In Enoosaen, Kenya, bright young voices are singing a song of joy and appreciation at Kakenya’s Center for Excellence, a rural academy for girls.
Primary education is compulsory in Kenya, but girls are often not afforded significant attention while they are in school – if their families provide them the privilege of attending at all. In a culture that marries off daughters by age 13 for a valuable dowry of seven cows, the education of girls is simply not a priority. Discouraged by social customs that deter girls from developing the confidence to ask questions, take a stand, and compete, many girls fail in school and eventually drop out.
Kakenya Ntaiya, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, has a dream to change that reality and provide equal education for girls in her community. Ms. Ntaiya, who was named as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer this year, is realizing that goal with the 2009 opening of Ntaiya’s Academy for Girls in her hometown of Enoosaen. The school currently has 60 students and four teachers and will continue to expand with the acceptance of 30 new girls each year. The results are heartening as the girls learn to succeed in a rigorous academic curriculum and build their leadership skills:
“After just a few months here, they become completely different people,” Ntaiya observes. “In a girls-only environment they lead, make decisions, speak up, and gain confidence. They’re smart and thriving. They just needed a chance.”
Parents have noticed the difference, too. A mother says of her daughter, “She’s doing well. When she was in another school, she wasn’t concentrating on her work. But now, when she gets home, she is always reading. My other kids don’t read at home.”
Ms. Ntaiya further empowers young women by informing them of their personal rights and providing them crucial knowledge on sexual health. A few days ago, we blogged about female genital cutting, a practice that is still common in certain regions of Africa, including Ms. Ntaiya’s community. Many of the students at the school will be subjected to FGC, but already “the school has intervened with help from authorities to prevent a circumcision at the request of a fourth grader.”
The girls have recently received new uniforms, and continue to watch their classrooms and dormitories grow with the help of donations – Ms. Ntaiya notes that “what I need most right now are bricks and cement.” For the many girls who come from impoverished families and are at high risk of child marriage, scholarships are also essential. Ms. Ntaiya hopes the change that she has created for girls in her community will be replicated elsewhere to benefit more young women.
Meanwhile, the girls continue to sing, learn, and grow. To hear them sing, or to view an interview with Ms. Ntaiya, visit this blog from The Advocacy Project.