My journey to start a school for girls in Kenya: Kakenya Ntaiya at TEDxMidAtlantic 2012

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Translator: Amir Wilf
Reviewer: Capa Girl There’s a group of people in Kenya, people cross oceans to go see them. These people are tall, they jump high,
they wear red and they kill lions. You might be wondering,
who are those people? These are the Maasais. And you know what’s cool? I’m actually one of them.
(Laughter) The Maasais, the boys are brought up
to be warriors, the girls are brought up to be mothers. When I was five years old,
I found out that I was engaged, to be married as soon as I reach puberty. My mother, my grandmother, my aunties, they constantly reminded me
that, “Your husband just passed by.” (Laughter)
Cool, yeah? And everything I had to do from that moment was to prepare me to be
a perfect woman at the age of 12. My day started at five in the morning, milking the cows, sweeping the house,
cooking for my siblings, collecting water, fire wood. I did everything that I needed to do,
to become a perfect wife I went to school not because
the Maasai women all go to school. It’s because my mother
was denied an eduction and she constantly reminded
me and my siblings that, she never wanted us
to live the life she was living. Why did she say that? My father worked
as a policemen in the city, he came home once a year, we didn’t see him
for sometimes even 2 years. And whenever he came home,
it was a different case. My mother worked hard in the farm
to grow crop so that we can eat, she read the cows and the goats
so that she can care for us. But when my father came,
he would sell the cows, he would sell the products we had and he went and drank
with his friends in the bars. Becasue my mother a women,
she was not allowed to own any property and by default everything in my family, anyway, belonged to my father
so he had the right. And if my mother ever questioned him,
he’d beat her, abused her and really, it was difficult. When I went to school, I had a dream,
I wanted to become a teacher. Teachers looked nice, they wear
nice dresses, high-heeled shoes — I found later that they were
uncomfortable, but I admired it. (Laughter) But most of all, the teacher
was just writing on the board — not hard work, that’s what I thought, compared to what I was doing at the farm,
so I wanted to become a teacher. I worked hard in school,
but when I was an eight grader, it was a determining factor. In our tradition, there’s a ceremony that girls
have to undergo to become a woman. And it’s a right of passage to womanhood. And then I was just finishing my eight grade and that was a transition
for me to go to higschool, this was the crossroad. Once I go through this tradtion
I was going to become a wife. Well, my dream of becoming a teacher
will not come to pass. So I had to come up with a plan
to figure these things out. I talked to my father, I did something
that most girls have never done. I told my father, I will only go through this
ceremony if you’l let me go back to school. The reason why, if I ran away, my father will
have a stigma, people will be calling him, “The father of that girl who
didn’t go through the ceremony.” It was a shameful thing for him
to carry the rest of his life. So he figured out – well, he said, “OK, you’ll go to school
after the ceremony.” I did. The ceremony happenned,
it’s a whole week long of excitments. It’s a ceremony, people are enjoying. And the day before
the actual ceremony happens, we were dancing, having exceitments and through all the night,
we did not sleep. The actual day came
and we walked out of the house and we were dancing, as we danced and danced
and we walked out of the courtyard and there were a bunch of people waiting,
they were all in a circle. And as we dance and dance,
and we approach this circle of women – men, women, children everybody was there. There was a women
sitting in the middle of it and this women was waiting to hold us, and I was the first, there were my sisters
and a couple of other girls. As I approach her, she looked at me
and I sat down and I opened my legs. As I opened my leg, another women came,
and this women was carrying a knife. And she carried the knife
she walked towards me, and she held my clitoris,
and she cut it off. As you can imagine, I bled. I bled. After bleeding for a while,
I fainted there after. It’s something that so many girls –
I’m lucky I never died, but many die. It’s practice with no anaesthesia,
it’s a rusty old knife and it was difficult. I was lucky because my mom
did something that most women don’t do three days later,
after everybody has left the home my mom went and brought a nurse. We were taken care of,
three weeks later I was healed and I was back in high school. I was so determined to be a teacher now so that I can make a difference
in my family. Well, while I was in high school,
something happened, I met another young gentlemen
from our village who had been to the university of Oregon. This man was wearing
a white T-shirt, jeans, a camera, white sneakers –
and I’m talking about white sneakers. There’s something about clothes I think
and shoes. (Laughter) And this was in a village
that didn’t even have paved roads, it was quite attractive.
