Perhaps, all we need to succeed is just… 1 step away.
After receiving some communication from Mr. C’s 5th grade class in Noel, Missouri something became very clear to me: in the ‘Daraja blog’ I often allude to how life in the Kenyan bush (Daraja Academy campus) is different from life in the U.S., but I am very seldom specific as to what those differences are. I will now attempt to be very specific.
Here are a few:
• No matter how thirsty I get while on campus, I cannot take a cup off the shelf, hold it under the tap, fill it, and drink it. All of our drinking water is rainwater that has been caught, strained, and boiled by our kitchen staff.
• I have been trying to start an orchard – figs, pomegranates, guava, mango and papaya trees all grow in our climate. Because we are on a tight budget, I have to rely on the 15-year-old fence, which was built by the Baraka School, to protect these potentially food producing seedlings from harm. Unfortunately, a hungry goat looking through our fence at such succulent vegetation is like watching (pardon the cliché) a hot knife slice through butter. Under, over and through – those shameless herbivores ignore my fence and wreak havoc on my utopian dream orchard. [I will deny every line of this blog when reported to PETA but I whip every single stone I can reach at those bearded freaks before they gamble out of range.] Two quick things about goats – 1) they absolutely know when they are just outside of my throwing range, because they stop and all but wink and smile at me AND 2) they know the difference between an actual stone being thrown at them and when I am faking it and just going through the motions due to a lack of goat ammunition.
• The Daraja Academy campus lies about 10 miles farther than the last of the power poles that stretch from Nanyuki town, carrying that wonderful thing we all know as ELECTRICITY. Our electricity comes from a cranky, 20 year old diesel generator, which we run from 7pm to 10pm at night… when nothing has gone wrong. “What could go wrong?” Parts break, the generator burns through the fuel faster than it is supposed to… rodents decide to end their life in a more dramatic way than becoming hawk food. (The sound of a heavy-duty diesel generator grinding to a halt because a rat has “cannon balled” into its gears is not a pretty sound, smell or (during daylight hours) sight, which continues to haunt my nights.
• Electricity from 7pm to 10pm means no charging your laptop, IPod, camera etc. during the day. No showing your class a DVD, no electronic microscopes in the lab. No printers. No scanners. No kitchen appliances that run on electricity… no, nO, NO!
At first I felt that posting these truths might deter some from visiting the school, but as Popeye said, “I am’s, what I am’s” and Daraja ‘is what she is.’
Dream about her, admire her, improve her and critique her…but please be a part of her. There is a lot to like, more to love and a plethora of knowledge to learn from her. Daraja Academy is the story that visionaries simply WILL forward. The model that educators CROSS THEIR FINGERS will succeed. Most importantly, Daraja Academy is THE DENT that every average guy, like me, has to believe can be made in the World… if we believe sincerely enough, push hard enough, and dream big enough that it will happen…things will happen.
Girls’ lives will change. A small western village in an East African country will change. The expectations of what a government should provide… will change. Countries can change. Continents can change. The World, even if just one girl at a time, will change.
Most people said that trying to appeal to the masses to donate, even $20, would not work. But, it is slowly working. Please help us prove the world wrong. Together I know we can educate these deserving, incredible young ladies and I know that with work we can educate more. Not everyone can give $1,000. Not everyone can give $100. If you can’t give $20 I am sure that you know 20 people who you can tell about these girls of Daraja Academy. Help them. DO so and make your DENT!
My favorite aspect of a school, like most, is the numerous opportunities for learning that exist there. However, I think there are two major misconceptions that many people, especially educators (myself included) often make in relation to this idea:
1st – the classroom, library and lab ARE NOT the only places where learning can take place.
2nd – opportunities for learning SHOULD NOT be reserved only for the students. A school environment changes when it feels like a group endeavor, where all parties: students, teachers, administrators etc. are working toward something together, collaboratively. Personally, I have never encountered more learning opportunities than I have while serving as Daraja Academy’s principal-teacher-bus driver-clerk-janitor-councilor-chair of the art dept.-athletic director-&-friend.
My latest profound learning op:
Jua Kali in Swahili literally translates as “Hot Sun”. It also is a commonly used colloquialism that refers to a class of workers who get by on initiative, applied knowledge of their trade and experience rather than extensive technical training and a high-end shop and equipment. Nearly all jua kali workers do in fact work out in the hot African sun, most often on roadsides, abandon lots or parks. There are jua kali tailors, jua kali welders, jua kali mechanic etc. Often their work is comparable or better than their top end competition and it is always cheaper.
