21 Sep I spent many nights silently crying!

As a child, Viola Kirui had a dream: To follow in the footsteps of her heroine, Wangari Muta Mathaai, the first African woman – and first environmentalist – to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Growing up, however, Viola’s dream seemed as distant as a far-off galaxy.

Her father had no work and could barely feed Viola and her six siblings. “I spent many nights silently crying,” she recalled, “asking God to come to my rescue because I wanted to study very badly.”

For the longest time it appeared as if those prayers would go unanswered. Despite having emerged as the 4th best student in the Grade 8 national examination in Kenya, Viola’s future looked bleak.

Like so many of her friends from poor families in the region, she faced the devastating prospect of being married off at a young age (early to mid-teens) to a much older man in hopes that he would take care of her.

End of dream. End of story.

Except Viola’s story doesn’t end there – it really begins – all because of a very special event held on March 17, 2012 some 10,000 miles away. On that date, in Los Angeles, hundreds of generous supporters of The Unstoppable Foundation came together at the Foundation’s annual Gala to raise funds for what would soon become the Oleleshwa Secondary School for Girls in the Narok District of the Maasai Mara, Kenya.

For Viola and 39 other deserving freshman girls, it was nothing short of a miracle – a chance to learn and grow and build a productive, sustainable future when they opened their doors last year. Kenya’s future!

“I was so happy I could hardly believe it. For me, Oleleshwa Secondary School isn’t just a place of learning, it’s a home where I can live and grow as a leader in my community. Here I have found gardening is my passion, and a way for me to give back.”

In fact, Viola’s love of nature is so strong she has dedicated her life to conserving the environment, just like the remarkable woman she so admires, Wangari Muta Mathaai.  “Now I feel that nothing can stop me,”  Viola added.  “ Being in Oleleshwa has made me stronger, bolder, more courageous, and outspoken. I wish to thank the Unstoppable Foundation and Free the Children for this opportunity to fulfill my dream.” 

Yes, dreams really do come true. And who knows, with Viola’s indomitable spirit and the ongoing encouragement and support from compassionate donors like you, maybe one day she too will bring home a Nobel Peace Prize.

WANGARI MUTA MATHAAI’S STORY

In 2004, Wangari Muta Mathaai was honored for her unwavering contributions to sustainable development, democracy and peace. And what a distinguished honor it was. As she remarked at the time,  “I was not prepared to learn that I had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I wonder whether anybody ever is. The news hit me like a thunderbolt.” 
Yet Wangari’s journey from a remote village in the central highlands of Kenya to the world stage was anything but smooth.

A brilliant student, Wangari earned a scholarship to what is now Benedictine College in Kansas. Then, after receiving a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Pittsburgh, she returned to her native Kenya only to face political corruption, legal roadblocks and countless other obstacles on her way to founding The Green Belt Movement, which she built into an enduring environmental force for good. The movement organizes women in rural Kenya to plant trees, combat deforestation, stop soil erosion, and generate income. Wangari went on to earn a Ph.D. in veterinary anatomy from Nairobi University where she also taught. She was later elected to Parliament and served as assistant minister for Environment and Natural Resources.

“Although I was a highly educated woman,” Wangari wrote in her book, Unbowed, “it did not seem odd to me to work with my hands, often with my knees on the ground, alongside rural woman. After all, I was a child of the same soil. And nothing is more beautiful than cultivating the land at dusk. Earth and water, air and waning fire of the sun combine to form the essential elements of life and reveal to me my kinship with the soil. Education, if it means anything, should not take people away from land, but instill in them even more respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. The future of the planet concerns all of us, and we should do what we can to protect it.”
Sadly, Wangari Muta Mathaai died of complications arising from ovarian cancer in 2011. She was 71. But her legacy lives on among countless admirers and environmentalists around the globe, including one very bright, very dedicated student at Oleleshwa Secondary School: 13-year-old Viola Kirui. A living, breathing example of the power of one!


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