2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Professor Wangari Maathai
Billion Tree Campaign patron Professor Wangari Maathai is Africa’s foremost environmental campaigner, internationally recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights and environmental conservation. In 2004, the Nobel Prize Committee recognized her lifelong commitment to environmental sustainability and the empowerment of women by awarding her the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1977, Professor Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. In the past three decades, the movement has grown into a dramatic force for change. Along the way, nearly 900,000 rural women have worked to establish tree nurseries and plant trees to reverse the effects of deforestation. Now an international campaign, the Green Belt Movement has planted more than 30 million trees throughout Africa.
Born in Nyeri in 1940, Wangari Muta Maathai received her education in Kenya and the USA from where she earned a Bachelor from Mt. St. Scholastica College and a Masters from the University of Pittsburgh. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, obtaining it from the University of Nairobi in 1971, where she also taught veterinary anatomy. She chaired the National Council of Women of Kenya from 1981 to 1987. Her campaign against land grabbing and the illegal allocation of forest land has made her a national heroine.
In December 2002, Professor Maathai was elected to Kenya’s parliament and appointed Assistant Minister for environment and natural resources. In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Professor Maathai has been awarded UNEP’s Global 500 Award, the Goldman Environment Prize and the Sophie Prize, among others.
“What I have learned over the years is that we must be patient, persistent, and committed. When we are planting trees sometimes people will say to me, ‘I don't want to plant this tree, because it will not grow fast enough’. I have to keep reminding them that the trees they are cutting today were not planted by them, but by those who came before. So they must plant the trees that will benefit communities in the future.”