Kakenya Ntaiya refused to accept the continued oppression of women in her Maasai village — so she built a school that's shifting gender expectations in her community.

Why you should listen

Kakenya Ntaiya was set to follow the traditional path of girls born in the small village of Enoosaen, Kenya. Engaged at the age of 5, she was to participate in a female circumcision ceremony as a young teenager and then be married. But she had a different plan. First, she negotiated with her father and willingly agree to be circumcised -- only if he would allow her to finish high school. Later, when she was accepted to Randolph-Macon Women's College in Viriginia, she negotiated with her village elders to do what no girl had ever done before: leave her village to go to college in the United States.

She didn’t leave forever, though. Deeply proud of her heritage and of her community, Ntaiya returned to the village after school and worked with her elders to establish a school for girls there. The Kakenya Center for Excellence was established in 2009 with 32 students. A primary grade boarding school just for girls, the curriculum focuses on academics, leadership and female empowerment, along with cultural preservation and life skills. While families that can afford tuition do, Ntaiya also works with donors to provide scholarships for others.

In addition to her work with the school, Ntaiya is also a National Geographic emerging explorer. 

What others say

"For thousands of families in Kenya, seven cows are more valuable than a girl’s future ... Now, a building rises in one remote village that could change everything: The region’s first and only primary school for girls. Its creation an act of sheer will, stubborn persistence, and inexplicable optimism on the part of Kakenya Ntaiya. " — National Geographic

Kakenya Ntaiya’s TED talks

Kakenya Ntaiya on the TED Blog