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30 September 2011

What difference can one life make?

What difference can one life make?

Rugby, cricket and football were all in the news this week.  None of them kept my attention for very long, but then they never do.  In the hum of all the other week's news and the almost seamless bubbling over of one party political conference into another, it was an obituary that caught my eye.   

The international press were paying tribute to the passing of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai, who lost her prolonged and bravely borne struggle with cancer on 25 September 2011. She may have lost that battle, but the achievements of her 71 years reads like a list of 'wins' on the local, national and world stage as she overcame social stigma to set political precedence, and upset social mores to raise environmental issues and reduce poverty. She constantly reminded governments and wider society that we simply borrow the earth from future generations.  

She had a vision to plant a tree for every person, and to make this happen, she founded the Green Belt Movement. As a result, an estimated 30 million trees have been planted to date and for her humanitarian efforts and contribution, she and the organisations she worked with/for were honoured several times.  Not surprisingly then in 2011, she was number 68 on Forbes' list of The 100 Most Powerful Women in the world. 

The impact of one woman's life got me thinking about the impact of another woman in my life, my Mum, who recently turned 78, and is still very much a part of my living experience.  She is not a Nobel Peace Prize winner, but her insight and example have helped me make life choices that have brought peace.  She hasn't ever held high public office nor does she wish to, but she has been the devoted and only wife of my dad for almost 51 years, a mother to seven and grandmother to seven too.  She is definitely joint number one (alongside my dad) on my list of the most honourable people in my life.   

The saying that people 'don't care how much you know, until they know how much we care' rings true of the late professor, and about my most honourable people too.  Did they set about to be world leaders or even world changers?  I would say no, but they did (and do) put their effort and energy into doing something that makes the world a better place, even when they are not around.   

At the Labour Party conference this week, Ed Miliband said: "I am not Tony Blair.  I am not Gordon Brown.  Great men, who in their different ways, achieved great things.  I am my own man."  After reading Professor Maathai's obituary and honouring my parents, I say: "I am not the good professor or my parents.  Amazing people, who in their different ways, have impacted my life and others'."   But then I would want to add: "I am who I am because of them." 

As Kenya and humanitarians worldwide pay tribute to Professor Maathai, I am mulling over the question posed in 2 Peter 3:11: "Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness..."  In other words: what can I get passionate about and pour my life into, that will make a difference for future generations?  I think that the answer is in the question: pour your life into something that matters, and that will make a difference now and in the future.

Katei Kirby, minister, mentor and marketing consultant