Wangari Maathai was born in a Nyeri, Kenya, in 1940. Nyeri is a rural village. At that time, food was plentiful. Everyone had land and work. During her lifetime, Wangari would see many changes to the villages in Kenya. She would grow up to become a powerful voice for the environment, women and human rights, and democracy.
Wangari went to the University of Pittsburgh in 1966 where she got her master’s degree. She continued her education at the University of Nairobi where she received her Ph.D. in 1971 and became the first woman in East and Central Africa to get a doctorate degree.
Kenya was changing during this time. Land was cleared for the development of commercial plantations. The native forest was being destroyed, many species of animals and plants were being threatened, and the lives of Kenyans were changing. They no longer had land to raise their food and to work. People lived in poverty.
Wangari got an idea. She believed that people should take charge of their own communities and lives. She encouraged women to start tree nurseries to replant the forests with native trees. This gave the women employment and helped the environment.
With her support, Wangari helped women plant over 20 million trees. They planted them at schools, churches, and on farms. Her work developed into the grassroots organization known as the Green Belt Movement.
In 2004 Wangari Maathai was given the Nobel Peace Prize for her contributions.
She died on September 25, 2011.
Here is a quote from her about trees:
“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 that no matter how high we go it is from our roots that we draw sustenance. It is a reminder to all of us who have had success that we cannot forget where we came from. It signifies that no matter how powerful we become in government or how many awards we receive, our power and strength and our ability to reach our goals depend on the people, those whose work remain unseen, who are the soil out of which we grow, the shoulders on which we stand.”
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