Born April 1, 1940, in a small village in Kenya, the story and success of Wangari Maathai, rising above all odds to become the most sought-after professor in Kenya and Nobel Prize winner, are worth highlighting to add to the discussion on women’s empowerment.
Wangari sailed through school with ease despite financial constraint. When it was time for her to go to the university, her parents were not able to afford the fees.
Luckily for her, through the efforts of Thomas Mboya, who had managed to gain funds through John F Kennedy and his JFK Foundation, Wangari was one of the lucky Kenyan students who benefited from the scholarship scheme to study in the USA.
While working as a research assistant, Wangari developed an interest in environmental issues and started to speak on the subject matter. She quickly rose above the educational ranks and became an assistant lecturer, lecturer and a senior lecturer in 1975, becoming the first woman in Kenya to hold such a position.
By 1977, she was appointed the chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and became Associate Professor, making her the first woman in Kenya to hold that position as well.
Wangari is celebrated for starting the Green Belt Movement, an organisation set up in 1977 that sees to the planting of trees for environmental conservation.
The project was acknowledged by the National Council of Women in Kenya (NCWK). On June 5, 1977 – World Environment Day – the council supported her to run a tree growing campaign, which started with the planting of seven trees. The campaign was to empower women to do more for the next generation of women.
Wangari wrote several books on environmental issues, which included her Green Belt Movement and a book on democracy. Her most popular books are The State of the World’s Minorities and Unbowed, a memoir she wrote in 2003.
In 2004, she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her exceptional contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace. She also received many other international awards for her environmentalist campaigns.
After decades of a fulfilling life, Wangari passed away on September 25, 2011, in Kenya after battling with Ovarian Cancer.
To celebrate her legacy, Face2Face Africa shares with you 10 of her greatest quotes: