Kakenya Ntaiya | Empowering Girls, Transforming Communities

Kakenya Ntaiya  | Empowering Girls, Transforming Communities


This session is titled Empowering Girls,
Transforming Communities: My Journey to Live a Bold Vision for Change. President Paula Johnson will introduce Dr.
Kakenya Ntaiya. – Thank you, Joey. And good evening. It’s so wonderful to see all of you here this
evening. Thank goodness the snow is near winding down. And it’s just my pleasure to welcome you to
Wellesley and to the African Women’s Leadership Conference. To those from our Wellesley community, I’m
so glad to see many of you here for what I know will be a very deeply inspiring keynote
about empowering girls and transforming communities. And how to live boldly, engage deeply, and
create change in the world. I’m honored to welcome Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya. Dr. Ntaiya, a native of Kenya and a member
of the Maasai, is a renowned educator, feminist leader, and social activist. Her story is the story of how through sheer
strength of will she took control of her own future. Even as a school girl, she so profoundly believed
in the power of education to change her life and the lives of those in her community that
she decided she would do whatever she had to to pursue the dream of becoming a teacher. Her personal story which she will share with
us this evening is one of courage, a profound resolve, and hope. Her journey would take her to the United States
for college and graduate school. But she would return to her home in Kenya
to fulfill a promise she had made to her community who had supported her education in the United
States. As I learned about her story, one thing of
many that resonated most for me personally, it was her belief in empowering women as a
way to change the world and her belief that education is a crucial first step to this. These ideals are the ideals Wellesley was
founded upon. Nearly 150 years later we are preparing and
inspiring young women to confront the problems of the 21st century through principled and
compassionate leadership. After graduating from college in the United
States, from Randolph-Macon, a sister women’s college, she returned to her village in Kenya. And that promise she made was realized when
Kakenya opened the area’s first primary school for girls. Her work is creating new futures of promise
and potential for girls in her village and in the region. Dr. Ntaiya, you may be interested to know
that the first African woman to study at Wellesley, Roseberry Naguru Kimani, was from Kenya. She told the Wellesley News that she would
return to Kenya to teach because it is the best way she sees to help her country. She graduated in 1964. The Kakenya Center for Excellence, or KCE,
opened in 2009 serving 30 students. Dr. Ntaiya’s goal was to create a model for
rural communities to empower and create leaders, and to plant women’s leadership positions
so that they can make a difference. And she has succeeded and gone well beyond. The KCE has since expanded to include three
programs: the Boarding School, the Network of Excellence to support alumni of the school,
and the Health and Leadership Trainings Program which brings youth from the community together
to learn about their health and their rights. In a CNN video profile she asked the girls
what their goals are. And they say, to become a pilot, one says
a doctor, says another, and president. Dr. Ntaiya’s leadership and determination
have brought her to international prominence as a powerful advocate for empowering girls
everywhere to pursue their dreams, to become anything they can imagine. It’s no surprise that her work is changing
attitudes about women and girls in the community, persuading more and more families to support
their daughters’ education, and the idea of gender equality. And this is only the beginning. As she has written for the Council on Foreign
Relations Women’s and Foreign Policy Program, the program’s greatest success is not yet
calculable. And that is the future economic and social
impact of a rural, marginalized community in which hundreds of post-secondary female
graduates return to become leaders in their families and beyond. Dr. Ntaiya has received numerous awards including
the Vital Voices Global Leadership Award, and the Global Women’s Rights Award from the
Feminist Majority Foundation, and many others. She holds a doctorate in education from the
University of Pittsburgh. According to Serra Sippel, President of the
Center for Health and Gender Equity, Dr. Ntaiya’s approach is an effective and culturally sensitive
model that could be replicated elsewhere in Kenya and in the world. As Sippel says, the girls at KCE accept no
boundaries and neither does Kakenya. It is an honor to present Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya. I’m going to ask Dr. Ntaiya to stand with
me for one minute while I introduce Dr. Layli Maparyan. Dr. Layli Maparyan is the Katherine Stone
Kaufmann Class of ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor
of Africana Studies at Wellesley College. Dr. Maparyan is an internationally renowned
scholar and author best known for her scholarship in the area of womanism. She is the author of two groundbreaking texts
in the field of womanist studies. The Womanist Reader, and The Womanist Idea. Her areas of expertise include adolescent
