.

International Women’s Day is a time to honour and remember exceptional women like Wangari Maathai. Her inspiring story reminds us that being bold starts one step at a time. Stand up for what you believe in. Implement solutions. Empower yourself and those around you. Move forward together, build momentum and change will happen.

Wangari Maathai pictured in Kiriti, Kenya, in 2004. Photograph: Micheline Pelletier/Corbis

“Throughout my life, I have never stopped to strategize about my next steps. I often just keep walking along, through whichever door opens. I have been on a journey and this journey has never stopped. When the journey is acknowledged and sustained by those I work with, they are a source of inspiration, energy and encouragement. They are the reasons I kept walking, and will keep walking, as long as my knees hold out.” ― Wangari Maathai

So today let us celebrate achievements of those who came before us. Let us continue to support, encourage and empower one another, regardless of occupation, status or race. Rejoice in, and value everyday contributions.

Collectively, we can make a difference and continue to improve the world.  #BeBoldForChange

“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!” ―  Wangari Maathai 


Why not share Wangari Maathai’s story with the younger women in your life through this book?  “Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa