Unsung Heroes: Women In Conservation – Wangari Maathi (April 1, 1940 – September 25, 2011)

Unknown Photographer, http://www.worldagroforestry.org

As always, you can find my source here.

“You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own, that they must protect them.”

Wangari Maathi’s journey began when she became the first woman in both Kenya and central Africa to earn a Ph.D. and worked on behalf of other female academics in the National Council of Women of Kenya. During this time, she interacted with many of her country’s rural poor women who begged her to help them address the adversity they faced every day regarding lack of firewood, clean water and nutritious food. She realized that planting trees would provide a stable fuel source, improve the watershed and revitalize the soil, and eventually her grassroots efforts became the Green Belt Movement, which was formalized in 1977.

Since then, 47 million trees have been planted and this simple strategy allowed for Kenyan society to explore the deeper issues that lead to such environmental degradation. Ms. Maathi wasn’t content to let others carry on the Green Belt Movement’s initiatives alone, and in 2002, during the first democratic elections in a generation, she was elected as an MP representing the Tetu people. In 2003, she was made Deputy Minister for The Environment, where she continued to advocate for forest protection and when the new constitution was ratified in 2010, the Green Belt Movement saw to it that the document included the right of all citizens to have a clean and healthy environment.

Of course, with this much success comes recognition from your peers, and in 2004, Ms. Maathi became the first environmentalist and first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize; she was named the Congo Basin rainforest goodwill ambassador in 2005 and in 2010, just one year before she passed away, she established the Wangari Maathi Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies, part of the University of Nairobi.

Clearly her love and compassion for her people and the environment is a legacy to which we can all aspire.

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