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Born in the foothills of the Aberdare Mountains in Kenya in 1940, Wangari Maathai grew up in a close-knit Kikuyu community where food, fresh water and fuel were plentiful. Her family were farmers and she grew up surrounded by the beauties of an ecologically balanced forest in which trees offered shelter and fuel as well as maintaining the water table and fostering springs and streams and farming local crops such as millet and green vegetables as well as sheep and goats meant that people were well-fed. At that time, however, Kenya was undergoing a massive adjustment as colonialism brought with it European crops and farming methods, missionaries and white settlers. The enviromental balance that the old way of life had ensured was fatally disrupted as the forests were cleared to make way for settler farms and cash crops and a cash economy were introduced. Wangari was sent to a local mission school she continued her studies in the USA in Kansas and Pittsburg as part of the Kennedy airlift. She returned to Nairobi and received a PhD, the first woman in East and Central Africa to do so, and then became head of the veterinary medicine faculty there - the first woman to achieve that too
In 2004, Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition of her campaigns for democracy and environmental reform during the dictatorship of Daniel arap Moi. Now a leading Kenyan politician, she lives in Nairobi.