Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, died late Sunday in a Nairobi hospital at age 71, ending a long battle with cancer. She is survived by her three children.
Maathai, an environmental and political activist, was the founder of the Green Belt Movement, an organization that aimed to stop political injustice through creating a healthy environment. Her idea was that healthy forests made lives easier by providing necessary elements for survival such as clean water, thereby lessening people’s need to fight for such resources.
Her ambition lead the Green Belt Movement in the planting of some 30 million trees, prompting the U.N. to pick up her torch in a worldwide movement that saw 11 million trees planted.
She earned degrees from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas, and the University of Pittsburgh before going on to become the first woman to receive a doctorate from the University of Nairobi in 1971 where she later became a professor.
Maathai was both beaten and praised for her determination, fighting for the environment, democracy and women’s rights.
She was on the board of several organizations including the UN Secretary General Advisory Board on Disarmament, The Jane Goodall Institute, Women and Environment Development Organization, World learning for International Development, Green Cross International, Environment Liason Center International, the WorldWIDE Network of Women in Environmental work and National Council of Women in Kenya, according to the website of the Nobel Prize.
Maathai also served as a member of Parliament beginning in 2002 and was soon after appointed Assistant Minister for Environment, Natural Recourses and Wildlife in Kenya’s ninth parliament.
Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.