(1940 - 2011)
Wangari Maathai became the first Black woman to win the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for, according to the institution “for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace” referring to her environmental work in Kenya.
A Whole Lot of 'Firsts'
Admired for being the first woman scholar from East Central Africa (the first woman to take a doctorate in Biology), Maathai also became the first ever female professor in Kenya. Her academic journey was extraordinary. She received a prize at Loreto High School for being first in all subjects during the four years of High School, and as a result was awarded a scholarship to study at Mount St. Scholastica College Atchison, Kansas, USA, where she obtained a Bachelor of Science in Biology in 1964. Upon graduation, she enrolled for further studies at the University of Pittsburgh, where she graduated with a Degree in Master of Science in Biological Sciences in 1965. Her thesis entitled 'Developmental and Cytological Study of the Pineal Body of Coturnix coturnix japonica' was judged “excellent” by the examining board.
In 1977 she started a grass-roots movement aimed at countering the deforestation that was threatening the means of subsistence of the agricultural population. Serving as chairman for six years on the National Council of Women in Kenya, the campaign became the largest tree-planting campaign in Africa; the Green Belt Movement. Through her dedication to the cause, she encouraged women to plant trees in their local environments, and to think ecologically. The Green Belt Movement spread to other African countries, and contributed to the successful planting of over an estimated 30 million trees across the continent.
Maathai's mobilisation of African women didn't stop at sustainability. Human rights, specifically women's rights were made up a broader perspective that she. In the words of the Nobel Committee: “She thinks globally and acts locally.”
On the 25th September 2011, she sadly passed away, and was laid to rest in Kenya in state funeral. The event took place at Freedom Corner in Uhuru Park, Nairobi on October 8th 2011.
She received all the honors of a fallen hero. A military band played the National Anthem as the hearse carrying her casket pulled into the park. Kenya's top officials and a few foreign dignitaries stood silently.
The Kenyan President at the time Mwai Kibaki, attended the ceremony. “Certainly, she has stood out as Kenya's most outstanding champion of environmental sustainability, and through her relentless efforts, present and future generations in our country and the region will enjoy a much cleaner and safer environment,” he said, according to Joselow (2008) from VOA News.
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