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REMEMBERING

Be a Hummingbird

September 29th, 2011

photo credit: Center for Neighborhood Technology via flickr/Creative Commons

Remembering Africa’s First Female Nobel Peace Prize Winner

September 29, 2011 — The first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathai, has passed away at the age of 71, but what an amazing life she had!

What did she do to earn herself the world’s top award for Peace? She was the leader of a group that planted trees in her native country, Kenya — 30 million of those trees! And she helped nearly a million women along the way.

When she saw the forests disappearing near her home because they were being cut down for lumber and not being replenished, she decided to start replanting the trees herself, one by one. Soon women in her village became interested in her cause and helped her plant seedlings. Planting trees closer to women’s villages also meant that they wouldn’t have to carry heavy firewood on their backs for many miles. Dr. Maathai also paid the tree planters and for most of the women it was the first time they had earned wages. It became known as the Green Belt Movement — the green trees planted in rows looked like a green belt over Kenya’s landscape.

Woman planting tree. Photo credit: Mia MacDonald via www.greenbeltmovement.org

At first, the Kenyan government dismissed her efforts, but Dr. Maathai’s work caught on and women in other villages soon joined in as well. The government began to take notice and jailed her for being a “troublemaker”.  At one point, she was beaten for protesting an office building that was to be built in a park in Nairobi (Kenya’s capital). She overcame this and many other challenges and remained determined in her beliefs to help the environment, women and her country.

Dr. Maathai’s message for others? Be a Hummingbird:

She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

There are numerous great children’s books about her work including, Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire Nivola and Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter .

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