Wangari Maathai (Environmental & Political Activist/Founder Green Belt Movement)
Wangari Muta Maathai (born April 1, 1940, in Ihithe village, Tetu division, Nyeri District of Kenya; died September 25, 2011), was a Kenyan environmental and political activist, and the first African woman to recieve a Nobel Peace Prize.
She was educated in the United States at Mount St. Scholastica College and the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the University of Nairobi in Kenya.
In the 1970s, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women's rights.
In 2004, she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”
Maathai was an elected member of Parliament and served as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in the government of President Mwai Kibaki between January 2003 and November 2005.
In addition to her work at the University of Nairobi, Maathai became involved in a number of civic organizations in the early 1970s. She was a member of the Nairobi branch of the Kenya Red Cross Society, becoming its director in 1973. She was a member of the Kenya Association of University Women. Following the establishment of the Environment Liaison Centre in 1974, Maathai was asked to be a member of the local board, eventually becoming the chair of the board.
The Environment Liaison Centre worked to promote the participation of non-governmental organizations in the work of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), whose headquarters was established in Nairobi following the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972. Maathai also joined the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK). Through her work at these various volunteer associations, it became evident to Maathai that the root of most of Kenya's problems was environmental degradation.
In 1974, Maathai's family expanded to include her third child, Muta. Her husband again campaigned for a seat in Parliament, hoping to represent the Lang'ata constituency, and won. During the course of his campaign, he had promised to find jobs to limit the rising unemployment in Kenya. These promises led Maathai to connect her ideas of environmental restoration to providing jobs for the unemployed, and led to the founding of Envirocare Ltd., a business that involved the planting trees to conserve the environment, involving ordinary people in the process.
This led to the planting of her first tree nursery, collocated with a government tree nursery in Karura Forest. Envirocare ran into multiple problems, primarily dealing with funding. The project failed, however, through conversations concerning Envirocare and her work at the Environment Liaison Centre, UNEP made it possible to send Maathai to the first UN conference on human settlements, known as Habitat I, in June 1976.
In 1977, Maathai spoke to the NCWK concerning her attendance at Habitat I. She proposed further tree planting, which the council supported, and led to Save the Land Harambee. On June 5, 1977, marking World Environment Day, the NCWK marched in a procession from Kenyatta International Conference Centre in downtown Nairobi to Kamukunji park on the outskirts of the city where they planted seven trees in honor of historical community leaders. This was the first "Green Belt" planted by what became the Green Belt Movement.
Maathai encouraged the women of Kenya to plant tree nurseries throughout the country, searching nearby forests for seeds to grow trees native to the area. She agreed to pay the women a small stipend for each seedling which was later planted elsewhere.