Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Wangari Maathai will recount her struggle to bring peace to her homeland of Africa tonight in a speech entitled “Sustainable Development, Democracy and Peace.”
Maathai will be in Campbell Hall at 7:00 p.m. today to discuss how her grassroots movement has improved the lives of women living in Africa. Tickets to the lecture, which is sponsored by the Bren School of Environmental Studies and the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion and Public Life, will be available for purchase today from UCSB Arts & Lectures at $15 for the general public and $10 for students.
Roman Baratiak, campus films and lectures manager, said Maathai will discuss her work to help reverse environmental damage in Africa while fighting for human rights.
“[The speech] is related to the grassroots empowerment of poor women living in Kenya,” Baratiak said.
One of Maathai’s most notable projects is the Green Belt Movement, created in 1977 to encourage women to plant trees in parts of Africa that had been deforested by logging, mining and housing developments, Baratiak said. The movement has led to the planting of 30 million trees, which – along with the environmental benefits – has shown the women who participate that ordinary people have the power to effect change, Baratiak said.
“The idea behind the Green Belt Movement was that you didn’t need to wait for the government agency to solve problematic situations … the individual can do it,” Baratiak said.
Dr. William Freudenburg, professor of environmental studies, sociology and geology, said he thinks Maathai is a pioneer in many ways. He said she realized that rural women and children were suffering heavily from degradation of the land in some areas and sought to assist them in improving their situation through the Green Belt tree planting efforts.
“She said, ‘Let me work with them to help them become problem solvers,'” Freudenburg said.
In 2004, Maathai was the first African woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for her work to reform human rights and environmental issues, and ultimately spread peace throughout oppressed areas in Africa.
“Africa has gone through all sorts of problems, like lack of democracy and peace,” Baratiak said. “You can’t have sustainable development without peace.”
Baratiak said Maathai is currently the deputy minister for environment and natural resources in Kenya’s Parliament, but she struggled against President Daniel Moi, the dictator of Kenya for 20 years, to reach her position. Under Moi’s rule, Maathai endured jail time and violence while fighting for her rights and the people of her country, Baratiak said.
In Nairobi, Baratiak said, Maathai headed a project that aimed to reclaim over 400 acres of public land that corrupt developers – known as “land grabbers” – had appropriated from the people, to use for housing and large developments. The government, who had a financial stake in the land, brought in police to thwart her opposition.
“She’s an environmental hero,” Freudenburg said.