They arrived at campus in late February, twenty-six uncomfortable strangers. At the conclusion of term one, those same girls will return home as twenty-six sisters. Though we still have two days of testing ahead, an end of the term party and dinner, as well as many other odds and ends to accomplish, girls have already begun to discuss their departures and in my opinion, nothing has validated this project more than those discussions. Put simply, many of the girls do not want to leave.
I had assumed that there would be an evenly balanced division in most of the students in terms of heading home. I thought there would be close to equal parts, “I can’t wait to go home, sleep in my bed and see my friends and family,” and “I’m sad to leave my new found friends, I am really going to miss them,” in most of Daraja’s students. I was wrong and interestingly, the sentiments have nothing to do with how far from campus home is or whether the girl comes from a “traditional family” (mom, dad, sisters and brothers) or not.
After speaking one-on-one or in small groups with many of the young ladies and talking with both of the dorm matrons, who the girls confide in daily, I have come to a few conclusions as to why they would prefer to stay on campus during the vacation break. They feel like they matter here, and they know what to expect.
Though I have not commented on it many times in this blog, this part of Kenya is experiencing a drought. We watch the clouds every day and pray for rain. The river that used to flow past campus and provided so much of the campus’ water (sinks, toilets, showers, kitchen etc) is dry. We have done many things to reduce water consumption on campus from digging pit latrines behind the girl’s and MS Kenya’s dorms (each time a person flushes 20 liters of water goes with it,) to putting up signs and showing our students the “best way” to wash hands, cloths etc during dry times like these. Frankly, had the Baraka School not dug a borehole ten years ago, we would be in BIG trouble.
Anyhow, today I had a conversation with a girl who comes from Meru, which is located on the wet side of Mt. Kenya. I asked the young lady if she was excited that during break she wouldn’t have to walk for 5 minutes to fetch a bucket of water everyday and she cracked a big, ironic smile. “I won’t have to walk as far for water,” she said, “but you also cannot eat water for breakfast and dinner.” She went on to explain, that while at home she definitely would not be eating like she had been at Daraja Academy. Though the area where this specific student comes from is much greener and is not experiencing drought the way we are, she doesn’t want to leave this weekend, because at its foundation, for her… Daraja is three healthy meals everyday.
One of the students told me that after arriving in February it took her several weeks before she believed that Daraja Academy and all of its supporters wanted her to get a good education, for no reason other than the fact that she deserved it. She could not believe that there were no ulterior motives. By coming to this conclusion, that just being who she was, warranted all that she was receiving, made her want to work harder and experience more. Though I know this specific student has a very close relationship with her mother and sister, she doesn’t want to leave this weekend, because for her… Daraja is here.
Before the first term even began one of the mothers approached me on arrival day. I had met this particular mother while interviewing her daughter at the Turning Point Trust in the Nairobi slum of Kibera. This powerful mom who stands less that 5 feet tall, pulled me aside and half lectured, half begged me to consider allowing the students to only return home for short periods, no more than a week, during each school break. Her eyes actually teared up as she explained that nothing good could happen for her daughter upon returning to Kibera. “Mr. Jason, it is not like Daraja with a fence and nice guards to protect them. If our daughters come home it could be pregnancy, rape, disease or drugs and they will never get this chance again!” Though I know this specific mother adores her daughter she doesn’t want her daughter to leave this weekend, because for her… Daraja is safety and Daraja cares about her daughter’s future.
For different girls Daraja Academy means different things: it is interesting, a better Kenya. Daraja is a challenge; it is friendship, its fun.
Daraja is love, Daraja is, is, is… This school is special and it is so many things to so many people. If it isn’t already, decide what Daraja Academy is to you and then make it more.
The girls will go home this weekend and they will go home for the full 3-week break. We will discuss future breaks and whether all of the girls will be away for the breaks’ entirety. Unfortunately, this break they will be staying away 3 weeks for the wrong reason; due to the state of the international economy we just don’t have the funding to keep them here the whole break.
As a student, as a teacher and now as an administrator I never would have thought that one of Daraja Academy’s bigger problems would be students wanting to STAY at school during break. But, if that is one of our bigger problems… I am very happy to have it.
I would really like to take this time to also thank everybody who planned, attended and took part in the Daraja Academy, Peninsula Event. These are difficult economic times and the fact that you chose to spend your time and money helping young ladies that I see everyday, but you have never met is amazing, humbling and incredibly inspiring. Asante sana!