“We never had the chance to pursue our education because of the retrogressive culture in our community that consistently robs girls of their rights and dreams. But we have vowed to ensure that our daughters get an education.”
Mary Mekuro, Beatrice Kipaki, and Mary Cherus are three Maasai mothers from the communities we serve. Due to the prevailing attitudes toward girls and gender roles during their childhood, they never got the opportunity to complete their education. But they have vowed to create a brighter future for their children — all three have enrolled their daughters at our Kakenya Centers for Excellence (KCE I and II). Watch their interviews and hear their stories to see the impact that education and community empowerment can have over the course of a generation.
Meet Mary Mekuro. She was forced to drop out of school in the sixth grade after undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM). In Mary’s childhood, FGM was strictly enforced, as it was believed to signify a girl’s transition into adulthood. Once “adults,” girls were expected to leave school and start families.
Mary now has seven children, two of whom are girls. And times have started to change: Mary refuses to subject her daughters to FGM. Today, initiatives like our Health & Leadership Trainings are spreading awareness of the dangers of the harmful traditional practice. While still prevalent, the practice is finally facing serious scrutiny and disapproval and as women like Mary are empowered to speak out.
Mary’s daughter, Sarah, was a student at our primary school, KCE I, from 4th-8th grade. Today, she’s a 9th grader attending Ambassador Pamela Mboya Girls High School through the support of our Network for Excellence program. Sarah has already been in school longer than her mother was, and she’s not stopping anytime soon. She dreams of becoming a doctor and transforming the life of her mother — a dream that would have seemed impossible just one generation ago.
Beatrice Kipaki never received any education. “Nobody in our family has ever gone to school,” says Beatrice, who grew up with six siblings. “My parents adhered to the cultural belief that girls shouldn’t be educated.”
Now a mother, Beatrice has done everything she can to ensure her daughter, Rhoda, has access to the opportunities that she was denied. After hearing about fourth-grade enrollment interviews for KCE I, Beatrice jumped into action. “I prayed to god that my daughter would have a chance,” she remembers. Rhoda was accepted, and she is now a happy fifth-grader at KCE I!
Beatrice, a single mother, views education as both a lifeline and a gateway to a better life not just for girls, but for their families as well. “I believe I will enjoy the fruits of education through my daughter,” she says. Education can heal generational trauma in both directions — for both parents and their children.
Finally, meet Mary Cherus. Like Beatrice, Mary never received any education. “The Maasai community never valued girls’ education,” says Mary, recalling her childhood. “They used to say that girls should look after cattle and get married.” Like most women her age, Mary is also a survivor of FGM.
Mary’s granddaughter is named Kakenya (unrelated to Kakenya Ntaiya, our founder). She had previously dropped out of school after her parents were unable to afford tuition fees. But her interviews earned her a spot at KCE I, where she now attends sixth grade. Mary has seen Kakenya improve pointedly, in both her academics and her health.
Throughout her life, Mary has urged communities to educate girls and shun FGM, but individuals like her are usually not enough to overcome generations of tradition. However, when women have a platform to unite their voices, people are forced to listen, and mindsets change.
These three women are windows into a different time. They know firsthand the power of education, or lack thereof, and are working to create a better future for their daughters. There’s plenty of work left to do, but the needle is finally starting to move.
Every year, Kakenya’s Dream enrolls more than 70 girls across our two KCE campuses, providing them with quality education, healthy food, and a safe, supportive learning environment. But just as important, we engage the community and amplify voices like these, without which no one would consider their daughter’s education in the first place. Sustainable change comes from within a community, not without, which is why grassroots engagement is the first and most integral part of our work.