development, social identities, black, LGBTQ studies, hip hop studies, and the history
of psychology. She is a respected scholar activist whose
work brings together the social sciences and the critical disciplines to explore the integration
of identities and communities. Her leadership of the Wellesley Centers for
Women is marked by her belief that research and scholarship can change the world. Her belief in the power of the liberal arts
and interdisciplinary study and her belief in the idea that women drive societal progress
across all areas. We are so very fortunate to have Dr. Maparyan
today as our moderator. Dr. Ntaiya. – Thank you. Good evening. – [Audience] Good evening. – I am so happy to be here with all of you
on this International Women’s Day. Happy International Women’s Day, everyone! We know that today forums like this one are
happening all over the world and looking at the success and setbacks in the fight for
equality for women and girls. I want to salute the MasterCard Foundation,
President Paula Johnson, and the entire Wellesley College for their leadership in putting on
the map the importance of women’s transformational leadership in Africa. I have been asked to tell my story on the
themes of this conference around courage, confidence, creativity, and resilience. And I would like to begin today with courage. I come from a small village, a small rural
Maasai village in Kenya. It’s in the southwestern part, if you’ve been
to Kenya. It’s about nine hours drive from the capital
city on a very dirty road. So if it is raining, you will be stuck on
the way there. I am the oldest in my family of eight children. And I had to work very hard with my mother
just to earn a living from a very young age. I went to school, and when I went to school
I saw a chance at a better future, a better life. I dreamed of becoming a teacher who dressed
nicely, and looked smart. That’s what girls like. But in my village girls did not go on to be
teachers. As I grew older, around fifth grade, girls
in my class started leaving school, and are going female genital cutting, and they got
married. Soon, I was only just a few of the girls who
were left in the class. One day I came home and I learned that it
was my turn to go through the cut. I knew this would mean the end of my education,
and that I will be married off soon. I had already been promised in marriage to
a man when I was five years old. In that moment something stirred within me. I could not bear the thought of ending my
education. The thought of not becoming a teacher. I struck up courage and went to talk to my
father. In my culture daughters do not speak to their
fathers. But I went to him anyway. I told him I will go through the cut only
if I could go back to school afterwards. If he didn’t agree I promised to run away
which I knew that would humiliate him completely. So he had to agree. I went through the cut. No one ever told me what actually happens
to you. No one told me how badly it hurts. No one told me how painful I would feel. I’ve always been told that you have to be
brave and you can not cry. I bled after that. And then I fainted. Fortunately, thank God for my mother. My mother called a nurse to treat me. This is not what is normally happens. You’re supposed to heal naturally. But my mother was strong for me. She went against the traditions and she called
the doctor. In just a few weeks I was healed and back
in school. From that day forward, I decided I would keep
dreaming and fighting for my education. By the time I started eight grade I was the
only girl in my class. Boys were often so mean at me. If you’ve ever been in a class of boys. Except when they wanted my help with my maths
problem. And I had to go against all my social training
to learn how to speak up. Because Maasai girls are told to look down
and not to speak up. Eventually I earned a place in high school
where I got good grades and did well. There was a man from my village who had been
helping boys go to college in the U.S. So boldly, you know, after you finish high
school I thought now I could grow, my dream could grow even higher. I went to him and I told him I want to go
to America too. You see, the boys he was helping, I was smarter
than them. When I told him that, he looked at me and
say, “Don’t you have a husband waiting?” And I remember telling him that don’t worry
about the husband. That’s my problem to handle. So he went ahead and he found me a scholarship. And he was very smart because he found a scholarship
in a woman’s college. Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. You know why? Because no boy could take that scholarship. But in order to go, you see, I came from a
very poor family, I needed money for the airplane, you know, if you’ve traveled overseas you
need a ticket, you need a Visa, and the list goes on. I had seen that in my community when men went
the fundraising always happened. So I expected the same. And I needed truly my community’s support. But this was a girl, remember? I had to figure out how to get my community
to help me. My name, Kakenya, means dawn. And in my culture we believe that good news
come at dawn. So every morning at dawn I went to speak to
different elders in my community. I promised them that I will come back one
day and use my education for the good of my community. Eventually they all agreed to support my education. And they sent me off to college in the U.S.
