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Pet Sins July 2009

Nobel Prize Winner Professor Wangari Maathai, aka 'The Tree Lady'

In the 1970s, Dr Wangari Maathai, noticing the negative effects of deforestation on the daily lives of local communities, created the The Green Belt Movement, a grassroots organization dedicated to replanting trees with the goal of replenishing the soil, protecting watersheds and providing fuel and food. GBM's activities eventually expanded to include educating communities about the cultivation of nutritious indigenous crops, effective rainwater collection, entrepreneurship, and reproductive health.

Maathai and her supporters have planted over 30 million trees in Kenya, but the road to success had not been smooth. 'The Tree Lady' and her supporters were subjected to jail and beatings when they campaigned to stop illegal real estate development inside a national forest in the 1990s. Although labeled a 'mad woman' by former President Moi, Maathai could not be kept down - in prison in 2001, elected to parliament in 2002 and then appointed Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.

In 2004, Professor Wangari Maathai became the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize, catapulting her to fame as a much sought-after international celebrity. For more on Maathai's life and work, see:

Redefining Peace (yesmagazine.org)

The Green Belt Movement

Maathai's memoir "Unbowed" won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Best Biography of 2007.