Today: Jun 19, 2024

One woman’s inspiration changing lives

nobleprize.orgCHARDONEE WRIGHTStaff Writer

I want to tell you about a woman.  Not just any woman, but an incredible woman.

This woman showed elegance and grace throughout her entire life.

This woman epitomized the slogan “Fight for your Rights!”

This woman’s name is Professor Wangari Maathai.

You may have heard of her, or you may be asking yourself, “who is she?”

Maathai was the first African American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.  She was a Kenyan political activist, feminist, human rights advocate, peacemaker, advocate for social justice and international environmentalist.

Maathai was born in Nyeri, Kenya in 1940.  She obtained a degree in biological sciences in 1964 from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchinson, Kansas.

That’s not all.

She continued her education and earned a masters of science from the University of Pittsburgh in 1966, and practiced doctoral studies in Germany. Maathai went on to pursue a doctorate degree from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy. Maathai was the first woman in central and east Africa to obtain a doctorate degree.  As a member on the National Council of Women in Kenya, Maathai launched the idea of community-based planting.

Ultimately, this idea focused on implementing an organization which would reduce poverty and environmental conservation through tree planting.

This vision eventually manifested into the establishment of The Green Belt Movement in 1977.

According to, The Green Belt Movement’s mission is to: “Mobilize community consciousness- using tree planting as an entry point- for self-determination, equity, improved livelihoods and security, and environmental conservation.”

As a result of TGBM, over 40 million trees have been planted across Africa.

Thousands of forests have been protected and restored, oil erosion has been reduced in critical watersheds and thousands of women and families are living healthier lives.

Many of the trees were planted in schools, farms and compounds.

The establishment of TGBM caught the attention of other countries as well.  Tanzania Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Malawi, Uganda, Lesotho and others have adopted similar initiatives for tree planting.

Maathai is internationally known for her constant effort in fighting for human rights, environmental conservation and democracy.

On many occasions, she has spoke on behalf of women at special sessions in front of the General Assembly and in front of the UN during the five-year review of the Earth Summit.

She served on the commission of the Future and Commission on Global Governance and in 2002 was elected to Kenya’s parliament, winning with 98 percent of the vote.

Furthermore, Maathai holds a phenomenal list of awards. Some include, Woman of the Year (1983), One of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World (2005) by Forbes Magazine, the Nelson Mandela award for Health and Human Rights (2007), The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Milele Lifetime Achievement Award (2006) and Humanity 4 Water Award for Outstanding Commitment to Action. (2009)

As I continue to learn about the many successful programs that Maathai has had her hand in, I am truly astonished.  She was such a remarkable woman.

Sadly, Maathai passed away on Sept. 25 of this year, leaving behind her legacy and long list of achievements.   She was battling ovarian cancer and passed away in Nairobi.

It is women like Maathai who continue to pave the way for other women to walk down a path of advocacy.  Her life alone promotes equality and justice.  Not only have her tree planting efforts been recognized, her personal seeds of dedication to her country continue to blossom into success.  We can all look at her life and take away something of value to add to our own.

I want to leave you with one of her quotes that I find very inspirational: “Every person who has ever achieved anything has been knocked down many times. But all of them picked themselves up and kept going, and that is what I have always tried to do.”

Salute to Wangari Maathai! May her steadfast determination and life long dedication to human rights continue to empower women of all nationalities to fight for what they believe!

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