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Kakenya Ntaiya comes from the Maasai Tribe in Western Kenya. In May of 2004, she has graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Studies and Political Science at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia. She is the first girl in her village to ever go to college. Although her education has brought her to the United States, she is planning to go back home and help women and children attain their goals. Kakenya will be continuing her professional studies through graduate work in International Relations and later in life she is planning to go into International Law.
Ms. Ntaiya’s life experiences at an early age were common for girls in rural Kenya; however Kakenya is no ordinary young woman – she decided to write her own destiny: Kakenya is the first of eight children in her family, and as the oldest child she had to help her mother raise the other siblings. At the age of 5, Kakenya was engaged and was supposed to get married when she turned 14. Although this is the normal life of a Maasai girl, Kakenya refused to get married and stayed determined to get an education.
She often was the only person to help her mother give birth in their hut. She was expected to undergo ritual circumcision at puberty, leave school and marry the man her parents had chosen.
Kakenya had other ideas. She told her father she would undergo the circumcision only if she could stay in school. Her father agreed, and at 13 she joined the estimated 2 million women who have suffered female genital cutting worldwide.
Undeterred, Kakenya finished high school with top marks and decided she wanted to attend college – in the United States. No girl in her village had ever done that. So she negotiated again, this time with the village elders. If they let her go, she promised, she would come back and help build a school and a maternity hospital.
It worked. The village women united to raise the money to send Kakenya to the United States. They knew pregnancy in Kenya often means death: one in every 19 women will die there of complications in pregnancy and childbirth, one of the world’s highest rates.
Kakenya graduated from Randolph-Macon Women’s College in 2004, and her mother came from Kenya to attend the ceremony. Kakenya went on to a PhD program in education at the University of Pittsburgh, determined to become a leader in helping others get an education in Kenya. She has now raised more than US$75,000 toward the school she promised to build in her village. Kakenya’s success has inspired millions of people. She has been the subject of a Washington Post series, a BBC documentary and many magazine articles. She married in 2006 and is expecting her first child in September 2007.
“Now all the village women want their daughters to stay in school,” she tells audiences throughout the world.