I left so true, to go live my dream. Can you imagine? I arrived in the U.S. but one thing I always
knew I had to return to help others in my community. That was my promise. At college I studied human rights, political
science, economics, international relations, women’s studies, learning about the power
of education to transform lives. But when I went home nothing was changing. My life had been transformed for better. My sisters’ and that of my neighbors had not
changed. They kept facing the same challenges that
I faced when I was young. To change the world you have to be a dreamer. Someone who can look at things differently. Someone who isn’t afraid to be a leader and
change traditions that hurts women and girls. That’s when I decided I must start a school
for girls. People told me to wait. You know when you are in school they tell
you to wait. Just finish your PhD. But you know what? I couldn’t wait. I had to act then. I was dreaming bigger. I went back to my rural Maasai home in Kenya
thinking I would enroll 10 girls in my school. But a hundred girls came to sign up for my
school. So I started helping 30 girls. But always I worried about the 70 girls who
I turned away. I needed everyone who offered to help me to
build a network to be able to help more girls. To date we have fully sponsored more than
350 girls in just a few years. And every one of their parents had signed,
had said no to FGM, and no to marrying their daughters when they are young. But remember when I realized that school alone
wasn’t enough, I had to figure out, how do we help the girls that we didn’t take in? So we started a training program for boys
and girls. Our trainer, our trained facilitators, teach
everything from self-defense, yeah, you’re asking, really, self-defense? Yes, because girls get raped when they go
walk to school. And when they go collect water from the river. We teach them about hygiene, and we teach
them about children’s right to sexual and reproductive health. So far we have educated and trained over 8,000
children in our program. Then my girls finish high school and then
my girls graduated from primary school and transition to high school. I did not want to drop them off. So I started a program called The Network
for Excellence to support our girls in high school and beyond. At the end of last year our first group of
student graduated from high school with some of the highest test scores in our country. And now they’re transitioning to university
and colleges. In fact I just returned from Australia where
I was at the University similar to MIT that is going to be sponsoring three of our students
to start school there in July. Finally our approach lifts up the whole community. We involve parents, political leaders, men,
and boys, in the health and the education system. These are at the center of all our work. From day one I knew I had to create a program
which was holistic. Not just to meet the need for girls, but also
to meet the needs of our families, and the community that we lived in. Today our community owns, supports, drives,
and sustain our work. This is not just about a handful of girls
in a remote area of Kenya. This is about empowering girls. Ending harmful traditional practices. And changing our community. We all know it only takes a handful of people
to change the world. That’s why we are all here today. You are visionaries, you are creative, you
are courageous, and you are confident. Today we have to go beyond the doables, to
the dreamables. This is also the message we teach our girls
at the Kakenya’s Center for Excellence. I hope our school become a standard for Kenya,
for East Africa, and for all of Africa someday. I invite all of you in this room who care
so much about education to please come visit and see our girls. You will meet the next generation of leaders,
educators, you know, investors, the presidents, I mean, everything is there. I want to introduce you to one of those future
leaders. One of those girls. I want to talk about Linet. Linet came to our school when she was just
nine years old. Her family was one of the most traditional
family in the village. She was on the path to leave school and undergo
female genital cutting just like her sisters. Then she came to Kakenya Center. For the first time she had a safe place to
sleep each night, nutrition meals, teachers who truly cared, and guaranteed freedom from
female genital cutting and child marriage. She thrived. And in 2015 when President Obama visited Kenya,
he was able to meet with some of our girls. And Linet was chosen to speak with President
Obama. And I just want you to see, oh, I guess this
thing works like this. I want to introduce you to Linet and Obama. – We also have with us Linet– – [Kakenya] Volume? – Momposhi? Linet is right there. Now, Linet is a student. And she’s here from Pangani Girls’ Form Two. Linet. – Thank you, Mr. President for giving me this
chance. Let me speak with you a story of a friend
of mine. At the age of 12 in standard six, she dropped
out of school and underwent FGM, female genital mutilation. In my community after undergoing the circumcision,
the girl is said to be, she’s ready for marriage. She was married to a man older than him twice
her age. And now at the age of 15 she has two children. She’s not able to cater for them for their
education. She milks the cows in the morning and sells
the milk so that she can have something to give to the children. For me, I got an opportunity to be at a boarding
