Wangari Maathai US/Kenya 1940-2011
Updated: Mar 25, 2021
In celebration of Black History Month, we were inspired by the incomparable Wangari Maathai: Enviornmentalist, Activist, Mother, Professor, Politician, and Nobel Peace Prize winner. She was born in the small village of Ihithe, in the central highlands of the colony of Kenya. When she was a young child her family moved down to the valley where her father found work at a large farm. She was educated at local schools and while a teenager she was selected to study in the US via an initiative for promising young African students, sponsored by Senator John F. Kennedy and the Kennedy Foundation. Wangari Maathai received degrees in Biological Sciences, a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh, in 1966, and pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, before obtaining a Ph.D.in 1971. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate. She taught at the University of Nairobi, becoming a senior lecturer in anatomy, chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and associate professor in 1977. During this time she volunteered in many community associations and became aware that the root of most of Kenya's problems was environmental degradation. Maathai founded the "Green Belt Movement", an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women's rights. She organized the women of the villages to grow seedlings and they went on to plant millions of trees, while creating sustainable industries. Their efforts improved the waterways and stopped erosion from deforestation. In 1984, Maathai was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for "converting the Kenyan ecological debate into mass action for reforestation."
Maathai was elected a member of Parliament and served as assistant minister for Environment and Natural resources in the government of President Mwai Kibaki. Through her tireless efforts and community activism, Wangarĩ Maathai received many honorary doctorates and international awards including the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize and in 2004, the Nobel Peace Prize which was awarded for her "contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace". She became the first African woman, and the first environmentalist, to win the prize. A globally recognized champion for human rights and women's empowerment, Professor Maathai was a pioneer in articulating the links between human rights, poverty,environmental protection, and security.
Click on the links for more details.
(We watched a clip from a doc on the Greenbelt movement and created art inspired by the images. If your child refers to being like a Hummingbird, this is the reference.)
YT video “ Be like a Hummingbird” https://youtu.be/IGMW6YWjMxw
Wangari Maathai https://www.greenbeltmovement.org/wangari-maathai/biography