Dr. Wangari Maathai
Dr. Wangari Maathai was born on April 1, 1940 in the village of Ihithe in the African nation of Kenya, where she grew up with an enthusiasm and aptitude for education. She then moved to the United States and Germany to study biology before returning to her native Kenya to obtain her doctorate in Veterinary Studies from the University of Nairobi, making her the first East African woman to earn her Ph.D. In 1977, she founded the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots organization that focused on fighting deforestation in Africa as well as advocating for women's rights. Since its inception, the Green Belt Movement has employed thousands of Africans, mostly women, to plant over 40 million trees in Kenya in an effort to stop soil erosion. Dr. Maathai was elected to the Kenyan parliament in 2002 and she has gone on to become the Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife. In 2004, Dr. Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to protect the environment through sustainable development and raise awareness about its link to democracy and peace, becoming the first African woman to win the prestigious award. Now approaching her 70s, Dr. Maathai shows no signs of stopping her environmental activism and human rights advocacy, as she continues to empower women and the people of Africa to conserve and protect the environment.
"In the world there is a new collective force of people mobilising around the issue of peace but linking it to the need to protect the environment. But we must assert our collective vision and responsibility to shape that peace not only for our country but also for the whole of Africa."
"We have come a long way from ignorance to deep insight, from fear to courage and from the streets to Parliament. We moved from self to others, from ‘my issue' to ‘our issues', from home to communities, from national level to global. Now we embrace the concepts of our common home and future."
"In a few decades, the relationship between the environment, resources and conflict may seem almost as obvious as the connection we see today between human rights, democracy and peace."
"The planting of trees is the planting of ideas. By starting with the simple step of digging a hole and planting a tree, we plant hope for ourselves and for future generations."
"Indeed when we look at the world we live in, and we look at the conflicts and the wars that we fight as we speak, whether they are conflicts in the small way, in my country back home, or big conflicts such as we find in the Congo, in Darfur, in many other parts of the world. If you look at them and you remove the superficial layers of religion and politics, quite often it's a question of trying to access resources, trying to control those resources and trying to decide how those resources will be shared....And so because we live on a planet where resources are limited, we must learn to share them, we must learn to manage them, we must learn to live in a system that allows for the greatest space, which for lack of a better word, we'll call ‘democratic space.'"
Publications / Speeches