school in Kakenya Center. I had all the chance to study and I had all
the time. I was not to milk the cows for my mom and
prepare my siblings to go back to school. But now I’m studying in Pangani Girls’ after
I had topped in my school and become the first girl in the Center. And now I would like be a cardiologist and
study in Harvard University. – That sounds good. – And also I would like to set an example
to the girls in my community that a girl can really become a cardiologist. Thank you. – That’s wonderful. Linet, hold on, before, you were so inspiring,
give Linet the mic back. Linet, how old are you right now? – I’m 16 years old. – You’re 16 years old. So the, and how did you come to be able to
go to the boarding school? – I was helped by Kakenya, who sponsors the
Kakenya Center. And that’s how I got to study in Kakenya Center
and I, my dream started working in that center where I had a dream to go to Maryhill of which
I didn’t went to Maryhill, but I went to Pangani Girls’. – So there was a center there and by you coming
into the center then you started having bigger dreams about what you might be able to do. – Okay, I never used to have bigger dreams
like now. Before I joined the center I then never knew
what I was going to do because I never had any hope in life. – Yeah, so, Linet, I’m sure you’re going to
be a excellent cardiologist, so, we’re very proud of you. But it just sends a message in terms of why
civil society is so important. So many of our young people who have a lot
of talent. – How did you meet Linet? How is she? She is the future! She is a leader! Linet didn’t make it to Harvard University. But she is one of the students who is going
to study in Australia. Linet and all of my girls show me the power
of education to empower leaders who will transform not only our own lives and their own lives,
but the life of their families and the life of our community. See eight years ago I returned to my village
to build a school because I believed in one thing above all. African women leaders are the future. But, you know, they’re also the past. And most importantly, we are at present. As you have been hearing at this conference,
we have been here forging the path ahead in ways both quietly and loudly. Your dreams are the transformation, I’m speaking
to all the young African leaders here, your dreams are the transformation the world has
been waiting for. You are the leaders the world needs now. To each of you I want to leave you with three
important lesson that I have learned, just some little tips. First, build a strong network of supporters
among your family and friends. Build a network of supporters among your friends
and your families. I was blessed with so many people and organizations
that helped me along the way. And most importantly my network helped guide
me without imposing their views or values. Make sure you stay focused on your dreams,
your goals, and what you want to accomplish. And not what others think that you should
accomplish. Secondly, understand that as transformational
African women leaders, we are working to make change and transform the world for women and
girls. This means being bold about changing the harmful
traditional practices that get in the way of equality between women and men. But sometimes if we push too hard, I know,
my African sisters, we can be loud. And it can backlash on us. And if we don’t push too hard, change won’t
happen. So we do need, and you do need to find the
balance. And be bold about it. I have learned that. Finally, I have been asked this question so
many times, and I want to answer it before I’m ask, Kakenya, you have a dream, but do
you have a business plan? Do you have a strategy? What is your strategy? Yes, I have a dream. And I’m a leader in many social movements,
to end child marriage, to stop FGM, promote productive health and rights, and encourage,
you know, youth empowerment. I see us calling an education not as a business
but as an investment in our future. So I had to balance my dream, first of all
I see that it’s an investment in our future. And I had to learn, this is a hard one, I
had to learn quality is important but planning is also essential. So I had to learn how to balance my dream
with my movement’s roots, and apply leadership, good management skills, in order to grow,
expand, and help more girls in my own village and also around Kenya. For now our girls give me inspiration to move
forward. I mean, did you see Linet? Every single day, even when I don’t see progress,
even if when it is so slow, when I go back to see Linet’s story, to see my 350 girls,
each one of them inspire me to keep going forward. I want to share just one more little short
video, a two minute video, that was done by one of my talented board members who recently
retired from, she was the vice president of the National Geographic. And her with her husband, and actually their
entire family, they visited me last year in Kenya, and they did this work pro bono, so
later on you’ll be asking me what, how can we help? So this is a good example of how people use
their talents to support the work that I do. I’m hoping that through watching this video,
my girls will inspire you just the way they inspire me. Thank you, thank you. And what I really want to do is get to the
session because I love answers and questions and to hear from you very much. Thank you. – [Layli] Thank you, Kakenya. – Thank you. – It’s tremendous, I just want to say again
