8 Things You Need to Know About Kakenya’s Dream

2019 marked a decade of Dr Kakenya Ntaiya’s work empowering girls and transforming Kenyan communities

By Google Arts & Culture

Kakenya Ntaiya with Kakenya Center students (2009) by Kate CummingsVital Voices Global Partnership

Kakenya Ntaiya broke with tradition to leave her rural Kenyan village and study in the US. Maasai women rarely get such an opportunity, and Kakenya owed it to the help of her community (and her own enterprising spirit!). She left with the promise to one day return and help other young Kenyan’s to achieve their dreams.

2019 marked the 10th anniversary of the project entitled Kakenya’s Dream. In 2009, Kakenya fulfilled her promise to return to her village and help other local girls access the educational opportunities which had allowed her, by 2011, to become Dr. Ntaiya. 

Vital Voices: Kakenya (2010) by Pistachios and Hundredth Monkey CollectiveVital Voices Global Partnership

Kakenya Ntaiya and Kakenya Center students (2009) by Kate CummingsVital Voices Global Partnership

The Kakenya Centre for Excellence, and the expanding projects of Kakenya’s Dream, have now spent over 10 years promoting the education of Maasai and other Kenyan girls, and opening international opportunities.

Here are some of the key facts from a decade of dreaming.

Kakenya Ntaiya breaking ground (2008) by Aaron KisnerVital Voices Global Partnership

1) Kakenya grew up in Enoosaen in Kenya

Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya’s first home was a small village over 200 miles from Nairobi called Enoosaen. She was born and grew up in a modest house made of straw and mud with no modern amenities. It is to this village that she returned to help other young Kenyan women. 

Kakenya Ntaiya at Vital Voices Africa Summit (2007) by Sharon FarmerVital Voices Global Partnership

2) Her community helped her go to America to study

Kakenya had big dreams. Her passion helped convince the village elders to let her go into higher education in the United States. The community helped to collect funds for her trip. She studied at the University of Pittsburgh, and achieved her doctorate in Education in 2011.

Kakenya Ntaiya and students in their new uniforms (2009) by Kate CummingsVital Voices Global Partnership

3) Most girls in rural Kenya leave school before they are 12

Kakenya’s story was unprecedented in her community. In 2006, the then-local chief in Enoosaen said “girls are for marriage, so there’s no no need to educate them.” Such entrenched ideas take time to influence, but Kakenya’s ambition is to take the current number of Masaai and rural Kenyan girls leaving education behind before their twelfth birthday (believed to be around 80%) and make it zero.

Kakenya Ntaiya picking out the uniforms (2009) by Kate CummingsVital Voices Global Partnership

4) KCE was founded to promote education over early marriage

The vast majority (around 90%) of young women and girls in Maasai and rural Kenyan communities enter into early arranged marriages. Kakenya herself was engaged to a neighbour at the age of 5. Many are also subjected to female genital mutilation, known as FGM, which many United Nations bodies acknowledge as a violation of human rights. From childhood, these girls are limited to a life of house-keeping and child-rearing. Those who flee (and there are many) end up in Kenya’s urban centres with little opportunity or experience, risking exploitation.

Kakenya Ntaiya during construction (2009) by Kate CummingsVital Voices Global Partnership

5) Kakenya’s Dream started small, but is growing

It was this cycle of harm and limited opportunity which Kakenya managed to break, and from which she hopes to free many more young Kenyans. The goal was always ambitious, but started out humbly. Kakenya acquired a small patch of land outside of Enoosaen in 2008, and the following year opened the KCE. Initially, the school consisted of a single class of local girls. Now, a second campus is under construction, and Kakenya hopes to build dormitories to accept resident students from outside of the local community. 

Kakenya Ntaiya at Vital Voices Africa Summit (2007) by Sharon FarmerVital Voices Global Partnership

6) Her work has won her many accolades and awards

To date, Kakenya’s work has seen her become a CNN Hero Finalist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer. She also received a Feminist Majority Global Women’s Rights Award from the Feminist Majority Foundation in 2013 and the Vital Voices Global Leadership Award in 2008 and been named by Women in the World as a “Woman of Impact.” Newsweek Magazine named her one of the “150 Women Who Shake the World” in 2011.

Kakenya Center for Excellence students in their new uniforms (2009) by Kate CummingsVital Voices Global Partnership

7) Since 2009, KCE has racked up impressive numbers

The Kakenya Centre for Excellence boasts an incredible record. 100% of the 440 alumni have avoided FGM and early marriage, and gone on to continued education. The Kakenya’s Dream Health and Leadership Training projects have educated 12,000 boys and girls since 2009, and 200 girls are now receiving academic scholarships, college and career guidance, and tutoring through their Network for Excellence. 

Kakenya Ntaiya with her mentee, Rebecca Theori (2007) by Sharon FarmerVital Voices Global Partnership

8) Kakenya is educating Kenya’s future leaders

From 11-year old Sylvia, who once broke her leg and was unable to access proper treatment but now aspires to be a kindergarten teacher, to Faith, 14, who is learning better public speaking on her way to becoming a journalist, to Rebecca Theori who spoke at the Vital Voices conference in 2007, the KCE isn’t just bettering the day-to-day lives of girls; it’s producing the community and education leaders of Kenya’s future.

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