History of Professor Wangari MaathaiA Brief Introduction
30 Sep, 2011"Wangari Muta Mary Jo Maathai (1 April 1940 – 25 September 2011) was a Kenyan environmental andpolitical activist. She was educated in the United States atMount St. Scholasticaand the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the University of Nairobi in Kenya. In the 1970s, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women's rights. In 1986, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, and in 2004, she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” Maathai was an elected member of Parliament and served as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in the government ofPresidentMwai Kibaki between January 2003 and November 2005. In 2011, she died of complications from ovarian cancer.
Early life and education 30 Sep, 2011On 1 April 1940, Maathai was born in the village of Ihithe, Nyeri District, in thecentral highlandsof thecolony of Kenya, then part of the British Empire.Her family were Kikuyu, the most populousethnic group in Kenya, and had lived in the area for several generations.Around 1943, Maathai's family relocated to a white-owned farm in the Rift Valley, near the town of Nakuru, where her father had found work.Late in 1947, she returned to Ihithe with her mother, as two of her brothers were attending primary school in the village, and there was no schooling available on the farm where her father worked. Her father remained at the farm.Shortly afterward, at the age of eight, she joined her brothers at Ihithe Primary School.
At the age of eleven, Maathai moved to St. Cecilia's Intermediate Primary School, a boarding school at the Mathari Catholic Mission in Nyeri.Maathai studied at St. Cecilia's for four years. During this time, she became fluent in English and converted to Catholicism, taking theChristian nameMary Josephine. She also was involved with the Christian society known as the Legion of Mary, whose members attempted "to serve God by serving fellow human beingsStudying at St. Cecilia's, Maathai was sheltered from the ongoing Mau Mau Uprising, which forced her mother to move from their homestead to an emergency village in Ihithe.When she completed her studies there in 1956 she was rated first in her class, and was granted admission to the only Catholic high school for girls in Kenya,Loreto High School Limuruin Limuru
After graduating from Loreto-Limuru in 1959, she planned to attend the University of East Africa inKampala, Uganda. However, the end of the colonial period of East Africa was nearing, and Kenyan politicians, such as Tom Mboya, were proposing ways to make education in Western nations available to promising students. John F. Kennedy, then aUnited States Senator, agreed to fund such a program through theJoseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, initiating what became known as theKennedy Airliftor Airlift Africa. Maathai became one of about three hundred Kenyans chosen to study at American universities in September 1960
Studies in America and Germany
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Maathai received a scholarship to study at Mount St. Scholastica College (now Benedictine College), in Atchison, Kansas. At Mount St. Scholastica, she majored in biology, withminorsin chemistry and German.