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Wangari Maathai, Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Dies at Age 71

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Environmental and human rights activist Wangari Maathai passed away on September 25th at the age of 71. She was the first woman in east and central Africa to earn her doctorate and the first woman in Africa to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Her organization, The Green Belt Movement, said this on their website, “It is with great sadness that the family of Professor Wangari Maathai announces her passing away on 25th September, 2011, at the Nairobi Hospital, after a prolonged and bravely borne struggle with cancer. Her loved ones were with her at the time.”

Maathai spent the early 1970’s working with environmental and humanitarian causes and speaking with women about the issues they faced. Two of the largest on the day-to-day level were a lack of water and a lack of firewood. Maathai believed that planting trees could help solve those issues and more. The wood from trees could be used as firewood, and the roots would stabilize the top soil, protecting watersheds and improving agriculture.

In 1977 Maathai started The Green Belt Movement, an organization that plants trees for the good of people and the environment. Since its inception, hundreds of thousands of women have planted over 47 million trees. Her work inspired the U.N. to follow her vision. Their worldwide campaign resulted in the planting of over 11 billion trees.

After decades of activism, Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work.

She then became an increasingly strong voice in the fight against climate change. She advocated for the protection of indigenous forests and served as the goodwill ambassador for the Congo Basin Rainforest.

With all of those accomplishments, we’ve only just grazed the service of her decades of activism. For her full biography, visit The Green Belt Movement’s website.

We would like to echo President Obama’s words on her passing, “Professor Maathai’s tireless efforts earned her not only a Nobel Peace Prize and numerous prestigious awards, but the respect of millions who were inspired by her commitment to conservation, democracy, women’s empowerment, the eradication of poverty, and civic engagement…As she told the world, ‘we must not tire, we must not give up, we must persist.’ Her legacy will stand as an example to all of us to persist in our pursuit of progress.”

She will be greatly missed by all who knew her and the millions she inspired.

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