What intrigued me about Wangari Maathai, the first Eastern African woman to receive a Ph.D and to head a university department in Kenya (her doctorate in veterinary anatomy came from the University of Nairobi), and the first African woman to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize (2004), was learning about the debate and discussion that ensued among the Nobel committee about their definition of the word “Peace.”
Wangari Maathai’s Unbowed: A Memoir, tells the story, from her very humble beginnings in the rural village of Ihithe, to attending the only Catholic high school for girls in Kenya, to becoming, as part of the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation “Airlift Africa” program, one of some 300 Kenyans selected to study in the United States in September, 1960. Maathai received a scholarship to study at Mount St. Scholastica College (now Benedictine College), in Atchison, Kansas, where she majored in biology, with minors in chemistry and German. After receiving her bachelor of science degree in 1964, she studied at the University of Pittsburgh for a master's degree in biology. She returned to Nairobi soon after that, earning her PhD, performing research, teaching, and becoming a political activist (inspired, in part by Civil Rights movement she’d witnessed in the United States.) She went on to establish the Green Belt Movement in 1977, which, over the span of three decades, planted more than 30 million trees across Africa.
In announcing the 2004 award, the Nobel Committee cited Maathai’s “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace,” and continued: “Peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment. Maathai stands at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic, and cultural development in Kenya and Africa. She has taken a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women’s rights in particular.”
Maathai’s memoir is not only a primary source of ecofeminist history, it is an impassioned, beautifully written account of a young woman’s intellectual and spiritual awakening, as well as that same woman’s outrage and tenacity in the face of her government’s political, illegal, and unethical practices against her and the environmental community who gained international attention and support for their work and struggle. She writes with the powerful wisdom and poetic temerity of someone who deserves the many accolades she was awarded in the 71 years she graced this planet.
UnBowed: A Memoir is available at Tutt Library, or available on Prospector
Tiger Link: SB63.M22 A3 2006
You may also want to view the DVD "Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai"
Tiger Link: SB63.M22 T35 2008