(NAIROBI, Kenya) -- Professor Wangari Maathai, a famed Kenyan environmentalist and human rights activist, passed away Sunday in Nairobi after a long battle with cancer, according to the Green Belt Movement, an organization she founded in 1977. She was 71 years old.
Through the Green Belt Movement (GBM), Professor Maathai helped poor communities in Kenya improve their environmental conditions by promoting the planting of trees, which provide firewood for cooking and protect watersheds. Since the organization was started, GBM says it "has since mobilized hundreds of thousands of women and men to plant more than 47 million trees, restoring degraded environments and improving the quality of life for people in poverty."
Professor Maathai was also a tireless activist against tribalism, sexism and corruption in Kenya. She, along with other pro-democracy advocates, protested the abuses committed under the dictatorial regime of former Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi, resulting in her being harassed and arrested.
In 2004, Professor Maathai became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She was awarded "for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace".
Among her other achievements: Elected in December 2002, Professor Maathai served a term as one of the only a female members of Kenya's parliament. And earlier, in 1971, she became the first woman in East Africa to earn a Ph.D.
Professor Maathai is survived by her three children and a granddaughter. The Green Belt Movement says it will provide information on Professor Maathai's funeral and memorial services shortly.
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