Giving girls a chance to escape the cut
A Kenyan-born woman who survived female genital mutilation (FGM) has prevented 500 young girls from the practice.
Kakenya Ntaiya, 40, went back to her village and founded a school called Kakenya's Dream in 2009 in an effort to improve the lives of girl children who would most likely be married by puberty.
To date, more than 500 girls have passed through her school without having to go through genital mutilation in Massai village.
The trailblazer was one of 200 Obama Young Leaders who met in Johannesburg over five days for skills building and networking. Yesterday, marked the last day of the conference, which was also attended by South African leaders Wandile Mthiyane, Refilwe Ledwaba and Skhulile Ndlovu.
"Going through FGM is a right of passage in my community. It means that you are going to be a woman," Ntaiya said.
Ntaiya said many of her friends were married in grade 6 and she could see her life following the same path. "I negotiated with my father that I should go to school. He accepted and I got a scholarship to go and study in America."
However, Ntaiya was unable to escape being cut, which her father demanded in return for her going to university. She did, however, dodge an arranged marriage and became the first woman from her village to graduate with a PhD in education in 2012.
"It was in college where I started reading and learning about FGM... in my village we didn't have access to information or radios and books and libraries. I just started to have this passion to go home and start a girls' school," she said. "We started with nothing. I remember how we were under a tree at first with my girls."
Ntaiya said she was determined to make sure that girls with a similar background to hers would have a happier ending. The first class of 30 girls were enrolled at her school in 2009.
"I want girls to have the opportunity to be children. Girls in my village have to carry water, look after their siblings . they're never children."
Ntaiya said many of her alumni have gone on to study in universities across the globe. "I always tell my girls that their story is going to be even better than mine. I was the first but they will step on my shoulders and become even better than me," she said.