To date, fifteen great women have won the Nobel Prize in its 110 year history for contributing to the upliftment and inspiration of humanity. One of them is Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to be rewarded with the Nobel Peace Award in 2004. She passed away on 25 September at the age of 71, after fighting a long battle with cancer.
Wangari Maathai was known for her contributions to saving the environment, political activism and standing up for a civic sense of duty. Born in a small village in the highland part of Kenya, she grew up in what was still a colonial state where educating women was not a normal occurrence. She was one of the luckier ones to be admitted to school, alongside working with her mother in the fields and getting herself educated in the basic chores that come with agriculture. She was a high achiever and went on to higher studies (MSc) in Pittsburg and attained her Doctorate from Germany, becoming the first East African woman to do so.
She returned to newly liberated Kenya which had since come under the custody of dictators like Daniel arap Moi and the armed forces – political dissent and free expression was not tolerated. She engaged in hard labour, refusing to take shortcuts in doing her own tasks, whilst all the time standing up against wrongs being committed by the established order. Her main passion because of her countryside background was saving forest trees and eventually the wider environment. At that time there was no voice of reasoning to be heard in Kenya and so Wangari Maathai struggled to safeguard a model of sustainable development in maters of environmental safety, care for human rights and civic sensibility.
Her first drive through her now famous Green Belt Movement was for cleaner drinking water – and through it, conservation of forest wealth and natural parks. This particular struggle took her away from other civic causes, but to her credit, more than twenty million trees have been planted in Kenya – and that number continues to grow.
Kenya is now a free country with room for dissent and liberty of expression to a certain extent. Wangari Maathai was duly noticed for these struggles where she faced imprisonment and brutality and her reward came in 2004 with the honour of the Nobel Peace Prize. Similarly, in 1977, the Nobel Prize was awarded to two little-known ladies of Northern Ireland, Betty Williams and Mairead Corriggon who stood firm for peace and their movement was important in eventually paving the way for lasting peace.
The award and work of Wangari Maathai was noticed and she became an inspiration for African women. Her deep passion for the environment was fondly referred to as the Baobab, the African tree of life. This Baobab tree nurtures, holds together soil and land, and preserves water to sustain life. It is a gathering point for the local community. Wangari Maathai understood these qualities better than anyone of her time and always espoused that African women were strong like trees and can be the best shelter for any country. Her legacy will outlast her and her drive to replant indigenous trees along river banks will continue. So will the image of this strong lady who stood up for her land and nature. We at Naujawani.com try to acquaint ourselves with great souls like her who live for a cause and try to create a path for humanity and it’s betterment. This is our humble tribute to her.