Kakenya Ntaiya's mission to show Kenya about the importance of educating girls
Photo: Kakenya Ntaiya started the school for girls, the Kakenya Centre for Excellence, to help young girls receive an education (Supplied: Liz Courtney)
Related Story: Kenyan girl exchanged genital mutilation for education
At the age of seven, Kakenya Ntaiya made a bargain with her father: she would undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) if he agreed to let her finish her education.
She survived the ordeal, and went on to set up a ground-breaking school for girls in home her home country of Kenya.
But when Dr Ntaiya told me her story on The World Today around this time last year, she had no idea the power her words would have.
It set off an unexpected reaction that resulted in a group of Australians joining Dr Ntaiya in helping to change the lives of Massai girls.
Photo: Students at the Kakenya Centre for Excellence. (Supplied: Liz Courtney)
Australian businessman and charity chair David Vaux was listening in his car on his way to address the LBW Trust\'s annual gala dinner.
"I was simply stunned when I heard her extraordinary and heroic story," he said.
"What she was prepared to sacrifice to gain an education was shocking but also so profoundly brave and far-sighted. I was moved to tears."
Photo: Parents have to promise not to marry off their daughters if they want them to attend. (Supplied: Liz Courtney)
Moved by her words, David changed the speech he was due to give on the spot.
"After hearing Kakenya\'s interview with Eleanor Hall, I spoke at our annual Sydney Cricket Ground dinner to 500 people and relayed her story and how I hoped that The LBW Trust could help her," he said.
"Later that night a group of leading Australian business women approached me and offered their help. They formed \'Women for Change\'."
Photo: Dr Kakenya Ntaiya being interviewed on The World Today in 2016 by Eleanor Hall (ABC NEWS)
The first of Dr Ntaiya\'s student are set to graduate from high school next year, and Women for Change plans to raise the funds so all 26 of them can continue their education at university and be supplied with their own computers.
I joined this group of Australian women when David contacted me soon after that dinner.
And while she was the subject of David\'s speech last year, this year Dr Ntaiya will be at the LBW Trust gala dinner giving a keynote speech.
Despite a shared passion for education, it seems highly unlikely that David and Dr Ntayai would have ever crossed paths if not for that chance connection on radio.
90 per cent of Massai girls in Kenya are subjected to FGM at puberty — despite it being illegal
Only 11 per cent of girls continue past primary school in the Enoosaen district
Only 20 per cent of Massai girls who attend primary school will finish
25 per cent of all Kenyan girls younger than 15 are married
Many girls become pregnant at very young ages and die during childbirth
One in every 19 women will die from complications in pregnancy and childbirth — one of the worlds highest rates
About 140 million girls and women worldwide have been affected by female genital mutilation
When I first met Dr Ntaiya a year ago, she spoke softly but did not shy away from discussing very personal details of her life.
"I went through the genital mutilation not knowing what it was ... it\'s horrible, you are cut, your genitalia is cut, no anaesthesia, you bleed and some people die out of it."
This is the extraordinary deal that Dr Ntaiya struck as a seven-year-old Massai schoolgirl.
She was so determined to continue her education that she agreed with her father that she would undergo the Massai ritual "that would make me a woman" if he would let her finish school.
She did not know at the time what it was, nor how lucky she would be to survive it, but she did know that it was expected that at the age of 12 she would leave school and be married.
Photo: Kakenya used her education to go back to Kenya and open the school for girls. (Supplied: Liz Courtney)
For as long as she could remember she had been engaged, and she was determined to escape that.
"Imagine a 12-year-old getting married. That is the time that they\'re supposed to be in school. That\'s the time they\'re supposed to dream big, but you\'re told, \'Here is a husband, go and have children\'."
She had already seen many other young Massai girls die, or become permanently disabled after bearing children too young.
When I asked her why she thinks her father agreed to her bargain, she says: "He didn\'t think I\'d survive."
Dr Ntaiya is now one of the few women from her village in Kenya to have finished high school, and the only one to have a PhD.
She tells me she remains a proud Massai woman, but that she is determined to change the culture that limits the lives of girls.
Even before she completed her doctorate in education in the United States, she was busy setting up her school for girls in Kenya.
There, the parents must agree that they will not put their girls through FGM nor marry them off before they have finished their education.
"I look at the girls I have in my school and it\'s one of the most satisfying things — making somebody happy, making somebody know and believe that what they dream in life can actually become a reality, so it\'s a joy."
Photo: The girls at the school are safe from female genital mutilation. (Supplied: Liz Courtney)
"They might not like it initially but after we work with them, we train them; we talk to them about what actually female genital cutting does to the life of a girl, the parents, even the fathers, support us."
Dr Ntaiya laughs as she tells me they also realise the value of girls when they look at her and the school she has set up.
"What I have brought back to the community, no man has brought. So they say look, we sent a girl, she comes back to help us, so maybe we need to send 10 more girls so they can come help us.
"Of all the girls we have right now, 235 girls, none of them will ever be mutilated.
"Over the last two years we have sent 55 girls to the best national secondary schools in the country."
Photo: Students in class at the Kakenya Centre for Excellence (Supplied: Liz Courtney)
In this era of fake news and alternative facts, it is easy to discount the importance of telling each others\' stories, of connecting people from different ends of the Earth so they can build a better world.
Photo: David Vaux and Dr Kakenya Ntaiya. (ABC News)
If David had not heard by chance my interview with Dr Ntaiya, she may not be here this coming week to Australia.
The LBW Trust has brought her to Australia for International Women\'s Week.
She will be meeting university and school kids along with businesswomen and speaking at the national press club on Wednesday, where the theme is apt: Be bold for change!
Listen on Monday when Dr Kakenya Ntaiya will join Eleanor Hall on The World Today at 12:05pm.
Topics: womens-health, women, health, community-and-society, education, access-to-education, kenya, australia
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