Sometimes, cancer masks a dark cloud that through early detection can come through as a survivor. Other times all you have is a life span and choose to stay strong to the end – working to bring a legacy bigger than yourself in this world.
Wangari Maathai was part of the latter cause, changing the climate face of the world and empowering women through manifesting her intellect into social good.
Born in Nyeri, a small village in Kenya, Maathai religiously pursued and excelled in her academics, jetting off to the United States of America where she obtained a degree in biological sciences. She furthered her education with a masters in science in Pitsburg, before returning home to realize the dream of being the first woman with a PhD in the East and Central Africa.
While studying and lecturing at the University of Nairobi, she managed to attained that dream in 1971. She also became the first woman to become a chair of the department of vetenary anatomy in the institution.
Equipped with immeasurable knowledge, Maathai started to channel her passion in environmental conservation through social work. After becoming the chair in the National Council of Women of Kenya, she introduced the simple yet effective idea of community based tree planting in the 80’s.
Her idea expanded in to her foundation called the Green Belt Movement – an organization with a primary mandate to reduce poverty while conserving the environment through tree planting. As the movement expanded, so did its impact in socio-political grounds. Through its extensive work, Maathai addressed issues of democracy, human rights and environmental conservation.
This led to her spearheading dialogue of women on international arenas, Maathai become a well known face at special sessions sin the UN general assemblies and during the five year review of the Earth Summit.
At the dawn of a new millennium a shift in Maathai’s career reveals itself as it heads the political route. Though decades of notable sociopolitical strides, she extends herself in the Tetu constituency and becomes the assistant minister for environmental and culture resources under Mibaki’s rule (2003-2007)
She still kept her international work in tact, becoming a Goodwill Ambassador to the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem by the heads of state in the Congo region. All her extensive work including work with p[reserving the Congo Forest Basin landed her a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 which motivated her and a few other women laureates; namely Jody Williams, Shirin Ebodi, Rigobarta Monchi-Tum, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan to create Nobel Women’s initiative – a movement that advocates for peace, justice and equality.
Two years later, Maathai received an invitation to be the co-chair of the Congo Basin Forest Fund, an initiative by the British & Norwegian governments to help protect the Congo forests). Having heavily changed the areas of women empowerment and environmental protection, Maathai became the global voice of environmental conservation dialogue. In 2009, Ban Ki Moon named her the UN messenger of peace with focus on environmental and climate change.
In 2010 she was appointed to the Millenium Development Goals advocacy groups, a [panel of political leaders, heads of business and social activists for the achievement of the MDG’s. in the same year, she became a trustee of the Karuna Forest Environmental Education Trust – a trust established to safeguard public land, land which she has been religiously fighting to protect for an extensive period in her life. Also in this year, she founded her brainchild the Wangari Maathai Institute for peace and environmental studies. The WMI brought a new dialect of studies; an infusion of academic research in environmental preservation to the direct relation of political impact in areas where conflicts hamper natural resources.
After a game-changing year of global and regional development in her career, Professor Wangari Maathai passed on September 25th 2011 after a strenuous battle with ovarian cancer. She was 71 years old. Although her soul is laid to rest her work is and will continuously make an impact so long this planet exists.