Dead, Wangari Muta Maathai on the 25th of September 2011, she was a Kenyan environmental and political activist.
She was educated in the United States at Mount St. Scholastica (Benedictine College) and the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the University of Nairobi in Kenya.
Born in the village of Ihithe, Nyeri District on the 1st of April 1940, in the central highlands of the colony of Kenya, her family was Kikuyu, the most populous ethnic group in Kenya, and had lived in the area for several generations.
Around 1943, Maathai’s family relocated to a white-owned farm in the Rift Valley, near the town of Nakuru, where her father had found work.
Late in 1947, she returned to Ihithe with her mother, as two of her brothers were attending primary school in the village, and there was no schooling available on the farm where her father worked.
She received a scholarship to study at Mount St. Scholastica College (now Benedictine College), in Atchison, Kansas, where she majored in biology, with minors in chemistry and German.
After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in 1964, she studied at the University of Pittsburgh for a master’s degree in biology.
Her graduate studies there were funded by the Africa-America Institute, and during her time in Pittsburgh, she first experienced environmental restoration, when local environmentalists pushed to rid the city of air pollution.
In January 1966, Maathai received her M.Sc in biological sciences, and was appointed to a position as research assistant to a professor of zoology at University College of Nairobi.
She was the first woman in Nairobi appointed to any of these positions.
During this time, she campaigned for equal benefits for the women working on the staff of the university, going so far as to attempt to turn the academic staff association of the university into a union, in order to negotiate for benefits.
The courts denied this bid, but many of her demands for equal benefits were later met. 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.
In 1977, she launched the Green Belt Movement to reforest her beloved country while helping the nation’s women.
“Women needed income and they needed resources because theirs were being depleted,” Maathai explained to People magazine.
“So we decided to solve both problems together.” Maathai remained a vocal opponent of the Kenyan government until Moi’s political party lost control in 2002.
After several failed attempts, she finally earned a seat in the country’s parliament that same year.
Maathai soon was appointed assistant minister of environment, natural resources and wildlife. In 2004, she received a remarkable honor.
Maathai was given the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace,” according to the Nobel Foundation website.