Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya was supposed to follow the traditional path for a Maasai woman. Engaged at 5, she underwent female genital mutilation (FGM) in her early teens in preparation for marriage. This was supposed to mark the end of her childhood and education, preparing her for marriage. Since birth, she had been taught that she should only dream of becoming a mother and wife.
Kakenya had a different dream. She negotiated with her father to return to school after undergoing FGM. Though this was unheard of, he agreed. Several years later, she negotiated to do what no girl from her community had ever done: leave the village to go to college in the United States. She promised them she would use her education to benefit the village; in return, everyone collected money to pay for her journey.
Kakenya received a scholarship to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (now the co-ed Randolph College) in Virginia. She grew up without electricity, but soon adapted to writing papers on computers. She also became the first youth advisor to the United Nations Population Fund, where she traveled the world as a passionate advocate for girls’ education. She went on to the University of Pittsburgh, where she received her Doctorate in Education in 2011. During this time, she married and had two children.
Today, Dr. Ntaiya is fulfilling her promise to her community. As the founder and president of the Kakenya’s Dream organization, she believes education will empower and motivate young girls to become agents of change in their families, community and country. Since Kakenya’s Dream’s inception in 2008, the organization’s three programs have served more than 8,000 youth and provided a safe, nurturing school environment for more than 350 girls.
In 2013, Dr. Ntaiya was named a Top Ten CNN Hero, honored with the Global Women’s Rights Award by the Feminist Majority Foundation, was recognized by Women in the World as a “Women of Impact” and named a Top Ten CNN Hero. She was honored with a Vital Voices Global Leadership award in 2008 and as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2010. She was named one of Newsweek’s “150 Women Who Shake the World” in 2011 and was counted among the Women Deliver 100: The Most Inspiring People Delivering for Girls and Women. Her story has been the subject of a Washington Post series, a National Geographic feature, a BBC documentary and many magazine articles.
Source: National Geographic