what an amazing teacher you have become. Because not only are you now teaching girls
but you’re teaching the world how to empower girls and bring girls’ equality into reality. – Thank you, thank you. – Yes, one of things that is been very notable
about your success story and about your leadership journey is that you have really built upon
the bedrock of your personal story. And it has taken tremendous courage to tell
that story time and time again to different audiences. I think that one of the things that you could
educate this audience about in particular, the many young women who are building their
leadership journey from the beginning, is what are some of the things to think about
when using your personal story to build a dream? – Wow, thank you so much for that question. I tell myself, and this is really a commitment
that I have made to me and my girls is that my story is about going through female genital
cutting. I do not want them to tell that story. I challenge people that, you know, I want
them to step up, to step on my shoulders. I don’t want them to start where I started. And so when I share my story, it’s really
about empowering girls, it’s also talking about how it is possible. It’s not, I mean, I am like any rural Kenyan
girl, who grew up walking barefoot and you know, who just wanted an education. And each of those girls that have come through
my school, I mean everyday they remind me of me. But I want when they come to my school, they
don’t have to live that story anymore. Let mine be told so that theirs is for empowerment,
it’s for change, it’s a different story. It’s a different story. I don’t want them to go through the hurt that
I went through. – That’s a wonderful, wonderful way to build
on your story and to empower so many other people. In fact, I think that one of the things that’s
most amazing about the success that you’ve built on your story, is that you have really
achieved what some people might call the trifecta of gender equality for girls. You’re addressing early marriage, you’re addressing
FGM, and you’re addressing girls’ education all at once. Now when I saw the CNN Hero segment on you,
one of the things that I noticed, when I actually did a close up on your trophy, was that they
called you The Negotiator. And that means that you developed tremendous
persuasion skills to be able to achieve this dream. So what kind of tips can you give about developing
the skills of persuasion that get other people to buy into your dream and support it? – One of the reason that I, of course I went
back to my village because I felt that I knew my village very well. I knew who was in charge. I knew, I kind of just knew, and I knew everything
about it. What I didn’t know is how resistant the men
can actually be. And it was very difficult to accept that. And so in many times I failed because I would
call for meetings without thinking of a strategy, how do I bring everybody on board? And I would say, men and women come. But I ended up having only men in the meetings. And there were no women. And the next time I said, well, I want my
mothers to come with me. So, and then I decided, okay, maybe do a women’s
meeting and then do a men’s meeting. But that, I wanted them to walk together. So I decided that I will reduce the meeting
to few people. So I will invite 10 people and make sure there
are five men and five women. And I make sure that them to know that I’m
only coming to meet with them. But when they get to the table it’s all of
them. And you just learn. Because I think at the end, and I’ve been
fortunate because I’ve been in college and I mean, I learned how to speak up in my classrooms
and I argued about everything, but at the end of the day I wanted them to be on my side. When women started coming on board, I made
a mistake and made a woman a chair of my committee. Did I know, I didn’t know that, this is a
role of a man. So the next time men didn’t come to the meeting
because it was a woman’s meeting. It was chaired by a woman. And I was like, oh, I failed. So I went back and said, okay, now, because
men are not coming, I went to the other one and I looked at who is very much an influencer
in the group that I was working with. And that’s when I reached out to a man and
I said, “Well, I told the woman you’re going to be the vice chair.” And then I put, I kind of reduced that role
because I really wanted the men to be on the table. It was a hard one. But eventually people came together. People realized that all of us have something
to add. The challenge that because I had was that
the men always say that women, of course they are not educated, so when it was time to open
a bank account, the men wanted to be the treasurer. And I remember telling them, oh, we can go
to the bank, and the woman can actually use the thumb. And when you give a woman 10 shillings, she
actually accounts for it very well. She doesn’t need like to go to a math class
to do the additions. So I would tell the men, don’t worry, I think
where you will really work well is because you are educated you can be a very good secretary. And, I mean, it worked out. And you really just have to learn who you’re
working with. And one thing I challenge us as African women
and African who, we come from, I don’t know most of you where you come from, but I come
from a very rural community. And when I went home, this is the men of Enoosaen,
I don’t know how it is in your countries. When the men come back home, they’re always
