We often hear and read, ‘Plant Trees’, but very few of us pay attention to it and fewer than that implement it. But it was long ago that a little African girl became disturbed by deforestation during the British Colonial period. Today we will learn about Wangari’s trees of peace saving Africa and the world.

For some trees can become a source of joy while for others it is just a green thing standing in the way. Because as a person is, so he sees. These are the thoughts of great writers Walt Whitman and Hermann Hesse.

Wangari’s Trees of Peace Saving Africa and World

A time when girls were not allowed to have basic education in Africa, Wangari Maathai started her education journey. She not only graduated but was invited to the USA for further studies. Her achievements are numerous but her efforts to save the ecosystem, her nation and people as a whole are endless. On this World Planting Day, let us learn about the world’s first environmentalists to not only win the Nobel Peace Prize but also the love of nature.

Birth and Early Life

On 1 April 1940, near a holy fig tree in the central highlands, Wangarĩ Muta Maathai was born. Who would have ever thought that she would become the 1st African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

She grew up watching British colonialists getting richer by cutting down trees to plant more tea. She felt bad seeing trees fall because she had no idea that she can stand up for trees and her people too.


During that period, Africa follows the unquestioned culture where girls stay at home and get married off to have their family. Wangari was also trapped in this culture until one day her elder brother asked a question.

With a child’s sincerity and innocence, he asked the family, why only he was allowed to go to school and learn. Why is his sister not allowed to do the same? Their mother was moved by his question and did not want her daughter to stay in the same loop. She took the radical decision to act on it and enrolled her daughter in village primary school.

Higher Studies

At 11, Wangari was sent to St. Cecilia’s Intermediate Primary School, a boarding middle school run by Italian nuns. In 1956, she completed her primary education and was the top student in her class.

She was granted admission in Loreto High School, Limuru, the only Catholic girls high school in Kenya. A time when very few African women learned to read, Wangari graduated from high school. Then-senator John F. Kennedy. initiated a program, the Kennedy Airlift or Airlift Africa in September 1960 to welcome African students to study in the United States. Among 300 young Kenyans receiving the invitation, Wangari Maathai was one of them.

Her visit to the US shocked her because in a wealthy and reputed nation, human rights were not equal for all. She witnessed the Civil Rights Movement at its peak while her stay there, coinciding with her own country’s independence from British rule.

Wangari received a scholarship to study at Mount St. Scholastica College (now Benedictine College), Atchison in Kansas. She majored in biology with minors in chemistry and German in 1964.

She completed her master’s degree in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh. In 1969, she received her M.Sc. in Biology Sciences and was appointed as a research assistant to a professor of zoology at the University of Nairobi.

On Prof. Hofmann’s advice, in 1967, she pursued her doctorate from the University of Giessen, Germany and the University of Munich. In 1971, Wangari received her Ph.D. in Veterinary anatomy. She was the first Eastern African woman to receive a doctorate.

Trees not only filter our air but they pay us back for it. Find out how, through this guide, on how many carbon credits per acre of trees.

The First Step Towards Wangari’s Trees of Peace Saving Africa

It was during her time in Pittsburgh that she first experienced environmental restoration. At the time, local environmentalists were working to reduce air pollution in the city. While working and volunteering for various organizations, Wangari understood that environmental degradation is the root cause for the most problems in Kenya.

Envirocare – Wangari Maathai’s Green Revolution in Africa

In 1974, she founded Envirocare Ltd. to provide employment while saving the environment. Yes, the business was based on planting trees to conserve the environment by providing employment opportunities to ordinary people. With this she planted her first tree nursery aligning with a government tree nursery in Karura Forest.

Evirocare started to fail due to fewer funds and other problems. However, with her work at Environment Liaison Centre, Wangari received support from UNEP. She was also sent to Habitat I, the first UN conference on human settlements.

The First Procession to Plant Trees

She proposed tree planting at Habitat I. On 5 June 1977, on World Environment Day there was a procession from Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi to Kamukunji Park. It was organized by the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK).

