01 Apr Happy Birthday Blog: Wangari Maathai
Born: April 1, 1940
Known for: Environmental activist and first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize
Wangai Maathai accomplished many firsts in her life and career. As we celebrate her birthday today, we celebrate the legacy of her environmental work and advocacy for women’s empowerment. Born in Kenya while it was still a British colony, Maathai won a scholarship in 1960 to attend university in the United States. After completing her master’s degree at my alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh, she returned to Kenya and studied veterinary anatomy at the University of Nairobi.
In 1971, she completed her doctorate degree, becoming the first woman in East Africa to achieve that degree. Finding work at a local university, she began her life’s work as an environmentalist. In 1977, she launched the Green Belt Movement, aimed at reforesting Kenya while also giving local women skills and work to make their own money. In an interview with People magazine, she said “Women needed income and they needed resources because theirs were being depleted. So we decided to solve both problems together.”
Over the years the movement is responsible for planting more than 30 million trees in Kenya and providing around 30,000 women with new skills and job opportunities. Watch this video to learn more about Wangari’s inspirational work:
Her list of accomplishments is far too long to include in this blog. In 2004, Wangari became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the first time that a person was recognized for environmental contributions. She certainly was a remarkable woman, who dedicated her life to improving the environment while also helping improve women’s access to economic opportunities.