driving the most expensive car. They roll down their windows and they are
speaking a different English language, not the normal one, they are carrying the newspaper
around, so they are still learned. But as a woman I couldn’t be like that. Actually I was a student, I was very broke. So I would go home, and if people are using
a motorbike I used a motorbike. If they were walking I walked. And I think over time, you know, at one point
they said, Kakenya, I don’t think you went to America. Why aren’t you working like the men? But remaining to your roots, remain to your
roots. I mean it’s so good that you have been exposed,
you have networks abroad, you have all of that. But at the center of it all, if you truly
want to work in your community and you truly want to change, you have to respect your roots. Not have to go through FGM, but you can you
sit on the same table with men and talk. Respectfully, I have done that, yes. – Thank you. What I really love about that story is the
fact that you exercise, yes, do clap, it’s worthy of clapping. Is that you exercised trial and error in service
of your goal. You never lost sight of the goal, but you
allowed yourself to learn from experimenting with different ways. And it always came back to getting to know
the people around you and staying close to the culture at the same time as making sustainable
change right there where you came from. Now I know the audience has questions as well. I could talk to you all evening, but I am
sure that I should turn it over. I know that there are microphones floating
around in the audience and I would like to now see who has a question. For Dr. Ntaiya. All right, I see someone right here in the
front section. We’ll start here and then we’ll go here. No, this is, yes. – [Jelang] Hi, good evening. Thank you for sharing your story. My name is Jelang, I’m from the Gambia. Female circumcision’s also pretty common there. So I’m wondering, I’m curious to know how
you push for change to change these cultural norms that we have while at the same time
humanizing our communities and not demonizing the community. So how do you balance that? Trying to advocate for change while at the
same time acknowledging that it is a cultural practice that we’ve had that doesn’t really
serve the value that it might have done in my grandma’s generation for example. So how do you balance that I guess? – It’s, I talk about, you know when I started
the school, actually the men didn’t know I was going to say no to FGM. ‘Cause I said, I want the girls to come to
school. But after they came to school it’s, I used
the girl as an entry point to the family. And I use education because it’s, everybody,
nobody doesn’t, nobody says no to education. So it’s a common language that we all understood. And from there I opened up, you know, parents’
meeting, and really safe spaces where we could talk about FGM with men and women. What I was doing there, one of the biggest
thing that I came to, we never talk about female genital cutting because we don’t actually
want to tell the girls what happens to you. So the society, and the norm, and the tradition
is that be quiet about it because we don’t want, I mean if you told a little girl what
she’s going to go through, she is not going to go through it. So there’s a silent culture. And what I did there is that I started asking
the parents, what are the things that will end our girls from continuing with their education? And the first thing they will say is FGM. And I said, so what do we do about it? And they said, oh, maybe we delay. And I said, until when? You know, and with it was really opening the
discussion. And then the women would start say, this is
bad. And really opening that discussion. Letting them lead the discussion, but I lead
with some prompting things that they were the ones discussing. I am very, I think one of the things that
I have really believed in strongly, and I talk about this with parents, is that culture
should never harm. We are supposed to, you know, it’s supposed
to be something we celebrate, it’s supposed to be something happy. But when I tell them that, do you know so-and-so
daughter died because she bled and she had infection and it’s because of FGM? Do you know when you know so-and-so mother
was trying to give birth and she had difficulties and she had a stillborn baby, do you know
why? And I would talk about FGM. It becomes real. And at the end of the day, no one wants to
see their daughter hurt. And so those are the discussions that we started
talking with them. And I promote good culture. So that’s we are dancing. We do bead work with our girls. We milk cows, I have cows in the school, so
we milk cows with the girls. And I encourage the girls when they go home
to milk the cows with their mom. I encourage storytelling ’cause the way we
transfer generational culture or talks or stories is through grandmother stories. And I bring the grandmothers to the school. They love it. And the girls just, and then we speak Maasai. So we encourage what is good, and we remove
what is bad. And at the end of the day when you make it
personal and look at as this is your daughter who is going to be cut and she could die,
you make it real. Yes. – [Jelang] Well I think that’s all the question. – [Zopa] – Hi, my name is Zopa, I’m a senior
here at Wellesley, karibu sana Wellesley. I’m also from Kenya so it’s really exciting
to see you join us here. But my question again relates more so to culture. But I just wonder, how do we begin to engage
