“When I was up in that tree, I was scared”

“When I was up in that tree, I was scared”

Keynote speech by human rights activist Nice Nailantei Leng’ete


“Leadership is not just for people at the top – we all have influence on our community in different ways.” Kenyan human rights activist Nice Nailantei Leng’ete, who gave the keynote speech during the 46th Foundation Day celebrations on Thursday, is living proof of her own statement. Even at a very young age, she managed to convince her family and the village elders to be more mindful of girls’ and women’s rights.

Nailantei Leng’ete was eight years’ old when she and her sister hid together at the top of a tree to avoid what she herself refers to as ‘the cut’, circumcision, the traditional genital mutilation of Masai girls, a nomadic people that mainly lives in Kenia and Tanzania. Ultimately, she manages to convince her grandfather – her parents had died by that time – not to go ahead with it, at least in her case. Her sister offers herself up and takes part in the ceremony. “Something that I will always be grateful to her for." It gave an extra incentive to her fight to save girls and women from genital mutilation and instead to give them education.

By now, she and Amref Flying Doctors have saved 20 thousand girls. Making sure you are heard, requires personal leadership, says Nailantei Leng’ete. “Know yourself, know your dreams and dare to do something with them. Make sure you have a clear idea of what you are striving for as well as what you expect from yourself and others. Take those – often tough – decisions and take responsibility for your own actions.”

But that is not enough. “Change starts with a perspective and the help of the people concerned. I saw how my father always involved the community when he wanted to change something. I lost my parents at a young age, but I never forgot their lessons.” Trying to change something without involving others is counterproductive, says Nailantei Leng’ete. “I often came across wells in Africa that nobody used. Westerners dug them so that women no longer needed to walk so far for water. But the women loved those long walks. It gave them the opportunity to be together, exchange stories and joke about the men.”

Doing things together with others, also means respecting their cultures and traditions and teaching them things “through love”. According to Nailantei Leng’ete, that is a crucial factor in the success of her foundation. Another is organising support. “Look to your left and right for help. Look down and offer those who come after you a helping hand. Someone did that for me; I am a product of many helping hands. Someone will do it for you too and, when possible, you will do it again for others.”

Lastly, she calls upon people to dream big. “When I was up in that tree, I was scared. Maybe you are scared of something right now. Dare to dream of change, be brave and think: one day at a time. Follow your intuition, respect others for who they are. The world needs dreamers who are afraid, but who go forward anyway.”

Author: Cleo Freriks

Photo: Joey Roberts

Tags: diesnatalis2022,Nice Nailantei Leng’ete,human rights activist,female genital multilation,instagram

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