Contributed by: Madison Gleissner, Image Impact International Newsletter Editor
Imagine not only being the first in your family to attend college, but being one of the first women in your village to pursue a college education. That was the experience of Kakenya Ntaiya, Image Impact International’s first Everyday Impact subject of 2019.
Kakenya Ntaiya was born a member of the Maasai people in rural Kenya. In the Maasai community, infrastructure and outdated traditions make it especially difficult for females to complete their educations. Like Kakenya, who was engaged by the age of 5, many females of the Maasai people are subject to childhood marriage.
Other conditions adding to the difficulty in obtaining a post-secondary education for Maasai girls include poor healthcare, poverty, and the expectation that girls should grow up to become wives and mothers. In fact, 80% of Maasai girls drop out of school by the age of 12.
For Kakenya, expectations were not much different, but she was motivated by her mother to pursue a better life and dreamed of one day becoming a teacher. Kakenya recalls thinking that a teacher’s job was not too difficult in comparison to the work that she was performing daily on her father’s farm. With her dream and a bit of leverage (she told her father she would run away, bringing shame to her family, if he did not agree), Kakenya negotiated with her father to allow her to return to school following her FGM ceremony.
Kakenya succeeded in school and upon graduation received a scholarship to attend Randolph-Macon Women’s College (now Randolph College) in Virginia. With the financial support of the men in her village – many of whom originally felt that this opportunity was wasted on a female – Kakenya raised money for her relocation and promised her community that she would return to give back to it. She then flew to the United States where she later earned her PhD in Education from the University of Pittsburgh.
Kakenya was empowered through her education and new experiences, and soon knew just how she would repay and build up her community. In the United States, she found herself in a “land of plenty,” and began to realize her rights: the right to property, the right to have control over her body, the rights that she has as a woman.
With this knowledge, Kakenya returned to her home in Kenya, as promised, and opened the Kakenya Center for Excellence, an all-girls boarding school. Being a boarding school, the Kakenya Center for Excellence reduces its students’ risk of being sexually assaulted, eradicates long commute time, and allows the girls to focus on their education and being children. To date, 100% of the girls who have attended the Kakenya Center for Excellence have avoided child marriage and FGM and have continued their education post-graduation.
Kakenya founded Kakenya’s Dream in 2008 with a mission to empower girls through education, mentorship, and health and leadership training. She has been recognized for her contributions by CNN, National Geographic, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and
Women in the World, and her organization continues to reach and impact the lives of thousands of young women each day.
“Kakenya’s Dream.” Kakenya’s Dream, www.kakenyasdream.org/.
Ntaiya, Kakenya. “A Girl Who Demanded School.” Ted, Ted, www.ted.com/talks/kakenya_ntaiya_a_girl_who_demanded_school?language=en#t-888084.
Toner, Kathleen. “Woman Challenges Tradition in Her Kenyan Village.” CNN, Cable News Network, 17 Feb. 2016, www.cnn.com/2013/03/14/world/africa/cnnheroes-ntaiya-girls-school/index.html.
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