Kakenya Ntaiya, like most young girls in her Kenyan village, was forced to undergo female genital mutilation at a young age. Many girls in Africa undergo this gruesome centuries-old practice and are then promptly married off. For most, it means the end of not only their childhood, but their education as well. But 14-year-old Kakenya had a plan, and struck a deal with her father when she could no longer put off the ceremony: She would agree to the procedure only if she could continue to go to school afterwards in order to fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher.
In the northeastern provinces of Kenya, less than 20 percent of girls are ever enrolled in schools, and many never complete their education. But Kakenya defied the odds and became the first girl to leave her Maasai village of Enoosaen and attend college in the United States. She received her doctorate in education and returned to her village to launch the first primary school for girls in her area, the Kakenya Center for Excellence. The school now serves 160 girls, most of them coming from underprivileged and vulnerable backgrounds. Parents eagerly sign their children up for the limited spots at the school, but first they must agree to not subject their daughters to genital mutilation or childhood marriage.
After surviving oppression and persevering against all odds, Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya is an undeniable leader for girls’ empowerment and education in Kenya. For her courage and vision, she was named a CNN Hero of the Year Top 10 finalist, and today she needs your vote to be named Hero of the Year.
Cast your vote HERE. You can vote once a day, and voting continues through Nov. 17. To share with your family and friends, use hashtag #girlsareheroes to continue the conversation and help Kakenya better the lives of girls in Kenya. If she is recognized as Hero of the Year, Kakenya will receive a total of $300,000 to assist in her girls’ empowerment and education efforts. In her words,
I want to show people how one person can create a movement.
Help Kakenya’s movement by voting every day until Sunday, November 17th!
Photo and information courtesy of Vital Voices press kit and the Kakenya Center For Excellence.
Melissa McGlensey recently graduated from the University of Oregon with a B.A. in English and Spanish with a minor in creative writing; she is currently interning at Ms.