"I was engaged to be married when I was five years old. My parents arranged it. In my community, when a girl is old enough to walk, she's taught how to sweep the house, how to collect water from the river, and how to cook for the family. A girl is trained to become a mother, and a boy is trained to become a warrior. My mother's life was very hard. I knew that I wanted something different. If my chores were done, I could go to school. Every child -- it doesn't matter where they are -- every child has a dream. I dreamed of becoming a teacher because teachers looked nice. Teachers didn't have to work on the farm.
"When a girl becomes 12 or 13 years old, there is a ceremony. We are told that this ceremony will make you a woman, and once you're a woman you can get married. You're not supposed to cry. I knew that if I were married, I could no longer go to school. I would not become a teacher. So, I went to my father. I asked him not to force me to be married. I agreed to go through the ceremony if he promised to delay my marriage, if he allowed me to finish school. He agreed, and we made a deal.
A girl is trained to become a mother, and a boy is trained to become a warrior.Kakenya
"When I finished high school, I had to make another deal. My father was sick so, according to our custom, all the men his age were now my fathers. There is a tradition among my people that someone who comes to you before the sunrise will bring good news, and you must not tell them "no." So I went to them one by one. When all the elders agreed, the whole village came together and combined their money. For the first time ever, a girl from our village would go to college.
"Today, I am finishing my PhD. I did get married, but it was to a man that I chose. My dream of becoming a teacher has grown. I have built the first primary school for girls in my village. A place where girls can be free, a place where they can dream, a place that lets them know that their dreams are possible. I am Kakenya Ntaiya.
"This is my Vital Voice. Now raise yours."
Are you inspired by Kakenya's story? Donate to her project to send Maasai girls to school.
In the time it has taken to read this article 27 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds