NG Explorer Kakenya Ntaiya Honored as One of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes


NG Explorer Kakenya Ntaiya. Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic Creative.
NG Explorer Kakenya Ntaiya. Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic Creative.

Kakenya Ntaiya, a trailblazer for women’s education in Kenya and National Geographic Emerging Explorer has been selected as one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes of 2013.

“I couldn’t believe it,” admits an elated Kakenya who received the good news on Wednesday. The title comes with a $50,000 prize, a sum that could make a big difference for her all-girls boarding school, The Kakenya Center for Excellence, in Enoosaen, Kenya.

Born in a small village 250 miles outside of Nairobi, Kekanya was to be married by the age of 12. A rite of passage for all Maasai girls, females can be prepared for marriage as early as 10 by undergoing the gruesome procedure of genital cutting, also know as female circumcision. From this time on, girls are expected to drop out of school and assume the duties of a wife and, very soon after, mother.

When it was time for Kakenya to undergo this coming-of-age ceremony, she made a deal with her father: she would endure genital cutting if she could continue attending school, threatening to run away and disgrace the family if he refused.

“I went through the female genital cutting. I understand what it is that these girls go through. I knew that the very best thing I could do for the girls was to give them an education,” says Kakenya who later became the first women in her community to attend university in the United States.

Kakenya went on to work for the United Nations and earn a doctorate in education, but never forgot the promise she made to return to the community that had supported her in her pursuit of higher education.

In 2009, Kakenya opened the Kakenya Center for Excellence, the first primary school for girls in her village. Today, the school hosts over 150 girls ranging from 4th to 8th grade.

“Now, they can focus on their studies — and on being kids,” Kakenya says. “It’s the only way you can give a girl child a chance to excel.” Now ranked one of the top school’s in the district, more than 100 girls apply for only 30 spots per year. Although the center receives some support from the Kenyan government, most of the school’s expenses are paid for by Kakenya’s U.S.-based non-profit.

One of the Top 10 Heroes will receive an additional $250,000 for their cause if the public chooses them as the CNN Hero of the Year. What could Kakenya do with a quarter of a million dollars? The grand prize would pay for a fully functional second school capable of doubling current enrollment.

Click on this link to vote for Kakenya as the CNN Hero of the Year.

Smiles all around. Photo courtesy of National Geographic.
Smiles all around. Photo courtesy of National Geographic.


  1. Arpeja
    October 20, 2013, 6:18 pm

    What an inspiration. May God give her the strength to continue. People learn more by example than anything else.

  2. Nana
    October 20, 2013, 9:08 am

    It shows how education could change life, and also brings hope for the girls who live under the society that seems not fair them, I do hope more and more girls and women could own the freedom for pursuing education.

  3. Shanique
    October 18, 2013, 5:36 pm


  4. Chudamani
    October 17, 2013, 5:04 pm

    A step towards emancipation of women from the bonds of ignorance.

  5. john otieno adeny
    October 17, 2013, 3:35 pm

    Great kakenya…..very aspiring for you and also teaches us to dialoque our parents for a good cause
    Am hotelier….can provide free catering and nuitritonal classes for those pple taking care of those young girls…….be blessed

  6. Anna Angarano Villa
    October 17, 2013, 3:13 pm

    I’ve just voted her!! She’s a wonderful woman and what she did shuold be an example for us!!

  7. Premmy
    Bangkok, Thailand
    October 17, 2013, 12:05 pm

    I love her idea and like her story, as I also have dream to support education. Cheer! KAKENYA

  8. N. Arefin
    October 17, 2013, 12:03 pm

    she got a good heart………..

  9. cynthia
    October 12, 2013, 8:14 am

    i´m overwhelmed with joy. and, pray the good Lord to continue to strength her.
    what an inspiration.