Hope Heals: A historical heroine - The Lookout - LCC's Independent Student Newspaper Since 1959
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Hope Heals: A historical heroine

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The Lookout Editor in Chief Mallory Stiles

Mallory Stiles

By Mallory Stiles
Editor in Chief

I was recently alerted by my amazing Associate Editor Kaitlyn Delaney that it is Women’s History Month, so I have chosen to remember the remarkable Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai.

The theme of the year is decided by the National Women’s Alliance. The 2024 theme is, “Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.”

With this theme in mind, the work of Maathai is most relevant to this year’s conversation. Born in Nyeri, Kenya, in 1940, Maathai was the first women in Central/East Africa to obtain a doctorate degree.

She died Sept. 25, 2011. She is survived by her three children, but she left behind more than that – a legacy that will last lifetimes.

After getting her PhD in 1971 from the University of Nairobi, she stayed at the university, becoming an assistant professor and chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy.

Making history again, Maathai was the first women in the region to hold those titles.

After that, she got involved in the National Council of Women of Kenya in 1976. Always an activist, she also advocated for women’s rights and fought hard to speak for those who could not speak for themselves.

She became the chair of THAT board in 1981. It was her work with the National Council of Women of Kenya that birthed her best idea yet; to help people by making the world a greener place.

Maathai didn’t know it, but she was starting a movement that would come be known as the “Green Belt Movement” that would sprout in approximately 40 other African countries.

Her hope was to better communities and, specifically, the lives of women near and far from her by improving their environment. One tree led to another and, before long, 20 million trees existed simply because she did.

In 1998, she was co-chair of the Jubilee Africa Campaign within the Jubilee 2000 Coalition, which was an international campaign that fought for fiscal equality and was led by over 60 country counsels.

The counsels unilaterally demanded the 35 poorest countries in the world be relieved of debts, and eventually got over $100 billion cancelled.

From her biography, I counted over 15 different awards she received. The most notable were the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and the 1989 Women of the World award, but the list goes on and on.

Maathai addressed the UN frequently and went on to touch many, many more organizations including Women and Environment Development Organization (WEDO) and the World Learning for International Development Foundation.

The last achievement listed was her successful campaign to be a part of Kenya’s ninth parliament. She received 98 percent of voter support and became the Assistant Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife.

Maathai made history by using her heart AND her head, proving that female leadership is not something to be feared, but something to be passionately embraced.

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