Kakenya Ntaiya returned to her Maasai village to open the first girl’s school of the region
She is young, dynamic and talented. She holds a PHD in education from the University of Pittsburgh. That made her the first graduate from her Kenyan village and the first doctorate from her community. But to be at this level, Kakenya Ntaiya had travelled through many hardships in her life. Like every other girls in the village, Kakenya Ntaiya was also a victim of female genital circumcision. For generations, this ceremony was a common practice for every Maasai girls as young as 10. Soon after the ceremony, they would be taken out of the school and would be married off. But Ntaiya had a deal with her father that she would only be circumcised if she was allowed to complete high school. Kakenya’s father agreed and then her life took a U-turn.
Kakenya Ntaiya belongs to a district where only 11 percent of girls continue school after primary level. But Kakenya’s tactic and determinations brought her success. Kakenya excelled in her academics and earned a scholarship in the United States. Her community helped her by raising money for her airfare and in exchange, she promised to return and help the village. Kakenya Ntaiya not only fulfilled her dream to be a teacher, but she also kept her promise to help the village. In 2009, Kakenya Ntaiya opened the region’s first and only primary school Kakenya Center for Excellence for girls.
Kakenya Ntaiya has different plans for her academy altogether. In other local rural schools, teachers put all their focus on the boys, considering the fact that most of the girls will leave the school by the age of 13. But contrast to the tradition, her academy aims at keeping the class sizes small, so that each girl receives a great deal of individual attention.
Kakenya Ntaiya’s academy is only 4 years old, but the school ranks among the top schools in its district. It is now helping more than 150 girls to receive best education and getting all kinds of support and opportunities to stand tall in the male dominated society. Though started as a traditional school, but now the students from fourth to eighth grade have residential facility in the school. Now, girls don’t have to walk miles to come to school and most importantly, residential facility spares them being sexually assaulted, which is a common problem in rural African communities.
Now, they can focus on their studies and on being kids, It’s the only way you can give a girl child a chance to excel. Said Kakenya Ntaiya
Students in the academy receive three meals a day, uniforms, books and tutoring. The academy teaches all sorts of leadership skills to the girls. Extracurricular activities include the activities like, student council, debate and soccer. The school also provides health related information such as – consequences of sex, early pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and their personal rights.
After just a few months here, they become completely different people. In a girls-only environment they lead, make decisions, speak up and gain confidence. They’re smart and thriving. They just needed a chance, Kakenya Ntaiya said.
Each year more than 100 girls apply for nearly 30 spots in each class. Before enrolling, parents must agree that their daughters will not be subjected to genital mutilation and early marriage. Although Kakenya Center for Excellence receives some financial support from the Kenyan government, but the majority of the school’s expenses are paid by Ntaiya’s nonprofit. Families are asked to contribute for the cost of the girl’s meals, which can be paid in maize or beans. But Ntaiya covers the cost of the girls whose parents can’t contribute for the meals.
Kakenya Ntaiya’s strong willpower and accomplishments have made her a role model in her village. Villagers respect her for the fact that she didn’t forget her promise.
We have several sons who have gone to the United States for school. Kakenya is the only one that I can think of that has come back to help us. What she tells us, it touches us…. She brought a school and a light and is trying to change old customs to help girls get a new, better life. Said one of the villagers.
Her efforts to educate the Kenyan girls made her one of the top 10 CNN heroes of 2013. Kakenya Ntaiya not only dared to break an age-old tradition, but she attempted something which was never done by any girl in her village. Kakenya believes that her academy will be a model to be replicated by other remote areas. Kakenya Ntaiya is helping girls to speak up for their rights. And she has a strong reason for that! Because now, girls have the strong shoulders of Kakenya Ntaiya to move up the ladder.