Wangari Maathai’s Life and Lessons


Wangari Muta Maathai was the late 19th and early 20th century Kenyan social, environmental and political activist who was influential in bringing about a great change in Kenya’s environmental and political advances. She was the first African woman to receive a doctorate in veterinary anatomy from the University of Nairobi where she further went on to teach that very subject. She served in the National Council of Women as an active member originally and then went on to become it’s chairman wherein she advocated the idea of planting trees and make it a grassroot effort from people so that they can sustain both their livelihoods as well as the environment.


When local Kenyan women complained of how the streams were drying up, how they had to walk long distances to collect firewood and how the food supply was less, Wangari Maathai decided to introduce the green belt movement, she motivated the local women to plant seedlings so that their need for food, firewood, rainwater harvesting were met. The green belt movement that began as part of a small initiative was now a part of something much greater. Campaigns and seminars were held around Africa about this movement as it campaigned for the need for individuals to fight and survive for their political, environmental and economic circumstances. They began demanding for more democratic space as well as fought against land grabbing and the encroachment of agriculture into forest lands.


Her work was widely recognised after she was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her conservation and protection efforts. The green belt movement became to be known around the world as it showed how grassroot level ideas from a singe person can bring the whole community together for the greater good of the society. She published books that advocated the notion further, such as The Green Belt Movement, Unbowed, The Challenge for Africa, and Replenishing the Earth. She was also appointed as the goodwill ambassador for the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem also known as the World’s second lung after the Amazon rainforest.


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