Kakenya’s story, Kenya
“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.
“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.