Kakenya grew up watching girls in her family and village get married at age twelve. For her, it was the norm. However, she was fortunate enough to have a mother who knew the value of education in a woman’s life. Kakenya grew up with an absentee father, but when he was home, he was abusive. Kakenya’s mother knew that an education for her daughters would keep them out of the rut she had fallen into herself.
Kakenya wanted to be a teacher, so she worked extremely hard in school. However, she’d been engaged since age five. Marriage would end her dreams of being a teacher. Before getting married, girls in her village were expected to undergo a ceremony to mark their transition into womanhood. This ceremony isn’t any sort of sweet sixteen. As Kakenya says to a silent audience, the ceremony, with all of its celebration and build up, is female genital mutilation. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is exactly as terrifying as it sounds. It is practiced in many cultures and communities across the world in many different ways, but they all have a few things in common. They are generally ceremonial, and widespread in the practicing communities. The mutilation itself is often dangerous. As Kakenya recalls, her own experience involved unsanitary equipment and inadequate medical attention. She actually passed out from blood loss. FGM generally serves to take away women’s sexual rights and to encourage celibacy. In some cultures it represents purity. However it is considered a violation of human rights by the United Nations.
Kakenya, though her own conviction and dedication to her dream of teaching, managed to attend college in Virginia to study political science with her village’s support. But she received more than a conventional college education. She learned about the injustices and human rights violations occurring back in her village, and she used her knowledge to give back to the community that helped her get to college. She returned home and started a girls’ school, to give girls a safe place to learn and gain control of their own lives. In her presentation, she shows pictures of girls when they enter her school and then at various points in their education and the changes are remarkable. You can almost see the hope they have found in their future written across their face.
Take a look at Kakenya’s Dream, her organization’s website, to find out more about Kakenya, her school, and her organization.
Article by Maya Roy