Wangari Maathai, Ph.D. Nobel Peace Prize Winner from Kenya, died of ovarian cancer Sunday, September 25, 2011. She was 71.
Best known for her environmental work with the Green Belt movement that she helped found, she organized women in poverty to be employed to plant millions of trees in Kenya. She was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
In a statement on her passing, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu praised her as a true “visionary African woman,” and called her a “leading voice on the continent. …She introduced the simple idea of women planting trees in Kenya to reduce poverty and conserve the environment,” he said in a statement released by his office. She began by planting seven trees on Earth Day, 1977, to honor seven female leaders of the African continent. Then, the idea grew, and grew, and grew.
“At last count the Green Belt Movement … had assisted women to plant more than 40 million trees,” Tutu said, explaining that Maathai “understood and acted on the inextricable links between poverty, human rights and environmental sustainability. … She was a true African heroine.”
She will be sorely missed by all women (and men) who were empowered by her example of just how much one person can do to help bring peace, sustainability, and sisterhood to a very troubled planet.