Wangari Mathai Credit: GNI photo

(GIN) — The Wangari Mathai Foundation observed the late Nobel laureate Wangari Muta Maathai’s birthday on April 1 with a call to invest in the planet.

“Wangari literally invested her life from a young age in this planet,” foundation CEO Njeri Kabeberi said. “As we celebrate the day God gave her to the world, and in the run-up to the International Mother Earth Day (April 22), let us begin to contemplate what each of us shall invest in the planet.”

Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 to plant trees across Kenya, alleviate poverty, and end conflict. She mobilized Kenyans, particularly women, to plant more than 30 million trees in 30 years, and inspired the United Nations to launch a campaign that has led to the planting of 11 billion trees worldwide.

More than 900,000 Kenyan women benefited from her tree-planting campaign by selling seedlings for reforestation.

Wangari was, notably, a woman of many firsts: the first woman from Central and East Africa to earn a doctorate, obtaining her PhD from the University of Nairobi in 1971, and the first Black and African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, presented “for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace” in 2004.

After graduating, Maathai became involved in a number of humanitarian organizations, including the Kenyan Red Cross, Environmental Liaison Centre, and National Council of Women of Kenya.

Maathai’s work led her to observe a correlation between poverty and environmental degradation, based on experiences of food security and water scarcity in rural Kenya. Environmental issues in Kenya today include deforestation, soil erosion, desertification, water shortage and degraded water quality, flooding, poaching, and domestic and industrial pollution.

Maathai was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem, the world’s “second lung” after the Amazon Rainforest. Her four books (“The Green Belt Movement,” “Unbowed,” “The Challenge for Africa,” and “Replenishing the Earth”) and the documentary “Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai” expanded on and deepened the key concepts behind the Green Belt Movement’s work and approach.

The work of Maathai and the Green Belt Movement continues to stand as a testament to the power of grassroots organizing, proof that one person’s simple idea—that a community should come together to plant trees—can make a difference.

Her legacy lives on through the Movement, which remains in the frontline of advocating for environmental conservation in Kenya, and has been making great progress on reclaiming and restoring forest land. The Movement has inspired similar movements in many other African countries and continues to help combat rural hunger, desertification, and water crises in more than 30 countries.

Maathai died in 2011 at the age of 71. Her story and her accomplishments remain virtually untold throughout the global north, despite her activism creating significant change and a lasting impact on women’s lives and the environment today.

The foundation will launch its second strategic plan this month on International Mother Earth Day, with the theme “Invest in our planet.”

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