This Woman Helped Over 500 Kenyan Girls Have a Better Life

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Rural Kenya has some of the most marginalized and underserved communities in the world. That’s why Diana Kendi left the world of journalism to become the communication and development officer at Kakenya's Dream — an organization in Kenya with a mission to invest in girls through education, health, and leadership initiatives. 

“Prior to joining the NGO world... I passionately reported about gender (women and girls), health, and education,” she tells CircleAround. Kendi grew up in Kenya and earned her high school degree after being out of the classroom for nearly seven years. These events played a major role in her unique life path. 

“Being able to achieve my career dream despite the challenges in education during my high school years made me believe that anyone can become whatever they've always dreamt of in life,” she says. This kind of hope and persistence has now helped educate over 500 girls in Kenya. Nearly 100 percent of girls in the program finish school, and are safe from female genital mutilation and child marriage.

We talked to Kendi to learn more about her passions, experiences, and her work with Kakenya's Dream. 

CA: How did you transition from journalism to working for Kakenya's Dream?

DK: My passion for reporting on women and girls grew [after] realizing how vulnerable they are when it comes to harmful traditional practices and other forms of gender-based violence. I felt the need to [publicly] tell their stories to spark conversations about their plight so that they can be provided with safe spaces in the society.

During my years as an active journalist, I remember telling the story of a 13-year-old girl who was mutilated, married off to a man old enough to be her father (in her own words), and still expected to bear children. She was 10 years old at the time. That story really touched me to the point where I felt that telling these stories alone was not enough — action needed to be taken. And that's what led me to join Kakenya's Dream. 

CA: Why is it especially important for girls in rural African communities to have access to education?

DK: I travel to rural areas and meet these young and vulnerable girls who have been forced out of school either because of forced marriage, female genital mutilation, or even teenage pregnancy, and I just have a conversation with them, giving them hope that they still can pursue their dreams in life. 

I believe when a girl is educated, they are able to make informed choices about their bodies, and informed choices about their health and future families. Moreover, they are able to not only protect and impact their family but the entire community. 

CA: What kind of structure does Kakenya's Dream provide for girls from vulnerable communities?

DK: We have two all-girl boarding schools, which act as a safe haven for girls from the Maasai community based in an area known as Kilgoris, Narok County. Girls in the Maasai community are usually circumcised and married off at an early age. They are considered for economic value. Their education is never given a priority. Kakenya's Dream seeks to break the norm and empower the girls through education, community engagement, health and safety instruction, and other programs.

CA: What are some of the challenges you face? 

DK: The biggest challenge is when one doesn't really understand why I am so vocal in advocating for women and girls’ rights. I have always had to explain the vulnerability that comes along with being a girl or a woman in societies where their rights are violated; where they do not have a say on their own bodies or health; where they are considered [valuable only] for bearing children and house chores and nothing more than that. 

CA: What keeps you motivated?

DK: When I see individuals in the society, as well as various organizations, recognize and support my advocacy for women's and girls' rights. I have received several awards from different organizations, such as the Efua Dorkenoo Pan African Award on Reportage on FGM, Africa Media Network on Health AMNH Excellence in Health Journalism award, [an award from the] Media Council of Kenya (MCK), among others. 

CA: What advice can you give to someone who is looking to expand their role as a journalist?

DK: Never shy away from advocating for what you believe in as a journalist. If your passion is in good health, quality education, gender equity, then advocate for it passionately until something happens! You are the voice of the voiceless. When people entrust you with their stories, they believe that by broadcasting their story on the platform you are in, they will get justice, fairness, and action will be taken to ensure they are at a better place. 

My experience in traveling and interacting with vulnerable women and girls, telling their stories advocating for their rights has made me realize that journalism is not about being famous, but advocating for change so that we all can have a better world.

Tags: Social Justice, Gender Equality, Empowerment, Tweens/Teens

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

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