Newspapers all over the world today capture the news that Wangari Maathai, nobel peace prize laureate, social activist, and environmental crusader, has died at 71 after trying to fight off ovarian cancer for the past several months.
Maathai was the first among many categories in Africa and in particular in Kenya. She was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She was the first woman in east and central Africa to receive a PhD. She was the first woman professor at the University of Nairobi where she taught veterinary medicine. She was the founder of the Green Belt Movement, an organization that in her life time, helped to plant tens of millions of trees across the African continent. She was a strong believer in the connection between poverty and environmental degradation and she fought throughout her entire life to reverse this particular process.
She fought against powerful political leaders who were taking land away from citizens in order to deforest areas and introduce commercial plantations, projects that eroded the environment and decreased biodiversity. She was beaten and arrested many times throughout her life due to her strong-willed determination to see change. She fought on behalf of African women, the main producers of food for the population, and encouraged them to plant trees to protect water resources and crops, and to have a steady supply of firewood for cooking. In the process of planting trees, women received a stipend in order to supplement their efforts with income.
"Wangari overcame incredible obstacles to devote her life to service--service to children, to her constituents, to the women, and indeed all the people of Kenya--and the world as a whole," said Al Gore, another person well-known for his environmental advocacy efforts.
Her efforts will not be forgotten any time soon.