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Wangari Maathai, the Grassroots Kenyan Heroine and Founder of the Green Belt Movement

By February 19, 2024February 20th, 2024No Comments

In the Fall of 2023, my son Jordan Nderitu Everett was invited by his school friend to volunteer with TreeFolks. One of the volunteer events Jordan participated in was to plant trees at the Frank and Sue McBee Elementary School in Austin, TX. Hearing about this event and being from the same area as Dr. Wangari Maathai, I felt compelled to join in, as this was an excellent opportunity to re-educate Jordan on his connection to Dr. Maathai and his Kenyan heritage.

Dr. Wangari Maathai, the visionary behind the Green Belt Movement and recipient of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, dedicated herself to environmental conservation and empowering women in Kenya. Born in 1940, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 to address environmental challenges affecting rural communities, particularly women, by promoting tree planting and water conservation. Her efforts gained international acclaim, highlighted in the documentary “Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai,” which showcased the transformative impact of her work.

Maathai’s influence extended beyond environmental activism; she was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree and a prominent advocate for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation. Throughout her career, Maathai held various significant roles, including serving as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in Kenya’s parliament and being appointed UN Messenger of Peace. Her legacy endures through initiatives like the Karura Forest Environmental Education Trust, dedicated to conservation efforts.

Dr. Maathai’s life and the success of the Green Belt Movement exemplify the power of grassroots movements and community-led initiatives in creating meaningful change. Her tireless dedication to environmental conservation and women’s empowerment inspires globally, showcasing the profound impact individuals can have on society and the environment through collective action.

Maathai has a popular children’s book widely used in the Kenyan and the global community. Wangari Maathai, The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees was written in her honor, and I used to read it to both my sons when they were little. The McBee Elementary tree planting event was a perfect opportunity to remind them of her heroic quest and the importance of trees to the environment and the quality of life in communities.

Neighbors Planting Trees program is a partnership with the City of Austin and Austin Energy.


Jackie Nyambura Everett has resided in Austin, Texas, for the last 11 years and lives with her husband, Jay, and two sons. Originally born in Nairobi, Kenya, with Family roots specifically in Nyeri, Kenya.