Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt movement and Nobel Laureate passed into the ages on September 25, 2011. Born in Kenya in 1940, Dr. Maathai became the first woman in East and Central Africa to obtain a Doctorate. She was involved in a number of social activities. But, she remains most famous for her tree planting movement, named the Green Belt movement. The movement encouraged women to plant trees for pennies a day. The Green Belt movement is more than just planting trees; it focuses on community building, improving livelihoods, and environmental protection.
Dr. Maathai's life's work was focused on empowering women and eradicating poverty from the grassroots level. She was synonymous with the struggle for democracy and human rights. Indeed, she became the first environmentalist and African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
In response to being awarded the Nobel prize, she stated, "I believe the Nobel committee was sending a message that protecting and restoring the environment contributes to peace; it is peace work. That was gratifying. I always felt that our work was not simply about planting trees. It was about inspiring people to take charge of their environment, the system that governed them, their lives and their future. With the Prize I realized that the world was listening."
Dr. Maathai died from ovarian cancer in September. But her legacy lives on and her strength can be found in her quotes, her written works, and at the website for the Green Belt Movement. I am sure by now there is a tree planted just for her in Nyeri, in the face of Mount Kenya, just the way she'd like it.
Check out the AAAS Members who won 2011 Nobel Prizes. Saul Perlmutter won half of the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the expanding universe. Jules Hoffman and Ralph Steinman were among those awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their contributions to immunology. Unfortunately Steinman recently passed away, but will receive the award posthumously.