“If you educate a man, you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a generation.” – Dr. James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey
Engaged at age 5, and subjected to one of life most horrendous practices – female genital mutilation as a teenager, life supposedly had her future all mapped out; forget education, become a wife and rear children, no questions asked. That was the traditional Maasai path chosen for the every girl child. But Kakenya Ntaiya was a rebel. Unapologetically she dreamed of more, accomplishing a much more bigger purpose – getting an education and touching lives
A go-getter with a plan; she boldly approached her father and negotiated to undergo female genital muitilation in exchange for school. It worked. Yet again, she summoned courage and went ahead to negotiate with the village elders, for permission to do the unthinkable – leave her Maasai village, Enoosaen in South Kenya to go to college in the United States.
Kakenya had received a scholarship to Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Virginia, United States.
They heeded to her plea, the entire village contributed to pay for her journey. In return, Kakenya vowed her education would be of immense benefit to her community. She became the first woman in her village to attend college.
After completing her undergraduate studies, earning her PhD in education from the University of Pittsburgh, she became the first youth advisor to the United Nations Population Fund. Today, she is not just standing on a pedestal but inspiring change. Kakenya who views education as an important tool for fighting the practices of female genital mutilation and child marriage is boldly and selflessly changing lives. In 2008, she returned to open the village’s first primary school for girls, the Kakenya Center for Excellence – a non profit all-girls boarding schools that provide life-changing education to vulnerable girls in rural Kenya.
Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya says of her vision: “Our work is about empowering the girls. “They are dreaming of becoming lawyers, teachers, doctors.” The organisation was selected as one of the recpients of the 2014 OFID Annual Award for Development.
A change agent, ever passionate advocate for girls’ education, she travels the world to spread the word. Her amazing work hasn’t gone unnoticed and has landed her several awards and honours. Kakenya was featured in Melinda Gates’ first book, The Moment of Lift, in 2013 she was honored with the Global Women’s Right Award from the Feminist Majority Foundation, was recognized by Women in the World as a “Woman of Impact,” and named a CNN Hero. Kakenya was honored with a Vital Voices Global Leadership award in 2008 and as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2010. She was named as 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.