Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Katelyn. Katelyn Wonders, “Who is Wangari Maathai” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Katelyn!

Have you ever heard of Rachel Carson? How about Greta Thunberg? Maybe you’ve read about John Muir or Henry David Thoreau. These are all names of famous environmentalists. Today’s Wonder of the Day is about another person on that list—Wangari Maathai.

Wangari Maathai was born in 1940 in a small Kenyan village. It was rare for girls there to go to school. However, her family sent her to school anyway. Maathai was a strong student. She not only finished high school but went on to college. In 1971, she earned her PhD in veterinary anatomy.

Dr. Maathai was the first East African woman to hold a PhD. She was also the first woman to become a professor in the region. Soon, Dr. Maathai started looking for ways to support other women in Kenya. She also hoped to take steps to protect the environment there.

Dr. Maathai knew that deforestation was a problem in Kenya. Many of the nation’s forests had been wiped out. It was most heavily affecting rural communities. The lack of trees led to limited access to water. It also meant less food security. People had to go much farther to find wood for household needs. The people most harmed were largely ignored by government leaders because of their low economic status. 

With support from the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK), Dr. Maathai worked toward a solution. She started the Green Belt Movement (GBM). Through this group, she set about helping women grow and plant trees in their communities. The GBM also offered civic and environmental education. 

Through this work, Dr. Maathai gave Kenyan women the chance to earn an income. They did so by planting trees in their area. Those who worked with GBM also became leaders in their communities. They began to organize and push for better democratic practices in the country. This led to more protections for the forests. Dr. Maathai had found a way to both support other Kenyan women and replace the nation’s trees.

In 2002, Dr. Maathai was elected to Kenya’s Parliament. She received 98 percent of the vote. In 2004, she was given the Nobel Peace Prize. Sadly, she passed away from ovarian cancer in 2011. Today, Dr. Wangari Maathai is remembered as one of history’s greatest environmentalists.

The GBM still supports a greener world. It has aided over 30,000 women in planting more than 40 million trees.  Many people continue to honor Dr. Maathai today through their work to care for the planet. How can you join the fight against deforestation? Talk with a trusted adult about what you can do today.

Standards: NGSS.ESS3.C, NGSS.ESS3.D, C3.D2.Civ.1, C3.D2.Civ.2, C3.D2.Civ.6, C3.D2.Civ.12, C3.D2.Civ.4, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.W.7, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2

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