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Oslo, 8 October 2004. (Norwegian Nobel Committee Press Release)
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2004 to Wangari Maathai for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.
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 in Africa. She has taken a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women's rights in particular. She thinks globally and acts locally.
Maathai stood up courageously against the former oppressive regime in Kenya. Her unique forms of action have contributed to drawing attention to political oppression - nationally and internationally. She has served as inspiration for many in the fight for democratic rights and has especially encouraged women to better their situation.
Maathai combines science, social commitment and active politics. More than simply protecting the existing environment, her strategy is to secure and strengthen the very basis for ecologically sustainable development. She founded the Green Belt Movement where, for nearly thirty years, she has mobilized poor women to plant 30 million trees. Her methods have been adopted by other countries as well. We are all witness to how deforestation and forest loss have led to desertification in Africa and threatened many other regions of the world - in Europe too. Protecting forests against desertification is a vital factor in the struggle to strengthen the living environment of our common Earth.
Through education, family planning, nutrition and the fight against corruption, the Green Belt Movement has paved the way for development at grass-root level. We believe that Maathai is a strong voice speaking for the best forces in Africa to promote peace and good living conditions on that continent.
Wangari Maathai will be the first woman from Africa to be honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize. She will also be the first African from the vast area between South Africa and Egypt to be awarded the prize. She represents an example and a source of inspiration for everyone in Africa fighting for sustainable development, democracy and peace.
Nairobi. October 9, 2004
'She Told Us Nothing Was Impossible', by Marc Lacey. (The New York Times)
Wangari Maathai has been clubbed in the head by riot policemen. She has been denounced as a subversive. Her efforts for women's rights in a country where men run the show have long been considered quixotic at best. But Maathai, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for her decades of activism, has been bowed by none of that.
Some, in fact, have likened her to a tree, perhaps one of the ficus or elms that she has planted throughout Kenya, solid and unbowed. It is trees that Maathai has used to build her women's movement. Through her efforts, women across Africa have planted tens of millions of trees and done their part to stem the deforestation that has stripped much of the continent bare. And Maathai's Green Belt Movement has nurtured just as many women as it has acacias or cedars.
Maathai's movement, begun in 1977, started with just a handful of seedlings in her backyard. It grew to include hundreds of tree nurseries throughout Africa; they dole out seedlings to women, who plant them on both public and private lands.
For every tree that takes root, the woman who planted it earns a small sum. For many women, tree planting is now a good deed that also helps make ends meet. Many women wondered decades ago why Maathai was so devoted to saving trees. It is Africa's women, after all, who trek out in the morning with small axes in hand in search of firewood to cook the family meal. Some women wondered whether Maathai had turned on her fellow women in favor of the tree. The answer, of course, was no. Her movement has always been as much about women as trees. "We try to make women see they can do something worthwhile," she said in an interview with The New York Times years ago. "And we're trying to empower people, to show they can build, or destroy, the environment."
When Kenya's governing party sought to put up a 60-story skyscraper in a downtown park, Maathai stood up for the people who use the little green space Nairobi has to offer. She denounced the proposal and drew the wrath of the government, who labeled her movement "subversive." The powerful elite eventually backed off, and Kenya remained a little more green. "She always taught us that right was right, even if you're alone," said Wanjira Maathai, one of the activist's three children. "She told us so often that nothing was impossible. She has fire on the inside, and she tried to give us some of that, too."
Maathai has branched out from trees. She has played a role in fighting for the cancellation of African governments' foreign debts. She has campaigned against land grabbing, in which Africa's elite claim public land as their own.
Corruption has been one of her particular disdains. Born in Nyeri, Kenya, April 1, 1940, Wangari Muta Maathai became the first woman in East Africa to earn a doctorate degree, in 1971. She studied first at Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas, as part of a program during the Kennedy administration to prepare Kenyans for independence. Then she earned a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a doctorate in veterinary medicine at the University of Nairobi. She was divorced from her husband, who was a member of Parliament, in the early 1980s after he publicly accused her of adultery with another lawmaker. When her husband won his divorce case, Maathai accused the judge of being incompetent. She was jailed for a night.
In 1992, Kenya's president unleashed the riot police on Maathai and other women activists who were holding a hunger strike at a city park to pressure the government to release political prisoners. Maathai, who dared to join an opposition party at a time when the government would not tolerate dissent, was knocked unconscious by the police. In 2002, she became a member of Kenya's Parliament, representing a district that sits at the base of Mount Kenya, Africa's second-largest peak. She was in that peaceful setting, surrounded by trees, when a phone call came on Friday alerting her to her Nobel Peace Prize. "I am very happy to receive this news at the foot of Mount Kenya," she said, describing the mountain as her inspiration over the years.