Jua Kali is also the name of a town that sits along the road 5 kilometers south of the Daraja Academy campus. Everybody who reaches our campus by vehicle at least, passes through Jua Kali. It is a small and very dirty town. True to its name, most of its inhabitance are jua kali workers who walk, peddle or matatu (packed mini-van) the 15+ miles to Nanyuki everyday. They return home tired and the prospects of eating, tending house and sleeping rank higher than walking the half-mile to the town’s trash receptacle. Unfortunately after several years, neglected trash blows around and accumulates.
It is simply impossible to drive over the small town’s four mountainous speed bumps and not notice the trash that has collected. It is caught in the fences, the water culverts the cacti that separates the homesteads from the road… it is everywhere.
We had heard that an English woman who lives in Jua Kali had organized a town clean up. Though it was scheduled extremely early in the term, very soon after the girls had returned, we thought it was a great opportunity.
All of our students come from poverty. One of our primary aims at Daraja Academy is to show them and allow them to feel that they are powerful, and not sentenced to only be recipients of goodwill. There is an incredible moving sensation that comes with doing something good for others. In our minds the rewards far out distanced the benefits that the clean up would lend the local environment.
I don’t care where you are in the world, Nagasaki, Nantucket or Nanyuki; most teenagers do not want to spend a Sunday afternoon collecting trash. But with some cajoling, the girls of Daraja went along with the plan to join the crowd cleaning up our neighboring town.
Upon arrival, we realized there was a crowd… of bystanders, watching as the clean-up coordinator tried to get them inspired to pitch in. The concept of spending their off time, or for some just ‘time’ period picking up garbage, was ridiculous. Their apathy was taking a clear toll on our English neighbor and she was clearly relieved when we arrived.
As usual our girls were great. With the best attitudes, in groups of two, each holding a side of a garbage bag they swept across the town. Some had rakes, other thick gloves (all generously donated by Rich Harley) but all attacked the clean-up in a way that would make the most OCD’ed American homemaker jealous. Wiping pride aside, these girls were incredible.
Leila and Relina
Big 30 lbs. bags began to fill and pile up. But surprisingly, very few of Jua Kali’s adults joined the cause. Many children and a few teenagers helped, which was refreshing and left me with some hope, however, I’d have to say that I was saddened by what I saw. Unsure if they were driven by shame or a true mean spirit, I heard more than a few snickers and a less refined “Mr. Doherty” probably would have taken issue with these people – but, I never had to…
As the girls continued the clean-up in the hot sun and as the pile of trash became a hill many of the bystanders changed their song. Though only a few eventually joined us, it was clear that a point was made and it was made through the unbreakable attitude of our students. In fact, one woman was over heard saying to a group of men, “sad isn’t it, our house is burning down and we are watching our neighbors put it out.”
After two hours Jua Kali looked amazing and word had spread all the way to the local health worker. He came down to inspect our work and ended up buying sodas for all of the Daraja students. In all, 300 lbs of garbage was collected and disposed of and though tired the ride home to campus was a happy one. But, deep down inside of me, if I am going to be totally honest, I was worried that the experiment might have had the opposite effect on the girls. Rather than be excited and energized by the clean-up and its effect on the environment and our neighboring town, I was afraid that the girls might feel bitter about the whole thing. Nobody likes being laughed at, especially when you are giving away free time doing hard work.
That worry did not have long to take root. The Jua Kali clean-up was Sunday afternoon, at 3:30pm Monday afternoon, barely 15 minutes after school ended I found out the effect that was made on our students. Out of my office window, out of the corner of my eye I caught a blur of turquoise. Then I heard giggling out outside the back window. In all honesty, I was covered in goose bumps when I went out to investigate what was going on: in groups of two they swept across the Daraja campus. A few had rakes and others had thick gloves and they were cleaning up. They still giggled, but this time they hadn’t been cajoled. They just did it. Most amazingly, they ALL did it.
And I sincerely hope they do so again.
So yes, I found an amazing opportunity for learning and it did not happen in a classroom, laboratory or library and I am not a student… at least I am not one of the girls of Daraja.
Please remember that the dream of Daraja Academy includes you. Spread the word, plan to visit, assist if you can, but please, what ever you do, do not forget these young ladies.
P.S. Students from Noel, Missouri: Thank you for commenting on the site, our students all say JAMBO (Hi) and are very excited that you are interested in their school. I am in the process of answering your questions, however, since the internet isn’t too reliable and is VERY slow I’d like to ask a favor. WOuld it be ok if I replied to all of the questions and put them into one Email? If so, who should I send it to. Once again, ASANTE SANA (thank you very much)!!!