African environmentalist and Nobel Peace prizewinner, Dr. Wangari Maathai, has passed away at the age of 71, after a prolonged and bravely borne struggle with cancer.

Photograph: Micheline Pelletier/Corbis

The above portrait of Wangari Maathai was taken in 2004, in Kiriti, Kenya. She served as Kenyan assistant environment minister from 2003, founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, the largest tree-planting project in Africa; aimed at promoting biodiversity and creating jobs and giving women a stronger identity in society.

Let us stand up for each other, irrespective of our ethnic backgrounds and political persuasions. Injustice to one is injustice to all of us. If we, individually and collectively, are not the conscience of our country, then who is? (Prof. Maathai)

Wangari Muta Maathai was born in 1940 in Nyeri, Kenya, a mid-sized town in the foothills of Mount Kenya. She was determined to get an education even though most girls in her community were uneducated. She was a star student and won a scholarship to study biology at Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas. She went on to obtain a doctorate in veterinary anatomy, becoming the first woman in East or Central Africa to hold such a degree, according to the Nobel Prize Web site. She formed the Green Belt Movement in 1977 which planted trees across Kenya to fight erosion and to create fuel (i.e., firewood) and jobs for women.

Dr. Maathai is truly one of the most pivotal beings of our time. This electrifying and unwearying Kikuyu woman of Kenya, whose ray of light pierced through dark clouds, has held her head high with dignity and integrity in the face or oppression. The painful adversity she also faced when Kenya was not a land of freedom, but a state that sowed seeds of discord while at the same time crushing the spirit of its own people. It was Dr. Wangari’s internal strength and tenacious voice, her never-ending effort to stand strong in the winds of injustice, and her unconditional love of mankind that ensures her Spirit will continue to be honored by many. Dr. Maathai leaves this planet a legacy, a testimony of the fact that progress and growth does not require destroying the beautiful Mother Earth, or scalping her of her magnificent resources to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the beast called Greed.

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Today, Humanity gives a final bow of honor to Dr. Wangari Maathai. May she rest in peace.

To learn more about this incredible Soul, I recommend you read Unbowed : a Memoir. In Unbowed, Wangari Maathai offers an inspiring message of hope and prosperity through self-sufficiency.

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