Dr. Maathai was raised in the rural highlands of Kenya, educated in the United States during the 1960s civil rights era, and the first female to receive a PhD in East Africa, Maathai discovered the heart of her life's work by reconnecting with the rural women with whom she had grown up.
|Women in the Green Belt Movement planting seedlings|
A seemingly innocuous idea, Maathai soon discovered that tree planting had a ripple effect of empowering change. In the mid 1980s, Kenya was under the repressive regime of Daniel arap Moi under whose dictatorship group gatherings were outlawed. In tending their nurseries women had a legitimate reason to gather outside their homes and discuss the roots of their problems. These grassroots women soon found themselves working successively against deforestation, poverty, ignorance, embedded economic interests, and political oppression, until they became a national political force.