They planted 7 trees in honor of historical community leaders, and it marked the first event of the Green Belt Movement. The GBM benefitted more than 900,000 Kenyan women financially.

Maathai continued to encourage women of Kenya to plant more and more tree nurseries throughout the country. They even searched nearby forests for seeds and grow trees that were native to that area. They all agreed to plant seedlings in return of a small stipend. Those seedlings were later planted elsewhere to grow and thrive.

Green Belt Movement

Founded in 1977, this movement was to raise environmental concerns by rural Kenyan women. While working from a small home for NCWK, she got the opportunity to partner with Wilhelm Elsrud. He was the executive director of the Norwegian Forestry Society.

The United Nations Voluntary Fund for Women provided seed money for the movement. This fund helped her in refining the operations of the movement and to pay stipends to women planting the seedlings and their husbands maintaining records of seedlings planted.

She promoted the movement at the UN’s 3rd global women’s conference held in Nairobi. Delegates were given a tour of the nurseries and they planted trees too. This small gesture opened the door to new connections and more funding for the movement. This also helped in establishing the movement outside Kenya.

In 1986, the movement received funding from UNEP and expanded throughout Africa, leading to the foundation of the Pan-African Green Belt Network. The movement reduced deforestation, desertification, rural hunger, and water crisis in Kenya.

This inspired representatives to learn the methods to set up similar programs in their countries to address the same issues. Thus, over the next 3 years, 45 representatives from 15 African countries visited Kenya.

In 1987, due to governmental intervention, the Green Belt Movement was separated from NCWK and Maathai stepped down as chairperson. After that she focused on her movement, which was now a non-governmental organization.

Recognition – The Nobel Peace Prize

Soon the movement received attention from the media and Wangari Maathai was honored with various awards. In 2004, Wangari Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize for her selfless contribution to sustainable development, peace, and democracy. She became the first African woman and the first environmentalist to receive this prestigious award.

Wangari Supporting Mottainai – Reducing Waste

Her 2005 Japan visit inspired her to become an ardent supporter of mottainai (a Japanese term of Buddhist origin), a waste-reduction philosophy. In the same year she was appointed a goodwill ambassador for a protective initiative for the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem. She also supported the International Year of Deserts and Desertification program.

In 2006, Wangari started the United Nations Billion Tree Campaign through which 11 billion trees were planted worldwide. The campaign was renamed in 2011 as Trillion Tree Campaign and managed by Plant for the Planet organization.

Collaboration with Obama – In 2006, Barack Obama travelled to Kenya and met Maathai. Together they planted a tree in the Uhuru Park, Nairobi.

Do you know how much carbon dioxide a tree absorbs per day? Imagine how much carbon would millions and billions of trees absorb?

Replenishing the Earth: The Book

She released her book, Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World in 2010. In it, she discussed the impact of the Green Belt Movement and how we all need to work together to bring a difference in our neighborhoods, regions, countries, and the world.

In her book, she also mentioned religious traditions like the indigenous Kikuyu religion and Christianity. She emphasized how they supported and served as resources for her agenda of environmental thinking and activism.

Wangari Maathai, the first African woman and environmentalist, bid goodbye to the world on 25 September 2011. She is resting at the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies in Nairobi. Before dying, she wished to not use a wooden coffin to bury her. This shows how much she was dedicated towards her efforts.

Source: Wangari Maathai Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Even after facing imprisonment, beatings, false accusations, and bad rumors, Wangari Maathai never abandoned her goal. She, as a kid, felt the pain of the planet and trees and fought for them till end time. Her legacy is still alive and people like Jadav Payeng, Adrien Taylor, Theo Quenee, and Saalumarada Thimmakka are planting more and more trees.


Olivia is committed to green energy and works to help ensure our planet's long-term habitability. She takes part in environmental conservation by recycling and avoiding single-use plastic.

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