As we round out National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, it’s with great respect that we say good-bye to Wangari Maathai–the Nobel Peace Prize winner and African founder of the Green Belt Movement who dedicated her life to protecting the environment in order to help women living in rural Kenya. At age 71, she passed away yesterday after a long struggle with ovarian cancer.
In case you’re not familiar with Maathai, her movement to save Kenyan forests and stop the destruction subjected her to harsh political treatment from the government of her country, including being whipped (even in 1999), tear-gassed and threatened with death. But that didn’t stop her.
“It’s a matter of life and death for this country,” Maathai once said. “The Kenyan forests are facing extinction and it is a man-made problem.”
Not only was Maathai a great environmentalist and woman’s rights activist, but she was the first woman in Kenya to receive a doctorate for veterinary medicine and be appointed a professor.
In Nairobi alone, the forest covers more than 1,000 hectares and is home to wildlife such as duiker antelopes and civets. Maathai had referred to clearing this land as a “suicidal mission”
“To interfere with them is to interfere with the rain system, the water system and therefore agriculture, not to mention the other industries dependent on hydro-electricity,” she had proclaimed.
Since her mission started, Maathai helped to plant more than 47 million trees to slow deforestation and erosion. She also joined the U.N. Environment Program in 2006 and was determined to plant a billion trees worldwide.
You will be missed, Wangari.