At the Kakenya Center for Excellence primary boarding school (KCE I), we start enrolling students when they reach fourth grade. In the communities where we work, it is at this age that girls often undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) in preparation for early marriage.
By bringing girls into our fourth grade class each year, we’ve been able to protect hundreds of girls from these harmful traditional practices. After graduating from KCE I, Kakenya’s Dream continues to mentor, support and monitor each and every student as they transition to high school and university. At times, however, we must make adjustments to this model. Such was the case in 2011 when Miriam, a fifth grade student at a local day school, first came to us for help in avoiding her impending marriage. In her own words, this is Miriam’s story.
Miriam: “When I was 11, I ran away from home and went to the home of Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya to talk to her about my plight and ask for her help. I was going to be married off in a year or two. My family desperately needed the dowry because we are poor. But I could not risk that! Though I knew I did not stand a chance to join KCE I as I had already passed and completed fourth grade at the local school I was attending, I still convinced myself to try my luck. I had to do something, and I had heard that Dr. Kakenya and her school might be able to help me. When I arrived at Dr. Kakenya’s house, it was very early in the morning and she was still asleep, so I hid by her house for hours and waited until I saw her come outside. After we finally met and talked, the school prepared a special enrollment interview for me. After the interview, I learned that I was allowed to join fifth grade at KCE I! Oh! I was so happy and relieved at the same time because I knew this was an assurance that I would be able to continue my education. Looking back, I am so proud of the action I took that day. The girls I used to study with at the local school I attended are now all married and have children of their own, and I knew if I hadn’t come to KCE, I’d be one of them.”
Like many Maasai women in the communities where we work, Miriam’s mother, Naoroi, experienced FGM and early marriage as a teen. Today, she is a single parent of six children. A few years ago, her husband was killed in an accident, and Naoroi struggled to make ends meet. Life grew very difficult without her husband’s support, and that’s when she began to consider marrying off her daughter Miriam to help her family get by.
Naoroi: “Miriam is my third born child and eldest daughter. It is true that I had plans to marry her off. I didn’t know what else to do to support the rest of our family. I had discussed it with my two older sons, and we agreed we would marry Miriam in a year or two once we found her a suitor. This plan came to an end when a visitor I least expected came to my home. It was Dr. Kakenya. She spent hours getting to know my family and I, and we discussed many things; FGM, child marriage, and the importance of educating a girl. Dr. Kakenya also told us that Miriam could join KCE I and that her education and personal needs would be supported by the school. This was the best news imaginable, I was so happy that I wouldn’t have to marry her off.”
When Miriam came looking for help from Kakenya’s Dream to escape her arranged marriage, we knew we could support her personal needs and enable her to continue her education at KCE I. We also knew that the love and support of family is irreplaceable. At Kakenya’s Dream, rather than “rescuing” girls by removing them from their families, we strive to build a bridge between parents and their daughters. We work with parents and guardians to help them realize that their daughters can have a different, more fulfilling path than early marriage, and that they have the power to become invaluable, transformative members of society when given the opportunity to learn skills and pursue their education. So, we began working with Naoroi to support Miriam’s education and a chance for a better life.
It didn’t take long for Naoroi to come around, and today, she’s a fierce advocate for girls’ education. She understands firsthand how in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, an education can positively transform girls’ lives, and by extension, their families and communities, in ways that early marriage never will. “Today, I advocate for girls’ education in the community after learning from this experience and seeing how school has positively transformed my daughter’s life. Indeed, her future is bright!”
In our community, a change of heart in a parent like Naoroi makes a world of difference for their daughter. Miriam was once on a path to drop out of school, undergo FGM, and get married in childhood. Now, with our support and the encouragement of her mother, she has completed her education!*
There are many more girls like Miriam waiting to attend our school. Support from donors around the world has transformed her life, and it can change the lives of many others like her. Help Kakenya’s Dream continue working with families, changing mindsets, and transforming lives.