In the latest episode of African Voices Changemakers, CNN International’s Arit Okpo meets Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya, the activist ensuring all Kenyan girls have access to education.
When Ntaiya was a child, education was not a priority for girls, with many of them being forced into early marriages. She tells CNN about how this influenced her, “My dream as a young girl was to grow up to be a teacher. By the time we were in eighth grade, there were only two girls, myself and one other girl. The rest had already been married.”
Ntaiya speaks about the trauma of undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) and how the process fortified her desire to educate and protect other young women, “Coming out of it, there was some real determination in me to, one, make sure that I actually became that teacher that I dreamed about, but there was also part of me that felt that I needed to help my sisters to avoid FGM and create a better life for them.”
After studying at a university in the United States, Ntaiya returned to Kenya determined to change other girls’ lives. She tells Okpo, “I told myself that I’m just going to start school. I knew education had made a difference in my life. And I knew that the only way I could actually help was to provide a safe space for girls to learn.”
In 2009, Ntaiya opened her first school, the Kakenya Center for Excellence, which was met with overwhelming demand. She speaks about its success, “We’ve had about 600 girls go through this school. My hopes always have grown to see women in my community, girls in my community, achieve their dreams. They want to be lawyers, they want to be doctors. They basically see my work as enabling them, creating opportunities, pushing the boundaries. And ensuring that they don’t go through what I went through to go to school.”
A former CNN Hero, Ntaiya describes how these awards and accolades have helped her foundation, “CNN Hero was a great honour. It really brought a lot of credibility to the work that we are doing. It gave us a big platform to share our work and to bring many others to our work.”
Through her foundation ‘Kakenya’s Dream’, Ntaiya is breaking the traditions of early marriages and FGM. She sums up how she would like to continue her work, “I’ve been thankful because the community has really embraced what we are doing. We all come together with a goal of ensuring that each one of the girls that go through here, have a better life than when they came in. That’s why we are here, and that’s why we will continue to create more opportunities.”
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