When Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya was in eighth grade in Kenya, she was so committed to getting an education that she made a deal with her father, a deal that would exact an incredibly steep price: she would go through with the unimaginably painful Maasai genital mutilation ceremony if he would let her continue on to high school instead of stopping her education to “become a wife,” as was customary in her village. And so she went on to high school, after which she bravely convinced the elders in her village to send her to the States for college — something no girl in her village had ever done before. At Randolph-Macon Women’s College, she learned that what had happened to her was illegal, that she didn’t have to trade a part of her body for education, and that the abuse of women she observed and endured in her village is hardly the norm in the West.
Ntaiya didn’t stop there. After college, she returned to her village and founded the Kakenya Center for Excellence, a school devoted to empowering and protecting girls. Determined that no girl should suffer as she did, parents who send their daughters to the school vow that they will not undergo genetic mutilation or early forced marriage. “I’m probably the only Maasai woman with a Ph.D.,” she recently told the Australian Broadcasting Company. But if Ntaiya has her way, this won’t be the case for long — 100 percent of KCE grads now attend secondary school, with 44 percent attending the most prestigious schools in Kenya.