Monday, April 14, 2014

One Girl, One Village, One Country at a Time

The other day I watched a TED Talk that truly inspired me.  I was searching through their website looking for talks on education and came across one by Kakenya Ntaiya called A Girl Who Demanded School.

Kakenya Nataiya grew up in a small village of the Maasai tribe in Kenya. When she was just 5 years old she was engaged to be married once she reached puberty.  An unfathomable life but yet, Kakenya was lucky. Unlike her mother, she received an education. Her mother did not want her to have the same life as she...a life where she worked hard for her husband, only to be beaten by him and have all her crops and livestock sold for booze money.  This was not the life she wanted for her daughter, so she sent her to school.

Girls in the village of Old Fangak, South Sudan
where Stop Hunger Now works
When Kakenya reached the 8th grade, it was time for her marriage ceremony. She wanted to continue going to school so she struck a deal with her father, saying she would do this ceremony, only if her father would allow her to continue going to school. He said yes because if he refused, she would run away, and if she ran away, his village would shame him.

At just 12 years old, Kakenya went through the Maasai traditional right of passage ceremony...female circumcision. It was a painful experience that most girls die from, but luckily, Kakenya's mother treated her wound and in just 3 weeks she was able to go back to school. What is so mind-blowing to me is the fact that what she went through was one knew any differently so no one questioned it...

When Kakenya was in high school she met a man that had been to university in the United States. She was inspired by him and decided she wanted to go to university in the States as well.  After receiving a scholarship to a college in Lynchburg, VA and eventually receiving support from her village, she left for the United States.  Once she got there, she discovered a lot of things.  She learned that the ceremony she went through was called female genital mutilation. She learned that it was against the law in Kenya, and that she did not have to trade part of her body to get an education, she had a right to it. She learned that 300 million girls in Africa are at risk at going through this ceremony and this made her angry. She learned that her mother had a right to land and that she didn't have to be abused because she is a woman.

After school, Kakenya went on to work for the UN, obtained her graduate degree, and eventually went back to her village so that she could make a difference.  She went to her village and asked the woman in that community what they need, and they said they wanted a school for girls. So she built a school for girls, creating a safe place for them so that they didn't have to get married early, or be mutilated, beaten and raped. They could follow their dreams. That school now supports 125 girls that can make a difference, not only in their village, but in their country. 

A beautiful girl in one of our partners
schools in El Salvador
This story speaks to me. It shows the power of education and how it can change the world. The state of girls education has significantly improved over the years but there is still work to do.  Right now, approximately 31 million girls are out of school (GPE).  Educated girls are likely to marry later, have fewer children, and in turn are more likely to survive and be better nourished (UNICEF). Well worth the investment.   This is one of the many reasons Stop Hunger Now puts meals in schools.

By providing in-school meals, mid-morning snacks, and take-home rations through school feeding programs you alleviate short-term hunger, increase children's abilities to concentrate, learn, perform specific tasks, and increase the enrollment of girls (World Bank).  Girls education not only helps themselves, it helps their families, communities and country as we see with Kakenya's story.  With a quality education, girls can make informed choices, improving their country's social and economic well-being by promoting health and welfare of the next generation.

Kakenya is an amazing example of what comes from investing in girls.  She is strong, confident and determined to make a difference in the world.  But she isn't the only one! Anyone can be an advocate for girls education.  Start by educating your friends, family, and decision makers on the issue.  Use your voice, volunteer your time, and donate what you can.  Be bold, be brave, and stand up for girls education!

"I want to challenge you today that to be the first, because people will follow you. Be the first. People will follow you. Be bold. Stand up. Be fearless. Be confident. Move out, because as you change your world, as you change your community, as we believe that 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 are going to change your community,you are 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." 
- Kakenya Ntaiya

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