Wangari Maathai

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Wangari Maathai

"I reacted to a set of problems by focusing on what could be done."-Wangari Maathai

Background Information Wangari was born in the mountains of Kenya to a peasant family in 1940. At this time, it was uncommon and typically considered unacceptable for girls to be educated. However, it was Wangari's family's progressive beliefs that enrolled her in Catholic school. She excelled in school and was one of 300 Kenyans awarded the Kennedy Scholarship to attend college in the United States of America. (One of her fellow recipients was Barack Obama, Sr.) She first attended Mount St. Scholastica College in Kansas where she earned a B.A. in Biological Sciences, and went on to achieve a Master of Science in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh (Araeen, 2009). Wangari's thirst for education did not cease here. She moved to Germany to start work on her doctorate at the University of Giessen. She ended up back in Kenya, completing her doctoral research in Anatomy in 1971 at the University of Nairobi. Wangari became the first woman from East Africa to earn a Ph.D. (Lallanilla, 2013). Wangari started working as a professor of veterinary anatomy, and quickly became involved as a political activist and environmentalist in Kenya. She planted her first trees in 1977 to honor past Kenyan leaders. Her efforts spread, and turned into the Green Belt Movement to restore the degrading African environment. Funded by the United Nations and the Norwegian Forestry Society, the movement employed local women to find and plant seeds throughout Africa. The goal was to help conserve the environment, provide natural resources, as well as employment opportunities (Lallanilla, 2013).

Achievements at a glance:-1960: Awarded Kennedy Scholarship to attend college in U.S.A.-1966: Earned a Master's Degree in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh-1971: Became 1st woman in East Africa to achieve a Ph.D.-1976: Became 1st woman Chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and Associate Professor at the University of Nairobi-1977: Planted first trees that would turn into the Green Belt Movement-2002: Became a member of the Kenyan Parliament-2004: 1st African woman to be awarded Nobel Peace Prize-2009: Named U.N. Messenger of Peace

Wangari Maathai1940-2011

-Araeen, R. (2009). Wangari Maathai: Africa's gift to the world. Third Text, 23(5), 675-678.-Austin, R. L. & Eder, J. F. (2007). Environmentalism, development, and participation on Palawan Island, Philippines. Society & Natural Resources, 20 (4).-Lallanilla, M. (2013). The life of Wangari Maathai: Rising from poverty in Kenya, Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize. About.com Green Living. Retrieved March 8, 2013, from http://www.greenliving.about.com.-Maathai, W. (2004). The cracked mirror. The Green Belt Movement. Retrieved March 8, 2013, from http://www.greenbelt movement.org.-Maathai, W. (2005). Nobel Peace Prize Speech: Nobel Lecture, Oslo, 10 December 2004. Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism, 6(1), 195-201.-Parker, V. (2013). Saving the Environment. Chicago, IL: Heinemann Library.

References:

Specific Scientific Contribution:Wangari Maathari was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her dedication and fight for democracy, equal rights for women, and environmental conservation. It is estimated that the Green Belt Movement she founded has been successful in planting over 40 million trees in Africa, and employing approximately 900,000 women (Lallanilla, 2013). Not only do these trees procure jobs for women, but provide fuel, food and shelter for their families. Additionally, the Green Belt Movement embraces the idea of cultural biodiversity that explores local seeds and their medicinal properties (Maathai, 2005). This is a science that gives back to society, making it a social science.

Death and Imprint Left on the Field:Wangari Maathai died in 2011 at age 71 from ovarian cancer. Her influence on conservation has led many to follow her footsteps in the preservation of the Green Belt Movement. Furthermore, her work has inspired similar projects that extend throughout Africa and worldwide, such as the protection of the Congo Jungle (Araeen, 2009), or the forests of the Philippines (Austin & Eder, 2007). One young German boy, Felix Finkbeiner, read about Dr. Maathai's story and was inspired to create his own organization, Plant for the Planet Campaign. He was able to influence school children all over Germany to plant trees, and in turn became a Junior Board Member of the United Nations Environment Program. By 2011, Felix's organization was operating in 131 countries (Parker, 2013). Wangari's and Felix's work continues to empower individuals to do what they can to make a difference in the world. With enough perseverance, one person can have a powerful impact. As Wangari said, "I will be the hummingbird."

"A tree has roots in the soil yet reaches to the sky. It tells us that in order to aspire we need to be grounded, and no matter how high we go it is from our roots that we draw sustenance."-Wangari Maathai

Motivation and Influences:At her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Maathai stated, "I am especially mindful of women and the girl child. I hope it will encourage them to raise their voices and take more space for leadership" (Maathai, 2005, p. 195). Dr. Maathai speaks of being influenced in her early years by missionaries (Maathai, 2004). Additionally, Maathai was motivated by her experiences growing up in a politically torn country, where girls did not have the same rights as boys, and she witnessed the destruction of forests. Empowered by her international education, Maathai was compelled to take a stand for change (Maathai, 2005).

Possible Role Models (Fellow African Peace Laureates):Nelson Mandela, F.W. de Klerk, Archbishop Desomond Tutu, Chief Albert Luthuli, Ahwar el-Sadat, and Kofi Annan.


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