One Kenyan’s Dream, Building A Future for Many: Film Contest Grand-Prize-Winner Aaron Kisner speaks on his film’s inspirational leader
Vision. It’s what we at Link TV’s ViewChange.org hoped to showcase in our Online Film Contest— the vision to raise awareness, inspire action, and accelerate the worldwide movement to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Launched in April, 2010, we received 136 powerful entries—in the form of documentary, short drama, music video, and animation—by September. Then the judging began: votes were cast by viewers like you, and our panel of celebrity judges chose their top picks. In November, the winners were announced, and all contest films were streamed on ViewChange.org.
Vision. It’s what drove Kakenya Ntaiya, an unbelievably courageous woman from the Maasai Village in Kenya, to defy all odds and become the first woman in her village to leave Africa to obtain a college education in America. The revolutionary vision to change the lives of Maasai girls compelled Kakenya to pursue a dream of teaching. She has just completed a doctorate in education from the University of Pittsburgh and is now planning to fulfill the promise she made to her village when she left—the promise to give back. Kakenya started an academy for underprivileged girls in her village in 2009, which is growing every year thanks to her advocacy and outside support.
What a story! We were sure blown away. It’s what inspired filmmaker Aaron Kisner to create the grand-prize-winning-entry Vital Voices: Kakenya showcasing this envisioned Kenyan’s story, dream and action. For his incredible video, Link TV presented Kisner with an award of $25,000! He then proceeded to blow us away yet again—choosing to give away all the money to fund a dorm for Kakenya’s academy for girls.
Be the change you hope to inspire. There’s no better example of it than right here. Kakenya set an example in her community by giving back through the education of others. Kisner is setting an example in our community to give back through charity and support of those working toward a better life. In an article for the Huffington Post, Kisner writes about what inspired him to make the film:
“In what Kakenya is doing, I see a woman who is taking care of the world, and it makes me feel like things can get better. Most importantly, it reminds me that it's women like Kakenya who lead change. From within.
"The stakes are high. The course towards a more equitable life for girls has been mapped, but the outcome is not guaranteed. This school and its students must succeed. Many are watching from both sides of an ideological divide. I want them all to know that I stand with Kakenya. As do hundreds of thousands of supporters who have heard her story and joined in the effort to spread it.
"As a director, I don't think I have a right to tell other people how they should live their lives, but my work can still play a part in positive social change.”
Of the six film contest categories, Vital Voices: Kakenya won the category “Overcoming Conflict.” Having come from a culture that is oppressive toward women, Kakenya has struggled from a young age against the expectations required of her as she ascends womanhood. Kisner describes her struggles with the humiliating ritual of female genital cutting:
“At puberty, every Maasai girl endures an excruciating circumcision, and at that point, she is available for marriage. No anesthetic is used, and any girl who remains 'uncut' is considered unclean; a disgrace to her family. So, Kakenya bargained with the only thing she had. She confronted her father and threatened to run away. She would remain uncut and bring him shame unless he agreed to let her finish school."
Because of her experiences, Kakenya has become an advocate against sexist practices in the Kenyan community. Beyond the standard academic subjects, she includes a health curriculum educating girls on genital circumcision, reproductive health, HIV/AIDS awareness and negotiating power in future sexual relationships. Other educational components include Leadership Training and Culture Preservation. The Kakenya Center for Excellence is the first primary girls’ school in the region, and has a goal of enrolling 150 students in grades four to eight.
As an independent director based in New York, Kisner works with non-profits to tell their stories in a compelling, accessible way. He has created a series of short films in collaboration with Vital Voices Global Partnership, ExxonMobil Foundation, Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Kisner made this film in collaboration with the Vital Voices Global Partnership, a non-profit organizations that invests in women leaders, offering training, mentorship, connections, and opportunities to bring their stories to the world stage.
For Kakenya’s entire story, check out Vital Voices: Kakenya: