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Nobel Peace Prize winner to speak today

Wangari Maathai has been criticized by her ex-husband for being too educated, too strong, too successful and too hard to control.

She has changed the way that Africans – especially poor African women – view sustainability, democracy and peace, and won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to bring democracy to Kenya.

Tonight at 7, Maathai will speak at the Special Events Center about her endeavors in a lecture titled “Grassroots Environmental Activism”.

The focus of the lecture will be her extensive work in environmental sustainability in Kenya and around the globe.

In an October 2004 interview with BBC news, Maathai used a Biblical analogy to stress the importance of the environment.

“God created the planet from Monday to Friday. On Saturday he created human beings,” she said. “The truth of the matter is, if man was created on Tuesday, I usually say he would have been dead on Wednesday because there would not have been the essential elements that he needs to survive.”

In 1997, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement-Kenya (GBM Kenya), a grassroots, non-government organization. GBM Kenya focuses on environmental conservation, community development and capacity building, according to its Web site,, and since expanded to Green Belt Movement International (GBMI).

The Green Belt Movement has planted more than 10 million trees to prevent deforestation and soil erosion as well as provide firewood.

Kenyan women who carry out the program are paid for planting the trees and thus are able to provide better care for their children.

“(Maathai) recognized that if you want to help poor people in poor countries, you’ve got to start with the women,” said Rebecca Harris, assistant academic director at the Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions.

Harris said Maathai could speak to various students, including those who are interested in women’s studies, about the development of Kenya, environmental sustainability and more.

“She’s got it all, and from what I understand she’s just a very inspiring speaker,” Harris said. “She started (GBM Kenya) from nothing, and it’s now planting millions of trees in Kenya and around Africa. I think this is stuff that students will love.”

Maathai has been a member of the Kenyan Parliament since 2002 and was appointed Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in Kenya’s ninth Parliament in 2003. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, earning her doctorate in anatomy in 1971 from the University of Nairobi.

The lecture is part of the Globalization Speakers Series for spring 2006, presented by the Dr. Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions. She is the third speaker of the series, which runs through April 21.