US/KENYA: Mother's Misery Inspired Award Winner in US

It was her mother’s life of hardship and abuse that inspired her to seek empowerment for Kenyan girls, says a young woman honoured by Senator Hillary Clinton.

“I saw my mother’s life, working the farm so that she could provide food for us, collecting firewood, fetching water, and rearing cows that my father often sold and spent the money on himself,” Kakenya Ntaiya told the audience at an awards gala in Washington on Monday. 

“At the end of the day, my father would beat her in the name of discipline and to remind her that as a woman she does not have any rights.”

Overcome stiff resistance

Ms Ntaiya, 29, spoke as she received the Rising Voices Award for her efforts in raising $1 million to build a boarding school for girls in Enoosaen, her home village in Trans Mara.

The prize was awarded by Vital Voices Global Partnership, a non-governmental organisation based in the US that works to empower women around the world. 

First Lady Laura Bush attended the awards ceremony at Washington’s Kennedy Centre, along with Mrs Clinton.

In an interview with the Saturday Nation on Wednesday, Ms Ntaiya recalled that she had to overcome stiff resistance from the village elders to fulfil her dream of studying at a university in the United States.

“It was something new to them,” she said of the elders in Enoosaen. “They had seen boys leave the village, but they had never heard of a girl going out of the country alone.”

The elders eventually but reluctantly agreed to raise money to enable Ms Ntaiya to go to university in the United States. She is currently studying for a PhD in education at the University of Pittsburgh in the state of Pennsylvania.

Female circumcision

Ms Ntaiya also had to bargain with her father to attend secondary school. She had to agree to undergo female circumcision before he could grant her permission to enrol for secondary school in Enoosaen. She said she had planned to run away from home if her father had not consented.

Ms Ntaiya succeeded as well in avoiding a marriage that had been arranged for her at the age of five. She went on to marry Michael Mugoh, a Kenyan living in the United States, and gave birth to a son last year.

Ms Ntaiya plans to return to Enoosaen in July to begin working on the girls’ school project. 

Elders have set aside a 5-acre plot of land for its construction, but Ms Ntaiya must still raise $900,000 from donors in the US and from foundations based in Kenya to complete the project.

She says she is determined to live in Kenya despite the ethnic divisions in the country. 

Having married a Kikuyu, Ms Ntaiya knows only too well that she might face hostility in a country that “hasn’t grown out of tribalism.” 

But it is in Kenya that she feels most able to help bring about social change. 

“I don’t feel like I’m contributing to this society at all,” she says in regard to the United States. “I am rooted in Kenya.”

But living in the United States for the past eight years has acquainted her with American culture and politics. 

She says she is now drawn to supporting both Senator Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, the rivals in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

“I admire Hillary Clinton as a woman running for president because I think if she can do it, then maybe I, as a woman, can also run for office one day,” Ms Ntaiya says.

At the same time, she sees Senator Obama as “a Kenyan guy.” 
She also admires Mr Obama because “he is bringing a different picture of a black person and of the continent of Africa.”

In a way, Ms Ntaiya added with a laugh, “I’m glad I’m not able to vote because it would be so hard for me to choose.”

SOURCE: Saturday Nation

AUTHOR: Kevin J. Kelley

URL: Click here

DATE: 18/04/2008

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