In 2011, Wangari Maathai died from ovarian cancer.
And in 2005, she gave the Third Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, encouraging African countries to empower themselves in order to spare themselves from poverty and despair. And like Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, Wangari Maathai was the first African woman (and the first environmentalist) to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She is considered a leading figure in the ecofeminist movement, the movement for civil and women’s rights, and a beacon to many women who previously had no voice or power against an oppressive Kenyan government regime.
Maathai illustrated the definition of grassroots activism perfectly; she spent years on her hands and knees planting trees and teaching others how to do so as well.
Many people talk about taking action to mitigate the effects of climate change, but Wangari Maathai practiced what she was bound to preach. She believed that in order to solve a problem, one must actually act, and until one has physically done something, all he or she has done is spoken.
Maathai wanted to show Kenyan women that they could do something to change their fate and their children’s fates by acting against a government that wanted to privatize important ecosystem-laden forests:
“In Kenya women are the first victims of environmental degradation, because they are the ones who walk for hours looking for water, who fetch firewood, who provide food for their families.”
~ Wangari Maathai
Her most notable contribution to the world and its people is the Green Belt Movement, which was founded in 1977 and continues to help Kenyan women plant trees in order to fight deforestation, stop soil erosion, and restore the forests that have already been destroyed. The women can generate income to feed themselves and their families, and they learn about forestry, biodiversity, and bee-keeping as well.
Wangari Maathai’s vision was to plant one billion trees.
In 2007, the billionth tree was planted as part of the Maathai-inspired Billion Tree Campaign, which was organized at the hands of the United Nations Environment Programme to combat global warming and its dangerous effects.
You can watch a short video about Wangari Maathai here:
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Editor: Bryonie Wise