in a conversation about like the gender rules that exist post-education, right? Like, you know, now I’m here, I’m about to
graduate, and I have big dreams for myself and for my community. But at the end of the day I’m expected to
go home and be a mother and a caretaker of the house. So I do I begin to, you know, engage in conversation
with other men in my community to be like, maybe you should also step up. Because you know, like I’m expected to cook
and do everything after a hard day of work. So I was just wondering if you could speak
to after education, then what? – I’m laughing because this is a very good
question. Asante sana, so I am married. And I have two boys. And you know, it’s hard to balance family
life. Because I do want to be with my boys every
day and read a story book and do what I have to do. But again, when I met my husband, who is not
the boy that I was engaged to, he met me when I was already doing what I’m doing. And he knew that, coming into that, there
was no negotiation. I was going to pursue my dreams. We had to figure a way of making sure that
it works for both of us. And I think you shouldn’t necessarily think,
put yourself in a place where you’re looking at the whole community. It’s really about you creating a path for
yourself. And creating a network that truly supports
you. Because when you go heads on with, this, you
know, you will feel very frustrated, because they will not bow down. They will not, I mean, I think about it. I did not get married to a Maasai. Because I knew for sure, I mean a Maasai man
washing dishes? It’s not going to happen right now. But, you know, and know that it’s a hard,
hard place. But don’t think about the community it’s entire. Just create a network for yourself. Make baby steps and be focus. Anything you want is actually, you can achieve
it. I truly believe that. I have a husband who is very supportive. He’s at home with the kids now. You will find that man who can do that. He’s Kenyan too. So it’s not like he’s a different, he is Kenyan. So, it’s, they’re there, so they’re there. Well, maybe they will find you. So, I think to go back to the school that,
the work that I do, and this is where it’s really essential for me for my girls, because
everybody tells me, so you’re educating these girls so that who is going to marry them? That’ a big question. This is where we started doing the programs
for both boys and girls. And this is where we start engaging boys from
a young age to start looking at what is their role in the society? What does it mean to be a good, you know,
role model? And how do you work with your sisters? And to value your sister just the same way
you are valued by your dad. And having a space there in my house. I mean you really have to work with your mothers. I’m still struggling, right? My brothers are very helpful. I mean, they go to the kitchen, they come
out. My mother, when she finds them there, is like,
what are you doing in the kitchen? It’s not for boys. But it really takes a generation. I’m looking at my girls getting married, and
they will change that culture. So it’s baby step, but we’ll get there. Yes. – Hi, I’m Leah, and I’m from Uganda. And the question I have is I know that you’re
the first person who broke the chain and said no to female genital mutilation, stuff like
that. I guess you face a lot of criticism from your
parents and everyone? Like how did you handle the criticism and
the neglection from your parents? ‘Cause I think they believed in it like since
they were there before you. And it was still going on. Like how did you overcome the accusations
and the criticism of saying, oh, now you think you’re better and stuff like that? Thank you. – So I did go through female genital cutting. I did not get married early. But the criticism is there and, you know,
of course the first thing people say, you are going to educate these girls. Who’s going to marry them? So that’s the question I’m dealing with now. But what I do, I don’t dwell on the negative. I don’t really care what people say. I mean, if you’re trying to say things to
bring me down, that’s your problem. Because I am focused on building girls, on
empowering girls. And when you do that, it kind of comes and
goes, so you don’t dwell on it. So I think the biggest challenge for me is
I actually don’t think about those things. You know, I struggle with the social-economic
class where I came from a very poor background and there were some people in my community
who were well off. And all of a sudden this poor girl building
a school. What does she think she is? You know, and then I would build a school
and say, this is the school for the poor. And I give them the best education. And then they will come and I tell them, you
know, you can afford to take your child to a boarding school, so go to the boarding school. This is for those who are not able. But at the end of the day, you just have to
focus, just focus on what you want to achieve. And there will be always be criticism. And when you start being the first who is
changing norms and changing, you know, changing boundaries and creating the new path. It’s going to be difficult. It’s not easy. And that’s why you build your courage. I talked earlier about you know, be focused,
get a network of people. Those are the people who will constantly encourage
you, constantly uplift you to keep going. – [Older Woman] Good evening. – Good evening. – [Older Woman] Everybody, and Kakenya, you’re
