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Maasai doctor who negotiated for her right to education

Dr Kakenya Ntaiya’s life was planned for  her. She chose a different path after pleading with elders to let her go to school. Today, through her organisation Kakenya’s dream, she is giving children hope for a better future

Harriet James @harriet86jim

At just five years old, Dr Kakenya Ntaiya, like other Maasai girls, was engaged to be married. This ambitious woman, the eldest amongst her eight siblings, hails from a small village called Enoosaen in Transmara region, Narok county.

Despite undergoing female genital mutilation as a teenager, Kakenya had made up her mind that her life will not follow the traditional path of dropping out of school to become a wife and mother.

“I negotiated with my father to allow me to return to school after undergoing FGM. I had just finished my high school education. I also talked to the village elders to be left to study, something no other girl had done in the village,” Kakenya narrates.

She negotiated with the elders to permit her to study in the United States, promising to use her education to benefit the community in exchange.

After the receiving the blessings of the elders, Kakenya received a scholarship to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (now the co-ed Randolph College) in Virginia in the year 2008. In the year 2011, she received her doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh.

Moreover, she became the first youth advisor to the United Nations Population Fund, where she travelled the world as a passionate advocate for girl’s education.

Evil practice

Universally, FGM, a practice that emerges from a patriarchal society, is deemed to be a way of subjugating women and suppressing their sexuality.

It is estimated in Kenya, according to United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), that 9.3 million women and young girls have undergone the evil practice. This is approximately 27 per cent, which places Kenya at number 17 among the 29 countries in Africa that carry out the practice.

Dr Kakenya Ntaiya.

Driven by her passion to see the girl child empowered and also to fulfil the promise she made to the elders, Kakenya founded Kakenya’s Dream in 2008, an international non-profit organisation that leverages education to empower girls, uplift and transform rural communities in Kenya, and end harmful traditional practices.

“Kakenya means “dawn” in the Maasai language and so the organisation is bringing a new day for girls in rural Kenya. I believe that girls, no matter where they are born, deserve a chance to dream, learn, and achieve their full potential,” she says.

Kakenya’s Dream operates under three interconnected programmes which seek to empower girls, educate young boys, and influence community attitudes.

In the year 2009, the Kakenya Centre for Excellence, an all-girls primary boarding school was founded to offer holistic education to girls. The other programme dubbed, The Network for Excellence financially supports and mentors girls entering high school and post-secondary education.

They also have the Health and Leadership Trainings, which extend learning beyond the classroom, offering important health information and life skills to girls, boys and the community.

“The Centre for Excellence Primary Boarding School has provided an empowering, holistic education in a safe and nurturing learning environment to more than 370 girls since 2009.

We have also supported more than 160 girls in high school in the Network for Excellence through financial, academic, and mentorship support. Through our Health and Leadership Trainings, we’ve shared vital knowledge of health and rights to more than 10,000 boys and girls in our community and surrounding communities to date,” she says.

Her work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Dr Ntaiya is a proud CNN Hero Finalist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

In 2013, she received the Feminist Majority Global Women’s Rights Award from the Feminist Majority Foundation and the Vital Voices Global Leadership Award in the year 2008.  In 2013, Kakenya was recognised by women globally as a Woman of Impact and named a Top Ten CNN Hero.

Furthermore, In 2011, she was named one of Newsweek Magazine’s “150 Women Who Shake the World” and counted among the Women Deliver 100: The Most Inspiring People Delivering for Girls and Women. In the year 2013, her inspiring story as well as vision was captured in her inspiring TED Talk, aired  the same year.

Opportunity

In 2015, she had a chance of meeting Former US president Barack Obama during his visit to Kenyatta University.

“The highlight of his visit, by far, was that four of our students were selected to attend, and one of our students even had the opportunity to speak to him,” she recollects.

With microphone held proudly in hand, her former student, Linet Momposhi discussed the importance of establishing a Kenya where all girls are given the same opportunities she’s had, and where communities thrive because all of its members have opportunity.

Linet’s contributions to the discussion clearly made an impact—her photo with President Obama was put on display in the West Wing of the White House for a time! Together with 2010 Hero Harmon Parker, Kakenya rebuilt a footbridge which had been destroyed near her village. This was featured in CNN Heroes.

As the demand for the organisation’s life-changing programmes keeps increasing, Kakenya faces the challenge of space, which has resulted in her turning away girls. They have purposed that over the next five years, Kakenya’s Dream will grow by building a new school that will serve students from nursery through Form Four.

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