blog image

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges facing girls and women around the world. One in seven girls in developing countries will be married before age 15. Approximately 800 girls and women die every single day from pregnancy-related complications. But awe-inspiring everyday heroes refuse to accept these statistics.

Two of those heroes – Kakenya Ntaiya and Dr. Laura Stachel – are being recognized as part of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes of 2013. Both women are an inspiration, working to solve some of the most pressing issues facing girls and women today. Learn more about their stories.

Kakenya Ntaiya

Kakenya, born in a village in Kenya, was engaged at age 5 and made to undergo female circumcision to prepare for marriage at age 14. Instead of getting married as a child, she dreamed of staying in school, and she negotiated with her father to allow her to go to high school. But she didn’t stop there – she negotiated with the village elders to allow her to leave and attend college in the United States. In exchange, she promised to use her education to benefit her village of Enoosaen.

While attending college, Kakenya became a youth ambassador to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), traveling around the world to tell her story and advocate for girls’ education as a means to eradicate harmful cultural practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation. Upon graduation, she fulfilled her promise by returning to Enoosaen, Kenya, to start the Kakenya Center for Excellence. The school currently has 155 students and has helped empower young girls to become agents of change in their community.

Dr. Laura Stachel

Dr. Laura Stachel, an obstetrician-gynecologist born in the United States, witnessed the harsh realities facing many women in developing countries during a trip to Nigeria in 2008. While visiting a health clinic, the power went out during an emergency cesarean operation.

Throughout her trip, she saw lifesaving interventions delayed or women turned away simply because there was no light in the clinics. This is all too common in countries like Nigeria, where lack of access to energy is one of the causes of alarmingly high maternal mortality rates.

When she returned home, Laura sought out a solution. Working with her husband, Hal, they created a “solar suitcase” that provides easily-installed lighting and power to meet the needs of mostly rural health clinics. Since 2009, their non-profit, WE CARE Solar, which is part of the UN Foundation-led Energy Access Practitioner Network, has provided solar energy access to many clinics in countries throughout Africa, Asia and Central America. They’re seeing bright results: After installation of this solar energy solution, a state hospital in Nigeria saw maternal mortality rates drop by 70%.

Feeling inspired? You can vote for Kakenya  Ntaiya and Dr. Laura Stachel for CNN Hero of the Year. The winner will receive $250,000 for their project, and each of the top 10 will receive $50,000.

These women are an inspiration that we can tackle big challenges and help ensure every girl and woman is safe, healthy, educated, and empowered.