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Nobel Laureate Gives 2009 Shilling Lecture

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    Photo: Martin Rowe

Wangari Maathai, first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, gave the 2009 Shilling Lecture on Feb.10.

The lecture will be held Tuesday, Feb. 10, at 7 p.m. in the Alma Thomas Theater.

A native of Kenya, Maathai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. After earning her Ph.D. in anatomy from the University of Nairobi, she joined the faculty there as chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy.

Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work with the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, which she founded in 1977. The organization encouraged women’s groups to plant trees to prevent soil erosion, provide firewood and produce food. Through the Green Belt Movement, Maathai has helped women plant more than 30 million trees on their farms and in school and church compounds across Kenya. As a result of the Green Belt Movement, similar initiatives have been successfully launched in Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Lesotho, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, among others. Maathai detailed her initiative in a 2003 book titled The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach.

Her Feb. 10 lecture at Southwestern will be titled “Sustainable Development, Democracy and Peace.”

Maathai also has been a leading advocate for canceling the backlogged, non-repayable debts of poor African countries. Her campaign against illegal appropriation of public lands by unscrupulous developers and the re-allocation of forest land has received much attention in Kenya and the region.

In December 2002, Maathai was elected to Kenya’s parliament with an overwhelming 98 percent of the vote. She served as assistant minister for environment and natural resources in the government of President Mwai Kibaki from January 2003 to November 2005.

Maathai currently serves on the boards of several organizations, including the U.N. Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament, the Jane Goodall Institute, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), World Learning for International Development, Green Cross International, Environment Liaison Centre International, and the National Council of Women of Kenya.

In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Maathai has received numerous honors for her work, including the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1991 and the French Legion of Honor in 2006. She has received honorary doctoral degrees from several institutions around the world, including Hobart & William Smith Colleges, the University of Norway, Williams College and Yale University.

Maathai shared her life story in her 2006 memoir, Unbowed. Her story also is featured in a new award-winning documentary titled “Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai.” This documentary will be shown on campus Jan. 21 and 22 in advance of Maathai’s visit. The Jan. 21 screening will begin at 4 p.m. in Room 105 of the F.W. Olin Building and will be followed by a panel discussion. The Jan. 22 screening will be held at 7 p.m. in Olin 105.

Also in advance of Maathai’s visit, Southwestern is hosting a lecture by Gregory Maddox, professor of history at Texas Southern University. The lecture will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 27 at 4 p.m. in Olin 110. Maddox is an expert on African history and has written several books on the environmental history of Africa. His lecture, titled “Cooling the Land: Africans and African Environments,” will help place the environmental initiatives spearheaded by Maathai into a broader context.

The Shilling Lecture Series at Southwestern University was established in 1999 by The Brown Foundation Inc. of Houston to honor Southwestern’s 13th president, Roy B. Shilling Jr., and his wife, Margaret. The series brings to campus internationally prominent speakers on topics relating to ethics, public service and public policy. Past speakers include Bill Bradley, James Baker III, Thomas Kean, Benazir Bhutto, Desmond Tutu, Bill Moyers, President Jimmy Carter, Marian Wright Edelman, William Sloane Coffin, John McGuire and Karen Hughes.

Tickets for the lecture will be available first to members of the Southwestern community. If there are any remaining tickets, they will be available to the general public for $10 on Jan. 27. Tickets may be requested by sending a message to shillinglecture@southwestern.edu. Members of the public who are not able to purchase tickets may watch a simulcast of the lecture in Room 105 of the F.W. Olin Building for no charge.

Southwestern University is a selective, nationally recognized undergraduate liberal arts college with an enrollment of 1,260 students. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in Texas.