a real inspiration to a 53 year old lady like myself. And I have also registered a 501which is a
nonprofit. But I find that it’s very difficult to convince
people to dig deep into their pockets. So I think what, besides taking care of the
girls, which is a great, great mission, every community needs a girls’ school because I
went to, I attended a girls high school in Johannesburg, but it was still St. Mary’s
School for Girls and it is prestigious girls’ high school. But my heart has always been doing work in
the rural areas where it’s much more difficult to get there. Like when you said that your village is nine
hours away you know, from Nairobi. It always because when people land in South
Africa, or in Johannesburg, they want to go to Soweto, and people tend to want to you
know, make a difference, and pour their resources in the you know, in the most convenient places
or townships or communities that are closest to you know, to Johannesburg. And it’s so much more difficult to go to the
rural areas. So what I would also encourage as many people
as possible is, please think about the rural areas, as far away as they are. There are always leaders out there. I never forget when I was, I was so inspired
when I saw where Nelson Mandela grew up. That it was Umkhulu is like, my gosh, you’d
throw a spoon you’d never even, I mean people that even went to his funeral, to his burial
couldn’t even get there without having to go to another airport, and another you know,
rent a car. It was just, so that there’s always leadership
wherever it is. But my biggest challenge is getting the resources
to build a school like yours. So what I’m saying is don’t only inspire the
little ladies. The big ladies like myself too need inspiration,
they need a recipe book of how. Because there are a lot of women that want
to do what you are doing. So what I’m asking for from my perspective
is I need your recipe, girlfriend. And let’s figure out how I can also build
another boarding school. Because boarding school is actually the best
’cause one of the schools that I sponsor, a few children have actually been run over
by cars. Because they have to, you know, cross a very
busy highway. And so boarding school is the best really
because it’s much, it’s easier for children to just focus on going to school and not have
to worry about being chased, or cars, or whatever. You know, so, I, that’s my dream. But I’m just asking all the women, including
you, let’s come up with a recipe, let’s come up with a strategy of saying these are the
resources and how can we actually make it happen, so that we can also have, make Kakenya’s
Dream happen all over not only the continent of Africa, but in every corner of this universe. – Thank you very much for that encouragement. And I think to speak about the issue of our
resources, I started from truly very humble grounds. When I went to enroll my girls, we actually
didn’t have a building. We borrowed a little, like a tent, mabati
if Kenyans are here, like a little tent shed where I put the girls. We, the teachers were making the books under
a tree. And it’s really difficult for people to come
to see where I am. And now actually you can Google and you can
find Enoosaen. But when I was 13 you Google, nothing came
up. So I actually didn’t exist and the village
didn’t exist. So to share about where I came from, it was
really difficult because people like the visual. But I never shied off, I never looked at the
resources as the, like I never looked at it as what could prevent me. I started from girls selling cookies, friends
inviting friends into their house, and because it’s a small organization we have these big
challenges that we don’t have a proven record and we have only 30 students. But the big organizations like big numbers. So I was always too small, and I couldn’t
fit into this big numbers. But I never give up, I give up my time, I
mean, I really, truly worked hard. I spoke, I started asking people, if I’m coming
to speak, you’re going to build a classroom. And it’s like that’s what I had to do. But I want, I guess a challenge for you is
that as we grow and we create a network of really, truly, and I’m off what you said about,
really, I think it’s time for us to go the extra mile. That place that has no tarmac road, that has
no water, that has no running water, that place that is so difficult to get to, because
that’s the only time we can truly bring everybody to the table. And that’s truly where we can empower women. That’s truly where we can empower the girls. Let’s get out of the comfortable space. I mean let’s not just land in Nairobi, go
to Kibera, and then after that, oh my god, I got there. Go out and see how people out there are really,
truly looking for, for just a hands, just a little inspiration. My girls do that. I mean a little inspiration, a little just
boost, and their future changes. So don’t just focus on the resources, also
focus on the future. And I think the network would be the amazing
thing that, you know, we can work together from that. – Well, it’s hard to believe, but we’re actually
out of time. I just want to thank Dr. Ntaiya for giving
us not only inspiration, but real strategy. So thank you. – [Kakenya] Thank you so much. Thank you. – Thank you. There will be a 15 minute break before our
next performance, our comedy performance. So be sure to come on back. Thank you.

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

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