At 14, Kakenya Ntaiya was facing the prospect of a child marriage and being forced to leave school. Desperate to pursue her education, she struck a bargain with her father: she would submit to traditional female genital mutilation (FGM) if he promised to let her finish high school, rather than forcing her to marry. He agreed, and she graduated and won a scholarship to an American university. But she couldn't stop thinking of the other Kenyan girls who didn't have the same opportunity, so in 2009 she returned and founded a school for girls, the Kakenya Center for Excellence, a primary school that requires parents to agree not to subject their daughters to FGM or to child marriage. She also created a non-profit, Kakenya's Dream, to support the school and other community programs outside the classroom.
Today, her school educates nearly 300 Maasai girls who would likely have had no chance to pursue their educations – all of them avoiding FGM, child marriage, and early childbirth. She has also reached thousands more through the Center's community education programs, including one for teen girls on sexual reproductive health and rights. The school also recently purchased additional land to expand the current school and add classes for younger girls; they aim to eventually accommodate 600 girls.
Ntaiya's students are not only excelling academically, they are also changing their society's attitudes towards educating girls. "[The girls] want to become doctors, pilots, lawyers. Fathers are now saying, 'My daughter could do better than my son,'" Kakenya says. "When [the girls] start, they are so timid [but now] the confidence they have, it's just beyond words. It's the most beautiful thing."
To help Kakenya educate more girls this year, you can donate to Kakenya's Dream on their website.
Source: A Mighty Girl newsletter, https://www.amightygirl.com/