Monthly Archives: February 2010

Project Kibuku Maji

“Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.”

Growing up in California, I have always valued water and thought I conserved it… thought.

On the Laikipia Plateau, the home location of Daraja Academy, water is a life or death issue. There are several rivers and creeks that run through the area which originate high on Mt. Kenya and the Aberdare mountain range. However, the area around the school, though bountiful, would never have been mistaken for a rainforest because it is located on the dry-side of Mt. Kenya.

Daraja Academy relies on the Uwaso Nanyuki River to provide water to maintain the campus, shower, water the milk cows, flush toilets, use in the kitchen, mop floors etc. However, due to numerous factors, including global warming, deforestation, and nearby commercial farming, today the amount of water in the rivers and falling from the clouds has dropped to dangerous levels.

Until last year, the Uwaso Nanyuki River had never run dry… on February 2nd, 2009 that changed. The academy went into conservation mode and was ok… for about two weeks. We began to conserve harder and were ok for another two weeks. Finally, we paid a fire truck to bring us 30,000 liters from town.

When the emergency water was close to running out, it rained on Mt. Kenya. The flow from the mountain gave us only a foot of water in the river basin, and we narrowly made it until the rainfall came.

With 26 more students arriving tomorrow and 26 more over the next two years, investing in the water project is vital right now.

Although the water situation is a daunting one, we have long-term sustainable solutions:

1.            Supplement the existing water tank: When the river is full it is VERY FULL. We want to dig a 20 foot by 20 foot, 5 foot deep hole at the highest point of campus, next to an existing tank which water is already pumped up to every night. This way, we would have enough river water to see us through the driest drought – without major expense or alteration of existing systems.

2.            Digging several reservoirs: When it rains in Kenya, it rains HARD. Topographically, the campus has two hills, one of which is shaped like a bowl. During heavy rains, water pours down these hills and runs away. Literally it rains so hard that only a fraction of the rainwater absorbs into the ground. By digging several reservoirs in strategic places we could collect more water than the school could possibly use in a year. In fact, we would have enough left over to create a trough outside of our fence, so the local herders could water their stock during severe drought.

With your help, Daraja wants to implement sustainable solutions to the water situation as soon as next month. After crunching the numbers and asking local business’ and NGO’s help, we believe that we can create a sustainable water system which would benefit our students, campus and local community for  $55,000.

The exciting news is that we have a head start: The Do a Little Foundation has generously offered to lead with a gift of $20,000.

With your help, we can make this happen. It will be a gift for all forthcoming Daraja girls, starting with the ones that arrive tomorrow.

Ways to donate to the water project:

  • Go to the Daraja homepage and click on Paypal Link. Make a note that the donation is specifically for water project through paypal or send a note, upon donating, to
  • Send checks to the Daraja office at:

228 Margarita Drive

San Rafael, CA 94901

Memo line: Water Project

  • If you live in the Bay Area, we will have a fundraiser March 26th (See postcard in the blog entry below) about the project at:

March 26th 6:00pm- 8:00pm

Portola Valley Town Center

765 Portola Rd Portola Valley, CA 94028

Thank you Daraja family!

Good advice from our students

The selection of  26 new Daraja girls is done! The new students will arrive on campus on February 26th. We are all extremely excited about this new step and we have asked the current students to give a piece of advice for their future classmates. Here are three letters that could be useful for you too, in case you pay us a visit soon!

“Once at Daraja, you will like the encouraging weather due to the trees. You can walk around the campus but be aware of the snakes in the bushes. If you don’t bother them, I assure you that they won’t bother you. You will feel cool walking under the green shady trees.

You should work hard in order to achieve your goals and prosper in future keeping in mind that educating a woman is educating a nation. Help those who need help and cooperate with everyone to promote unity. Observe all the pillars of Daraja and do your best not to abuse them or neglect them. Finally, I want to tell you that you should be a role model to your colleagues, do as instructed and respect everyone. Remember: Daraja means bridge and we are Daraja.”

“When you come to Daraja, you will meet beautiful, hardworking and very respectful ladies and brothers. Join them cheerfully and take them as your older sisters. Love them, respect them, and follow any instructions or requests from them.

At time, we choose prefects in several parts they act on. One is for games and sport, another is for dorms while another is for dinning hall. Finally, the head girl is in charge of all prefects, making sure that they act as expected by the authority. So you should appreciate their work and follow what they say. Never be found at wrong place at wrong time doing wrong thing.

On campus are the MS buildings where you should not be found during the day or night unless it is organized for workshops or socialization. Also, respect and take responsibility of the MS volunteers, as they will do to you. Last but not least, you should always remember to follow the Daraja pillars, which will help you in everything you do. Work extra hard for your studies, believing that you will achieve your goals and fulfill your dreams in life. Thank you.”

“When you come to Daraja, you will meet wonderful, loving parents, caring sisters and brothers. You should follow teachers’ instruction. As you obey them, all things that you do will go positively. If you don’t follow what a teacher says, you will notice that not everything will run smoothly. Last but not least, you should be punctual in whatever you do. If you are, you will be a wonderful girl and everything will run smoothly.”

