A Peaceful Courageous Warrior

 

 

Wangari Maathai

Some people, by their nature, ignore the status quo and ignore the odds, and go where no one has gone before. They are peaceful but courageous warriors.

Wangari Maathai was the first woman to do a lot of things: she was the first woman from East Africa to earn a PhD, the first woman to head up a department at the University of Nairobi, and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

As a girl in a poor country, Wangari had to work against the odds to achieve these things, but she was never the kind of person to let high odds hold her back. By the mid-1970s, Wangari Maathai was a professor of anatomy, head of the Kenyan Red Cross, and involved in a number of charities and causes. But she was about to get a great idea….

Dr. Maathai could see that Kenya had two major problems—its natural environment was in bad shape, mostly due to too many trees being cut down, and there were so few jobs that many families were struggling or even starving.

Her idea was simple but brilliant: solve both problems at once by hiring unemployed people to plant more trees! This straightforward plan grew into a whole campaign to teach the people of Kenya to understand and respect the environment and each other. She called it the Green Belt Movement.

Although she went through a lot of hard times and struggled with opposition from the Kenyan government, Wangari Maathai managed to keep the Green Belt Movement alive. Then, in 1985, the United Nations held an environmental conference in Kenya, and representatives from many nations were able to see and hear what she was doing. That’s when the Green Belt Movement really took off, spreading across Kenya and Africa, and serving as a role model for many nations.

Over the years, Dr. Maathai’s group began to stand for other issues as well as the environment—issues like democracy and justice. Kenya only allowed one political party to exist, and tried to deny or stifle anyone who protested or pointed out problems.

Throughout the 1990s, Wangari Maathai and her supporters fought for broader democracy. She was threatened, arrested, beaten, and jailed—but never silenced. It took more than a decade of struggle, but finally Kenya had democratic elections with many parties represented.

Dr. Maathai was eventually elected to the national parliament, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, and planted a tree with Barack Obama. Today, she continues to work for the causes she is known for—people and the environment.

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This is an excerpt from the book Inspiration to Live Your MAGIC!™, 75 Inspiring Biographies by Larry Anderson. It is available as a print book from Amazon.com and as a Kindle e-book.

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