30 April 2022 • Alums Matthai P’94, P’96, L.H.D. ’94 Recognized on UN Postal Stamp By Samantha Foulk '22
The United Nations Postal Administration has honored Dr. Wangari Matthai P’94, P’96, L.H.D. ’94 on a stamp in remembrance of her birthday. Issued in Germany, the stamp reads “When we plant trees, we plant seeds of peace and hope.” Matthai was the first female African American and the first environmentalist to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her lifelong dedication and contributions to diversify environmental activism and sustainable development in Kenya.
“WHEN WE PLANT TREES, WE PLANT SEEDS OF PEACE AND HOPE.” Dr. Wangari Matthai P’94, P’96, L.H.D. ’94
Maathai was the parent of two HWS graduates and the recipient of an HWS honorary degree and the Colleges’ Blackwell Award. As the first African woman and environmentalist to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, she was the founder of the Green Belt Movement, through which women have planted more than 40 million trees across Africa, significantly improving the environment by curtailing the devastating effects of deforestation and desertification. Today, 6,000 village-based tree nurseries – run entirely by women – have been established in Kenya and the Green Belt Movement has spread to more than 30 countries.
Advocating for sustainable livelihoods, Maathai became active in several environmental and humanitarian organizations, such as co-chair of the Jubilee 2000 Africa Campaign where she played a leading role in seeking the cancellation of the overwhelming and unpayable debts of poor countries in Africa. She also campaigned tirelessly against land grabbing and the theft of public forests.
Her commitment to a democratic Kenya never faltered. In December 2002, she was elected as a Member of Parliament. In 2003, President Mwai Kibaki appointed her Deputy Minister for the Environment in the new government. Maathai brought her strategy of grassroots empowerment and commitment to participatory, transparent governance to the Ministry.
Maathai last visited campus on April 24, 2008 when she was presented with the Blackwell Award. While here, she planted a Peace Tree on campus near Demarest Hall and spoke to a standing-room only audience at the Smith Opera House, encouraging students, faculty, staff and community members to become involved in community service and the environmental movement.
“I cannot compliment Hobart and William Smith enough on its efforts in environmental and climate change. You are teaching as you do, and other colleges will surely learn by your example. I encourage the students of Hobart and William Smith to get involved, to develop your interest in community service,” commented Maathai during this campus visit.
Up until her passing on September 25, 2011, Maathai was a pioneer in advocating for connecting human rights and poverty with environmental protection.