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Wangari Maathai
Kenyan woman of vision and dedication

The Green Belt Movement, founded by Wangari Maathai, is made up of women who collect seeds and plant trees, over ten million of them. In her own words, "I got interested in environmental degradation and the causes of the problem, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that when you talk about the problems, you tend to disempower people. You tend to make people feel that there is nothing they can do, that they are doomed, that there is no hope. I realized that to break the cycle, one has to start with a positive step, and I thought that planting a tree is very simple, very easy - something positive that anybody can do. The power to change their environment is within them and within their own capacities."

The result of planting millions of trees has held back the advancing desert of Kenya, provided firewood close to home, produced fruit for the family, shade, fodder for the animals, held the soil in place during huge dust storms, and increased the water-holding capacity of the soil making it easier to grow vegetables for the children. It has also given the Green Belt women a whole new view of themselves, able to make a difference, empowered them to make decisions about the number of children to bare, to succeed in better caring for and feeding the children they have.

Schools and villages all over Africa have begun to follow the model of tree planting to improve their land and their lives. For this enormous contribution to so many Wangari Maathai was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1991. I met her that same year at the World Women's Congress prior to the Earth Summit Meeting of 1992. She is an Eco-Hero and my hero. I gave her one of my posters for the Green Belt office in Nairobi.

Wangari's story of planting over 30 million trees is inspiring in its own right, but it is doubly significant that the Nobel Peace Prize committee has chosen her as the recipient of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. They are acknowledging for the first time, the crucial link between environmental health and peace.

Upon receiving word that she had won she told BBC, "The environment is very important in the aspects of peace. When we destroy our resources and our resources become scarce, we fight over that." She has used the power of non-violence and creative resistance to foil crimes against the planet. She has been tear-gassed, beaten, hospitalized and jailed all for her leadership role in standing up for protecting public lands, forests and women's rights in opposition to former president Arap Moi and his illegal perpetrations on the environment of her beloved Kenya. Moi is no longer in power and today Wangar is Deputy Minister of the Environment in Kenya.