8 October, 2004
Profile: Wangari Maathai (BBC World News)
Wangari Maathai rose to prominence fighting for those most easily marginalised in Africa - poor women. The first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize was praised by the awarding committee as "a source of inspiration for everyone in Africa fighting for sustainable development, democracy and peace".
A pioneering academic, her role as an environmental campaigner began after she planted some trees in her back garden. This inspired her in 1977 to form an organisation - primarily of women - known as the Green Belt Movement aiming to curtail the devastating effects of deforestation and desertification. Her desire was to produce sustainable wood for fuel use as well as combating soil erosion. Her campaign to mobilise poor women to plant some 30 million trees has been copied by other countries.
Speaking as recently as Wednesday on the BBC's Africa Live programme she said her tree planting campaign was not at all popular when it first began. "It took me a lot of days and nights to convince people that women could improve their environment without much technology or without much financial resources." The Green Belt Movement went on to campaign on education, nutrition and other issues important to women.
Mrs Maathai has been arrested several times for campaigning against deforestation in Africa. In the late 1980s, she became a prominent opponent of a skyscraper planned for the middle of the Kenyan capital's main park - Uhuru Park. She was vilified by President Daniel arap Moi's government but succeeded in thwarting the plans.
More recently, she evolved into a leading campaigner on social matters. Once was beaten unconscious by heavy handed police. On an other occasion she led a demonstration of naked women. In 1997, she ran for president against Mr Moi but made little impact. But in elections in 2002, she was elected as MP with 98% of the votes as part of an opposition coalition which swept to power after Mr Moi stepped down. She was appointed as a deputy environment minister in 2003. The Nobel Peace Prize committee praised her for taking "a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women's rights in particular". She thinks globally and acts locally, they said.
She was born in 1940 and has three children. Her former husband, whom she divorced in the 1980s, was said to have remarked that she was "too educated, too strong, too successful, too stubborn and too hard to control".
10 October 2004
'A voice inside tells me I must do something', by Geoffrey Lean (The independent /UK)
Wangari Maathai - who this week became the first environmental activist to win the Nobel Peace Prize - was sunk in a rare moment of depression. It was in early 1992: we were speaking during a few days between her coming out of hospital, after being mistreated in jail, and yet another appearance in the dock.
"I am certain," she told me, "that I was not born to spend my entire life at the front line, fighting battles which never seem to end." But then she rallied: "We know we are going to have to pay a price for what we hope will be a more just society. It is very painful, but I realise somebody has to pay a price." She was all too prophetic. Just days later, already in her 50s, she was back in hospital, clubbed senseless by police.
Wangari Maathai, who is the first African woman ever to win any Nobel prize, grew up in Nyeri, central Kenya. She remembers drawing water from a spring, "fascinated by the way the clean, cool water pushed its way through the soft red clay so gently that even the individual grains of the soil were left undisturbed". The area was so green that there was no word in the local language for desert.
Now the trees have been cut for tea plantations and Wangari's spring has dried up. "I feel the tragedy under my feet. Gulleys stare at me, telling the story of soil erosion, unknown before. Hunger is on the faces of the people." It is like that all over Kenya - and Africa. Just 2 per cent of the country's original tree cover remains. Four-fifths of the continent's productive land threatens to turn to desert.
For more than 25 years Wangari has worked to reverse this, founding and running the Green Belt Move- ment, a grassroots campaign mainly of poor women, which has planted some 20 million trees. After becoming the first woman PhD and university professor in East and Central Africa, she married a rising politician, who got elected after pledging to plant trees in a slum area. She fulfilled his promise, to the fury of politicians who feared she was setting a dangerous precedent.
Three years later she started her movement, but before long her husband divorced her for being "too educated, too strong, too successful, too stubborn and too hard to control". She was regularly denounced by the country's leaders for not being a traditionally docile Kenyan woman. She retorted that she was "sick and tired of men who are so incompetent that every time they feel the heat because women are challenging them, they have to check their genitals to reassure themselves".
Frequently assaulted and imprisoned for her campaigns, she helped lead political opposition to President Moi. In the early 1990s I nominated her for a Goldman Environmental Prize - the world's top prize for grassroots environmentalists - which she won. She told a BBC World documentary this year that it had provided a "protective shield".
Two years ago, when President Moi was defeated, she was elected to parliament for Nyeri with 97 per cent of the vote, and was made Deputy Minister of the Environment. "I don't really know why I care so much," she says. "I just have something inside me that tells me that there is a problem and I have got to do something about it. I think that is what I would call the God in me. It must be this voice that is telling me to do something, and I am sure it is the same voice that is speaking to everybody on this planet."
by Norwegian Nobel Committee

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