Dr Kakenya Ntaiya was engaged at 5 years old. Now, she's educated more than 500 Kenyan girls

Dr Kakenya Ntaiya was engaged at 5 years old. Now, she’s educated more than 500 Kenyan girls

At five years old, Dr Kakenya Ntaiya’s future was laid out before her.

She was already engaged, and in the small Maasai village in Kenya where she grew up, the patriarchal community expected her to undergo female genital mutilation and then marry young, around the age of 12 or 13.

Dr Ntaiya had bigger dreams though, and after negotiating with her father to continue her education, she finished high school and became the first woman from her small community to go to university overseas.

She negotiated a scholarship to attend university in Virginia in the United States, where she came across electricity and the internet for the first time.

“My whole world opened up because I was able to access information, I was able to read and just learn as much as I could,” she said on the latest episode of the Women’s Agenda Podcast.

(Our chat with Dr Ntaiya starts at the 24 minute mark)

“What I realised through this new access to information was that although women in my community are abused, it’s actually a wider, global issue.”

“When girls don’t go to school, most of the time, it’s because they are married off when they are young, around the age 12,13 or 14.”

“That means that their dreams are cut short. That means that they will get married into poverty. They will have difficulties in giving birth to children and the cycle is traumatising.”

Working with the UN after university, Dr Ntaiya traveled the world, taking about the devastation that occurs when young girls enter into early, arranged marriages and why we so urgently need to end female genital cutting – an experience she went through as a girl.

Although she was the first youth advisor to the United Nations Population Fund, an impressive achievement for any young person, Dr Ntaiya still felt like she wasn’t effecting real change.

“At some point I though well, I’m just talking and nothing is changing. So I went back to my village to create a school for girls,” she said.

She is now the founder of Kakenya Centre for Excellence, a primary boarding school in the Maasai village of Enoosaen. It started in 2009 with 30 students, and ten years later, those girls are now in university and Kakenya has since education over 500 Kenyan girls. Currently, more than 80 of her female students are now attending university in Kenya.

In years since and as demand grew, she has opened a second school.


Dr Ntaiya has effected real change for girls in her community, where statistics show that only 17% of girls make it to high school and less than 2% go to university. And importantly, by educating girls, she is preventing them from entering into arranged marriages in their youth.

“Globally, in a year alone, about 12 million girls are married. That is 28 girls every minute,” Dr Ntaiya said.

“And those are not just figures, these are lives being put in very difficult situations. It’s a difficult life for them.”

As a result of her work with groups like Women for Change and LBW Trust, three of Kekenya’s top students are currently studying at universities in Sydney.

Dr Ntaiya, on top of her remarkable achievement for girls, also spends her time focusing on changing the patriarchal norms that see fathers in Kenya not make themselves available for their daughters.

“We grow up fearing and being very far away from our fathers,” she said. “And when I went to the U.S for the first time, I saw girls at college that were hugging their fathers and I couldn’t believe it!”

Dr Ntaiya feels that fathers should play a key role in bringing up their children, especially their daughters, and she’s been working with local fathers to help them start to make an impact in their children’s lives.

“I want them to see their daughters the way they see their sons. And men also need to play a big role in creating spaces for women to be able to speak up,” she said.

At the moment, she is focused on the fundraising side of her schools, with 500 students, she’s always trying to find new people who can stand with her. As she says, it takes a global village to make a difference.

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