Heller Profiles

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Grace Majiakusi

Kenya

MA-SID '13

A world of new possibilities for the young women of the Maasai

Grace Majiakusi, her village's first female college graduate, now works to educate other girls

Grace Majiakusi was born into a culture that did not believe in educating girls. It did believe in female genital mutilation and forbidding women to own property. But more powerful than her community's beliefs was her belief in herself and the power of education. So despite the barriers, Grace became her village's first female college graduate.

She immediately began using her knowledge to pave the way for other Maasai youth. Through her work with the Naretoi Girl Child Project, she helped to create girl-friendly learning environments that served over 1,000 children and sent dropout rates plummeting.

However, while she was proud of the program's success, she wanted to do more. "There were gaps in implementation and sustainability was an issue," she says. Grace was also frustrated by community leaders' seeming content with the status quo. "I realized that I wanted to help shape policy as well as programs," she remembers, and that realization led her to Heller.

"I received a Ford Fellowship that would allow me to go anywhere, but I was interested in Heller from the start," she says. "It has an excellent international reputation, and I knew Heller alumni in East Africa who were doing amazing work at a policy and community level."

After a few months at Heller, Grace was already sharing insights on how to make the Naretoi Girl Child Project more effective--but her goals do not end there. "I believe that to create change, you must start small, but I don't set limits on what is possible." To the girls and women of Kenya's Maasai tribe, Grace has proven that almost anything is.

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