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Women Who Changed the World

Wangari Maathai

Who: Wangari Muta Maathai (April 1, 1940 - September 25, 2011)

What she's known for: Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan environmental political activist and the first Africian woman to become a Nobel laureate.

Why we love her: She obtained a degree in Biological Sciences, a Master of Science degree and earned a Ph.D from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy. She was the first woman to earn a doctorate degree in East and Central Africa.

In 1976, while she was serving in the National Council of Women, Maathai introduced the idea of community-based tree planting. She continued to develop this idea into a broad-based grassroots organization, the Green Belt Movement, whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting.

In 2004, she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.

In recognition for her deep commitment to the environment, the United Nations, Secretary-General named Mathaai a UN Messenger of Peace in December 2009, with a focus on the environment and climate change.

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