Wangari Muta Maathai (1940-2011) was born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya where she grew up deeply connected to the land: helping her mother tend the garden and gather firewood. Education was typically not accessible to girls at this time but Wangari was fortunate to attend school. Winning scholarships to study abroad, she began her college studies in the United States and went on to pursue doctoral studies in Germany. She completed her doctoral studies at the University of Nairobi and became the first woman in east or central Africa to obtain a Ph.D.
While continuing to teach, Professor Maathai served in the National Council of Women (1976–1987), where she introduced the idea of community-based tree planting as a key to combating the deeper issues of disenfranchisement and disempowerment that made her community vulnerable to corruption. Starting small and local, she set about to create structures in which people could again find their voices and make a difference and relearn what it meant to be full cultural citizens and active agents in their own destinies.
Responding to the environmental devastation she witnessed in her Kenyan village after years away, Maathai set out with a modest plan to plant seedlings in her own backyard. Her efforts were multiplied by other women in neighboring villages and eventually grew into the Green Belt Movement to restore the ecological health of the land. An army of ordinary citizens, largely women, planted 30 million trees in under 30 years. In 2004, her dedication to reducing poverty and conserving the environment through tree planting was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.
After reading the children’s book, “Wangari’s Trees of Peace,” we were moved to name our school after Wangari Maathai. She is an inspirational example of the power of an ordinary individual to initiate powerful change by acting from a sense of passion for and connection to community and place. We want our students to understand their place in the world and their significance as leaders and collaborators in creating strong, sustainable cultures and communities.
Read more about how we are weaving Professor Maathai’s legacy into the fabric of our school.