World

Educating girls for the first time

Published 4:22 PM ET, Wed November 27, 2013
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CNN Hero Kakenya Ntaiya is inspiring change in her native Kenyan village. After becoming the first woman in the village to attend college in the United States, she returned to open the village's first primary school for girls. Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images for CNN
"Our work is about empowering the girls," Ntaiya said. "They are dreaming of becoming lawyers, teachers, doctors." Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images for CNN
Ntaiya helps students with their studies at the Kakenya Center for Excellence in Enoosaen, Kenya. Despite free primary education being mandated 10 years ago by the Kenyan government, educating girls is still not a priority for Ntaiya's Maasai culture. According to the Kenyan government, only 11% of Maasai girls in Kenya finish primary school. Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images for CNN
The Kakenya Center started as a traditional day school, but now the students, who range from fourth to eighth grade, live at the school. This spares the girls from having to walk miles back and forth, which puts them at risk of being sexually assaulted. Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images for CNN
Students practice their math at Ntaiya's school. "Now, they can focus on their studies -- and on being kids," Ntaiya said. "It's the only way you can give a girl child a chance to excel." Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images for CNN
Engaged at age 5, Ntaiya spent her childhood learning the skills she would need to be a good Maasai wife. But her mother encouraged her children to strive for a better life, and Ntaiya heeded her advice. Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images for CNN
Students at the Kakenya Center receive three meals a day as well as uniforms, books and tutoring. Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images for CNN
There are also extracurricular activities such as student council, debate and soccer. Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images for CNN
It took Ntaiya years to drum up support for her project, but eventually she persuaded the village elders to donate land for the school. "It's still quite challenging to push for change. Men are in charge of everything," she said. "But nothing good comes on a silver plate. You have to fight hard." Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images for CNN
Girls at the school learn how to use the e-readers that were recently donated. Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images for CNN
"Fathers are now saying, 'My daughter could do better than my son,' " Ntaiya said. Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images for CNN
Ntaiya hopes that one day her school will serve as a model for girls' education throughout Africa. "I came back so girls don't have to negotiate like I did to achieve their dreams," she said. "That's why I wake up every morning." Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images for CNN