Saved from FGM, girls’ at centre of excellence dream big
Scores of girls still have their path well defined for them even before they are born. They live in a culture that dictates who goes to school, when to marry and even who to marry.
It was not different for Kakenya Ntaiya, born in Enoosaen Village of Narok County in a predominantly Maasai community.
By the time she was five years old, a suitor had already been chosen for Kakenya.
“Preparations to make her a woman by the time she was 12 then begun. She was to be circumcised and then sent away to start her own home,” explains Ann Ntaiya, Kakenya’s mother.
Passion for education
But Kakenya had tasted education and loved it. “She therefore decided to talk to her father. She told him that she would agree to be circumcised but only if he let her go to high school,” she expounds.
And that is how it was. Kakenya would later excel and even earn a partial scholarship to study in the United States.
Out of a difficult and painful choice, Kakenya Ntaiya’s dream was born and now hundreds of girls are living it and they will never have to agree to the heinous Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) so that they can see the inside of a classroom.
Upon her return, the dream took shape in the form of the EnKakenya Centre for Excellence. A boarding primary school targeting girls with limited access to education.
The school is located in Enoosaen, Kilgoris, about three hours’ drive from Narok town.
“Parents or guardians must sign an agreement saying that they will not allow their daughter to undergo FGM or a forced marriage,” says Moses Dapash, Programme Manager at Kakenya’s Dream Organisation which gave birth to the school.
A vast majority of girls in this school would never have accessed an education.
Sempeyo Kipkel, for instance, comes from a very poor household and were it not for the school, she would most likely be at home minding her younger siblings or other less fortunate peers, like Mary Tajewuo (her schoolmate) whose sister underwent FGM and was married off while in Standard Six.
Hardship and despair
Or like Ann Paranai, an orphan with a heart rending story of hardship, despair and challenges than many people will face in a lifetime.
“I have eight siblings and we have been through many problems but I have hope because now I can work hard and become somebody in the community,” says Paranai, a Standard Eight pupil.
Yet she is not alone, hers is just a slight variation of the many such stories that her schoolmates have to share.
The school was started in 2009 as a day school catering for girls in Standard Four as an intervention strategy while also providing quality education.
“This is because it is at this age that girls undergo FGM before being married off,” explains Dapash. “The goal was to prevent this from happening by keeping them in school.”
It was not easy at the beginning because the community was very suspicious “and did not embrace the Centre. There was resistance”.
“When you begin to say ‘no to FGM’, you are basically touching the heart of a Maasai and you can expect repercussions,” says Dapash.
But a hostile community which thawed in time was not the last of their problems.
“The girls were walking about 10 kilometres to and from school. Some would refuse to come to school because they would encounter wild animals on the way,” explains Kakenya.
Those who made it to school would be too tired and hungry to concentrate. “We decided to offer boarding facilities to make life easier for these girls,” she expounds.
Though the Centre had planned to open with only ten girls, they started with 32 and the numbers kept growing to the current total population of 183.
Sponsored to brighter future
The Centre runs as a public school and starts from Standard four to eight. Some of the pupils are fully sponsored while others are on partial scholarship with the parents chipping in.
For several years the Centre remained largely ignored. “But things changed when the first lot sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in 2013 and the school emerged the top public school in Narok County,” Dapash observes.
The winning streak did not stop. There are about 25 students in national schools from EnKakenya Centre, girls who would have never known that FGM, marriage and motherhood all before the age of 18 was not the natural course of things.
They came to know that there was a bigger world out there and they could be on top of it.
When President Uhuru Kenyatta hosted a group of students under a new mentoring programme where the head of state hosts best performers from across the 47 counties, Cynthia Lasoi was there too.
In 2014, Lasoi was the second best pupil in Narok County having scored 413 marks out of a possible 500 marks, a sterling example of what the Centre can do.
“It brings tears to my eyes when I see these girls who grew up in very remote villages spreading their wings,” observes Kakenya.
Natural retrogressive path
The natural path that a Maasai girl was born to follow is to get married and bring cows so that her brothers can go to school. However, things are changing.
“My daughter went through many challenges but she never gave up. She did not run off to America, she came back to help her people,” explains Ntaiya, Kakenya’s mother.
Arami Mima whose daughter is a Standard Eight pupil at the Centre says that because of the boarding facility, there are now more girls accessing education in her community and their performance is encouraging.
Fathers have also not been left behind. Peter Murunga, a father of 11 children — seven of them girls — says that none of them will undergo FGM.
“All my daughters are in school and I want them to pursue education and have a career,” says Murunga.
He notes that the Centre is committed to completely empowering the girls through mentoring.
“Standard Eight pupils are all attached to a mentor that they look up to. Most of the mentors are university and college students who offer them tips on how to excel,” says Kakenya.
According to Kakenya, they do not withdraw from the girls’ lives simply because they have moved on to high school. “Our goal is to remain in the girls’ lives until they reach the age of 22 when most will be getting into their first jobs.”
She notes: “We want them to be productive citizens and we will do whatever it takes to make this goal a reality.”