(Laughter) I told him, “I want to go
to where you are,” because this man looked very happy
and I admired that. And he told me, “Well, what do you mean you want to go,
don’t you have a husband waiting for you?” And I told him, “Don’t worry about that part,
just tell me how to get there.” This gentlemen, he helped me. While I was in school also,
my dad was sick, he got a stroke – and he was really sick so he really
couldn’t tell me what to do next. But the problem is my father
is not the only father I have. Everybody who is my dad’s age, male,
in the community, is my father by default. My uncles, all of them,
they dictate what my future is. So the news came,
and I applied to school and I was accepted to Randolph-Macon
Woman’s College, In Lynchburg, Virginia and I couldn’t come
without the support of the village because I needed to raise money
to buy the air ticket. I got a scholarship,
but I needed to get myself here. But I needed the support of the village and here again,
when the men, the people heard that a women had gotten
an opportunity to go to school they said, “What a lost opportunity, this should have been given to a boy
we can’t do this.” So I went back,
and I had to go back to the tradition. There’s a belief among our people
that morning brings good news. So, I had I to come up with something
to do with the morning because there’s good news in the morning. And in the village also there’s one chief
or person, male, an elder if he says “Yes,”everybody
will follow him. So I went to him, very early
in the morning, as the sun had rised, the first thing that he sees
when he opens his door is me. “My child, what are you doing here?” “Well Dad, I need help, can you support me
to go to America?” I promised him that I’ll be the best girl,
I will come back anything they wanted after that,
I will do it for them. He said, “Well, but I can’t do it alone.” He gave me a list of other 15 men
that I went, 16 more men. Every single morning
I went and visited them. They all came together – the village,
the women, the men. Everybody came together to support me
to come, to get an education. I arrived in America,
as you can imagine, what did I find? (Laughter)
I found snow, I found Walmart, vacuum cleaners
and lots of food in the cafeteria. I was in a land of plenty.
I enjoyed myself, but during that moment while I was here,
I discovered a lot of things I learned that, that ceremony that I went
through when I was 13 years old was called female genital mutilation. I learned that it was against the law
in Kenya, I learned that, I did not have to trade
part of my body to get and eduction, I had a right! And as we speak right now,
three million girls in Africa are at risk of undergoing through
this mutilation. I learned that my mom
had a right to own property, I learned that did not have to abused
because she was a women. Those things made me angry. I wanted to do something. Every time I went back, I found
that my neighbours’ girls were getting married,
they were getting mutilated. And after I graduated from here,
I worked at the UN, I went back to school to get my graduate work, the constant cry
of these girls was on my face. I had to do something. As I went back, I started
talking to the men, to the village, and mothers and I said, “I want to give back
the way I had promised you that I would come back and help you. What do you need?” As I spoke to the women, they told me, “You know what we need?
We really need a school for girls.” Because there had not been
any schools for girls. And the reason they wanted
the school for girls is because when a girl is raped
when she’s walking to school the mother is blamed for that. If she got pregnant
before she got married, the mother is blamed for that
and she’s punished, she’s beaten. They said, “We wanted to put our girls
in a safe place.” As we moved,
and I went to talk to the fathers, he fathers of course,
you can imagine what they said, “We want a school for boys.” And I said, well, there are a couple
of many men from my village who had been out
and they’ve got an education why can’t they build a school for boys
and I’ll build a school for girls? That made sens and they agreed. And I told them, I wanted them to show me
a sign of commitment and they did. They donated land where we build
the girls’ school, we have. I want you to meet
one of the girls in that school. Angelene came to apply for the school and she did not meet
any criterias that we had. She’s an orphan, yes.
We could have taken her for that, but she was 12 years old
and we were taking in girls who were in the fourth grade. Everybody were telling us Angelene
had been moving from one place, because she’s an orphan,
she has no mother, she has no father, moving from one grandmother’s house
to another one from aunties to aunties,
she had no stability in her life. And people said, and I looked at her
I remembered that day, and I saw something beyond
what I was seeing in Angelene and yes she was older
to be in fourth grade, we gave her the opportunity
to come the class. Five months later, there is Angelene. A transformation had begun in her life Angelene wants to be a pilot
so she can fly around the world and [make] a difference. She was not the top student
when we took her, now she’s the best student
not just in our school, but in the entire division that we are in. She’s showing different, that’s Sharon,
that’s five years later, that’s Avaleen, five months later,
that’s the difference that we are making As a new dawn is happening in my school A new beginning is happening, as we speak right now
125 girls will never be mutilated. 125 girls will not be married
when they are 12 years old. 125 girls are creating
and achieving their dreams. This is the thing that we are doing – giving them opportunities
so they can rise. As we speak right now,
women are not being beaten because of the revolutions
we’ve started in our community. (Applause) I want to challenge you today you’re listening to me because
you are here very optimistic. You are somebody who is so passionate You are somebody who wants
to see a better world. You are somebody who wants to
see the war end. No poverty. You are somebody who wants to
make a difference. You are somebody who wants to
make our tomorrow better. I want to challenge today
to be there first – because people will follow you. Be the first – people will follow you Be bold – standup. Be fearless. Be confident. Move out because
as you change your world, as you change your community, as we believe we are impacting
one girl, one family, one village, one country at a time. We are making a difference. So if you change your world,
you’re going to change your community, you’re going to change your country. And think about that,
if you do that and I do that, aren’t we going to create a better future, for our children, for your children,
for our grandchildren, and we will live in a very peaceful world. Thank you very much. (Applause)


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