Music class is an important part of daily life at Daraja Academy. In the video below, taken from early on the in the school year, the students sing a beautiful version of “Life Is But A Dream” in the round, led by their music teacher Miss Catherine.
Music lessons have advanced to the point where the students now have, with tremendous pride, written the Daraja Academy school song. While a video of the girls singing the song is not yet available, the lyrics are reproduced below. The poetic beauty of the lyrics needs no introduction. We look forward to sharing a performance of the song on this blog soon!
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Daraja Academy exists! Though the “opening ceremony” took place midway through the third and final term of the school year, it did take place. We exist. We are legitimate and man it was FUN.
A lot of planning and preparation went into the October 23rd Opening Ceremony. The campus looked incredible with three large tents set up to protect the students and guests from the midday sun facing a “stage” which was nestled in the shade of an enormous, light orange bougainvillea.
Some of the parents and friends of Daraja Academy left their homes in the cold, dark morning hours, journeying from locations across the country. They began trickling into campus on the back of motorbikes, in packed matatus and by foot around 11am… and we were ready to begin.
The students lead group tours around campus, showing off their classrooms and projects they had worked on this year. These groups visited the Daraja Academy library, science lab and each of the teacher’s classrooms – which are an oddity in Kenya. In nearly every school in the country it is the teachers who switch rooms at the end of the class period. For the most part the students sit in the same desk, in the same classroom all day long, (which in Kenya is from 8am to 5pm in most schools.)
After touring the classrooms, the different groups were lead to the Daraja Academy Nature Trail. Mr. Charles and his science classes created a beautiful, meandering walk that shows off the different biozones of the campus. Benches have been strategically placed in three areas of particular interest – under a large medicinal tree, next to a tall termite mound and on a particularly striking vista that grants a beautiful view of the Laikipia Plateau. Many of the guests had never seen anything like it at a school – essentially, an outdoor classroom that the girls continue to use after the school day ends, reading books and doing homework in the peaceful setting.
After an hour of touring campus, the actual ceremony commenced and it was wonderful. Several of the students spoke very honestly about growing without any hope of attending high school. Benedictor described what it was like growing up in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum. Catherine, who was raised less than 500 yards from the school’s back fence shared about the powerful feelings she felt when she found out she would be joining the school she’d grown up admiring from afar.
During the days leading up to the opening I was nervous about the guest speakers. I totally understand the need for protocols; I just didn’t understand these specific protocols and my ignorance caused anxiety. I had heard that each of the six potential speeches could run on for 30 or 40 minutes. I shouldn’t have worried.
Two local officials ended up speaking; an area chief and the District Educational Officer, and they were great. The chief addressed the crowed in Swahili and made a stirring case for the need of girl’s education, how these young ladies of Daraja will be the leaders of Kenya, and how fortunate the area is to have a school like this.
Susan Ngure, the District educational officer gave an inspirational speech in English. She told how she was fortunate to receive a scholarship to attend a very prestigious girls school and road her education far. Though she was talented and held the proper credentials she tried not to advance too rapidly and thus outshine her husband. Only after rigorous soul searching she determined that she owed it to herself, to her son and frankly to her husband and the world to be the best “her” that she could be. The message REALLY resonated with the Daraja girls who cheered her as she concluded.
After the girls performed two traditional tribal dances and sang the Daraja Academy Anthem, which they wrote!!!! we adjourned for a terrific lunch. The Daraja Academy staff truly understood the magnitude of the event and rose to the occasion. The kitchen staff was tireless, the askaris played a number of valuable roles managing the gate, acting as tour guides and assisting where it was needed.
All told, October 23rd was a great day at Daraja Academy. Those of you scattered across the globe that have been rooting for the school’s success from afar, while you might not have been here in person… your spirit was in Africa at the school opening.
Daraja Academy just stretched, yawned and took a well deserves 4 day weekend. The school essentially runs on the trimester system and this served as our Term III, mid-term break. If you were one of the 26 Daraja Academy students, what would you have proposed as an activity to relax and let off some steam? The answer to that question both surprised and thrilled the administration… the girls wanted to volunteer at the local orphanage. They did, and let me tell you they worked HARD!
The girls were broken into six groups upon arriving at the Mara Moja (the closest village to campus) orphanage. Two groups were sent with donkeys to the river to collect water for laundry and with around 30 orphans, there is A LOT of dirty cloths. Two groups descended on the kitchen the kitchen where one began washing plates, utensils and the like and another began to sort beans. The final two groups were sent to collect sand from a pit about 3/4th of a mile from the orphanage… but there will be more about that later. The orphanage began to bounce and sing with the vibe that radiates around these incredible young women and it was fascinating to watch as local children peered through the orphanage’s fence with longing, something I doubt happens often.
So as the group sat around the table sorting beans (a VERY important task, as biting into a rock, your tooth wanted to be a bean should only be experienced once a life time) the girls, along with volunteers Sue and Olivia, sang songs and told stories. I had never learned that it is bad luck to use your finger and point at a rabbit, but nearly every young lady at the table was told not to by their grandmother, REGARDLESS of tribe or geographic location… though none of them explained why doing so is bad. Benny thinks it might have something to do with rabbits being the cleverest of all animals, but we never came to a consensus. As we jabbered on I witnessed something remarkable transpire…
Between the bean counting story telling and the two groups of singing laundresses, groups of Daraja girls began to stream into the center of the orphanage compound in twos, carrying 50 lbs sacks of sand. The girls began emptying the bags into a small mountain of sand with a hallow crater at the top. It actually resembled the flour volcano a baker might create on a marble counter into which eggs, milk and other ingredients are broken… however, what came next, was not eggs. Two of the older girls from the orphanage entered the courtyard with a basket containing at least 20 lbs of steaming cow manure, which went straight into the sand crater and was followed by Daraja’s finest… Mary K. and Emily. Kicking off their shoes and hiking up their skirts, the girls began to stomp with gusto. Mashing and mixing what began to take on the look of a deep orange adobe.
As I watched all of the activity it was difficult to not ask myself, “would kids back home choose to do this on their day off?” Perhaps, but truly the answer didn’t matter. This IS what these 26 inspirational stars chose to do with their break, and by the time they were done the place looked like new. The floors in all the dorms and dining hall were flat, level and missing the gauges worn by time and the patter of millions of little feet. All the cracks throughout the entire orphanage and all of its outbuildings were filled and smoothed over. The girls worked hard and did a very good job.
The pastor sent me a message later in the day telling me how grateful he was for everything the girls had done and all of the hard work they had invested in his project. He said that the girls were an answer to his prayers.
They certainly are an answer to mine.