The Daraja pillars that the girls refer to in their letters are taught during WISH class. WISH stands for Women of integrity, strength and hope. The pillars are considered the foundation to success at Daraja:

The Four Pillars:


1. Be accountable for the role you play at Daraja, neither neglecting it, nor abusing it.

2. Maintain open communication, speak honestly and listen respectfully.

3. Embrace differences and treat all with dignity and respect.

4. Every day, leave it better than you found it.

3-0 for Daraja!

We promised to update you about the first official football game played by Daraja, so here we go! The match has been postponed due to unfortunate circumstances; some students from the school we had to play against had to go to a funeral on that day, while others were simply not at school for a while, the time for their parents to pay the first term school fees… But a week after that, they were ready to welcome us. So we all jumped in Matatus (minivans) and drove to town for the game. The result? A clear victory for Daraja, 3-0, two goals being scored by Catherine before Lillian ceiled the final result with an incredible free kick shot from the middle of the field!

We would like to take this chance to encourage everyone of you to become fan of the Daraja Academy of Kenya on Facebook: this is where you will, for example, see great pictures of the game! See you there!

Last Day of Interviews – 2 Spots Remain

It has been A HARD student selection process. Quite literally, over the past 2+ weeks a group of at least 4 Daraja Academy administrators (director of operations Peter Wathitu, vice principal Victoria, Jenni and I) along with a handful of volunteers, have conducted well over 100 student interviews. We have logged in almost 2,000 kms driving to Isiolo, Nairobi, Limuru, Eldoret, Kitale, Kakamega and all the way to Kisumu on Lake Victoria.

We have learned that word of Daraja Academy has spread across Kenya. With it we are meeting girls of tremendous need, who FAR exceed our expectations. Girls who received “straight A’s” all 8 years of primary school. Girls who were able to hold themselves together through abject poverty. Orphans who grew up with brothers and sisters and NO guardians, surviving on the goodwill of neighbors, missing school to dig ditches for food money – who somehow performed incredibly in school. We met girls still living in camps, displaced after the election violence, girls who still sleep in U.N. tents provided by the High Commission for Refugees. We have met miracles… three times I have excused my self from interviews because my eyes were so full of tears. These girls are angels, and we can’t take them all.

This is the reason I have not written on the BLOG about the process. I have played sports my entire life and this has been the most exhausting thing by far that I have ever done. The problem is at the end of the day, sleep is fought off by the problem presented that day: 13 amazing girls, 2 spots.

I am the luckiest man alive. This school is a lifelong dream. However, I would be misrepresenting myself if I didn’t describe the past 2 weeks as an equal mix of dream and nightmare. The indescribable highs of giving a wonderful young lady access to education and the lows of knowing there are others who today… we cannot help.

However, I have no doubt that as this project builds momentum, as people in North America, Europe, Africa and beyond hear about what is going on here… our scope will grow.

Until, please continue spreading the word about Daraja, that is the best weapon of change we have.

Later this week, when all is decided I will introduce that Daraja Academy class of 2014.

Thank you so much,

“Student Selection” through Colin’s eyes

I heard a quote while raising awareness for Daraja Academy last September that has stuck with me. Ted Church, a Daraja supporter from Boulder, Colorado remarked in an off hand way that, “all roads lead to Daraja.” The people that are caught by the inertia of this small girls school in central Kenya are nothing short of remarkable. Often they hear about the girls and ultimately end up joining our movement in very unexpected ways.

The following piece was written by Colin Grisel, who’s road luckily lead to Daraja. He has been working tirelessly to forward the Daraja Academy cause since his arrival in November. Originally from Switzerland, he has lived in Egypt and Nepal, utilizing the skills he learned while earning his master’s degree in Development. Colin has started a monthly Daraja newsletter while also making in-roads to Kenyan and international organizations. I really feel that he explains the tug-o-war that occurs inside of all of us, during this difficult selection process.

Jason Doherty

A Tough Selection

Daraja Academy is currently doing what I believe to be the toughest part of its work: selecting for the year to come, among a high pile of excellent but heartbreaking applications, 25 students. The school will have to turn down a number of brilliant girls in need of support: it is simply impossible to give a chance to all of them.

I hope this sounds tough on paper because I can confirm that it is also tough, in the field. Jenni and Jason Doherty, with the good advice of their outstanding Kenyan staff, must distribute the “yes’s” and the “no’s”. Because of your support, they are able to offer four-year scholarships, but this does come at the price of refusing help to others.

Today, Friday 29th, we met eleven amazing girls, knowing that there would be only one or two seats available in the Daraja Academy classrooms for students coming from this specific part of Kenya. Nine “no’s” to distribute, for two “yes’s”.

They all exposed us good reasons why Daraja Academy should accept them. Great marks at school, despite pasts full of stories about poverty, death, sicknesses, unemployment, prostitution, riots, refugee camps… always with voices full of hope and determination. Answering our questions with strength and courage, some girls, at times, burst into tears. This is a scene that I didn’t want to exist, but it is a reality that I needed to face.

Small girls, who looked fragile, proved to be so strong, so big, proved to know a lot more about the meaning of life than I do. Between other things, what these young women taught me today is exactly what I recently read in a Persian poem: “you have two ears and only one mouth, so listen twice as often as you speak.” They gave me a great lesson in humility that I wish to never forget.

I look forward to meeting some of these girls on campus come March! And I wish the best of luck, with all my broken heart, to the ones that I might not see again…