In an earlier post, we wrote about Kenya’s recently published census results showing Kenya’s population has increased by 1 million people every year in the past decade. It was bleak news for a country fighting to overcome poverty.
In a recent article entitled “What Oman Can Teach Us” posted by New York Times columnist and global education advocate Nicolas Kristof, the transformation of the Arab country of Oman shows how a developing country can deal with these types of barriers.
Prior to 1970, Oman had only three schools that served 909 students, all of them being boys. A new leadership team took power and made education a priority. What was the result? A flourishing country and a population filled with women like Rihad Ahmed al Rhabi.
“One 18-year-old university student I spoke to, Rihab Ahmed al-Rhabi, told me (in fluent English) of her interest in entrepreneurship. She also told me, affectionately, about her grandmother who is illiterate, was married at age 9 and bore 10 children,” explains Kristof.
Instead of adding to the cycle of poverty by marrying young and having a large amount of children she could not afford to care for, Rihab is talking about starting a business which could help stimulate her country’s economy and provide job opportunities. That sounds like a “Daraja girl”!
We wanted to highlight Rihad’s story to reiterate the importance of education, not just for today and not just for one Daraja Academy student but for the future of a nation, and ultimately the world. As we educate girls, we change mentalities.
And while Kristof explains that people give “lip service” to the importance of education and fail to take any action, we’d like to introduce him to our Daraja family. You all see the importance of education and are doing something about it. Change doesn’t happen without action and we want to give big thanks to those Daraja supporters who are working hard donating, fundraising, volunteering and spreading the message about Daraja. Your proactive spirit is changing lives.
The entry below has been written by Daraja volunteer Cora Went (top picture, far left). Cora coordinated last Sunday’s 10/10/10 Adobe Festival. Read about the fantastic day from her perspective…
On October 10, 2010 – 10.10.10 – people from all over the world hosted work parties, somehow doing work to fight climate change. At Daraja Academy, we hosted an Adobe Festival to make bricks out of clay, sand, and straw for a garden shed. The brick formers, adobe mixers, and morale boosters of the day included the 52 Daraja girls, some of the 15 Danish students, a handful of teachers, and the American volunteers.
A couple of the girls came down to the shamba (garden) before the others and decided that the first task of the day should be streaking clay on their friends’ faces as war paint. At that moment, I had no doubt that the girls would have a fun day. The girls and volunteers ran around slapping each other with clay, and even threw a few unlucky people into the ‘holding pit,’ a hole in the ground filled two feet deep with a slushy clay-sand mix.
So we played hard, but we worked hard too. At the beginning of the day, some people gathered wheelbarrows full of clay-rich soil from a place on campus, while the rest mixed the clay with locally purchased sand and water to create the base mix (aka the ammunition for the mud wars). We then poured the base mix into the holding pit, and as everyone watched the level of mix in the pit rise up the walls, the anticipation to jump in grew. After about an hour, six lucky people jumped in to mix by walking around. Others took wheelbarrows full of mix from the pit and added straw, and others packed this final adobe mix into brick forms and shimmied the forms off to leave beautiful, strong, and natural bricks lying in neat rows next to the shamba.We made a total of 207 large (8? x 10? x 4?) adobe bricks, enough to make a substantial portion of the garden shed. With help from the girls, I plan to design the shed and greenhouse this week. (One of them had the seemingly crazy idea to make it in the shape of a triangle, which we might actually do… )
The excitement and clay fights of the morning decreased a bit in the equatorial sun, but just as energy levels dropped low enough for people to slow down their work, a teacher announced that we would all go swim in the river later to wash off. There was a collective cheer from the girls and that provided the burst of energy necessary to finish the last of the mix in the holding pit and pack the final bricks.
Despite all the the fun and excitement, the students never lost sight of the purpose for the activity:
“I’m going to teach my brother and sister at home how to do this,” one girl said to me.
Another one came up to me to later…
“I like this industry,” said Emily, Form 2.
“What do you mean?,” I said.
“I like this industry of building things naturally without hurting the environment,” she replied.
I watched the backs of happy girls – blue shirts covered in orange, muddy handprints – walk away from me towards lunch with pride at what they had accomplished.
To see pictures of the event, click here.
One of the best parts about working in Kenya is the exposure to another dynamic culture, fantastic people, and the ability to help a group of inspiring young women potentially change the shape of their country’s future. One of the downsides, however, is the travel costs associated with the founders flying back to the United States to work on the organization and raise money.
That’s why we have a request: If you or anyone you know has any extra or close to expiring frequent flyer miles that you would be willing to donate, consider donating those miles to Daraja. This would allow the organization to reduce operational costs and allow more money to go straight to the school. In other words, frequent flyer miles would be an ENORMOUS help so ask everyone you know if they got miles to spare! To donate miles, email email@example.com.
“Throughout primary school, all my classes had been taught in mother tongue because I came from a bush school. I hardly knew any English. Then, I entered high school and the entire curriculum was taught in English!”
Teacher Peris, Daraja’s Chemistry teacher, told the story above during last week’s WISH class which focused on how to overcome low self-esteem. Teacher Peris struggled to learn English and keep up good grades. Her challenge during high school is a very similar situation that some of our students from extremely rural areas find themselves in as well.
These students had mainly been taught in either Swahili or their mother tongue. It is a struggle for them to adapt to English, which is the official language used by all secondary schools in Kenya. While practicing English with international volunteers has greatly helped their spoken English, their struggle with the English language is more apparent in their writing.
Noticing this pattern last term, the administration decided to implement mandatory nightly writing classes each week taught by English teacher Carol.
The students write an essay every 10 days. They only begin writing a new one after seeing the corrections on their last essay. The goal is to help the girls master writing in English. The writing topics cover everything from descriptive to cause & effect essays.
“The girls have improved so much. If I could make the class longer, I would. After I teach them I am able to see that they got it and they respond positively to it. As a teacher, this really fulfills my passion. It’s my favorite class to teach,” explains Teacher Carol.
And while a few are struggling, Teacher Carol points out that many of the students are truly gifted in the writing arena.
“They are very creative and have so much to say,” she explains.
By Form 4, Teacher Peris was one of the top English writers in her class. In fact, the teacher would often call on her to read her work aloud to the rest of the students. “I felt so proud when I got up there,” explained Teacher Peris.
Knowing the strict work ethic of the Daraja girls, there is no doubt that they will follow the footsteps of their chemistry teacher!
Name: Colin Grisel
Hometown: Icogne, Switzerland
Experience: Marketing Agency
Duration of Stay: October 2009-August 2010 (10 months)
How did you learn about Daraja Academy?
Kirsten, my girlfriend, was hired by MS-the Danish NGO on campus. She told me about this great project with this American couple and she said I would love them. So I thought I would come and check it out.
What were your primary responsibilities as a volunteer?
Improving the communication from Kenya to US. When I arrived, I used my marketing experience to see how I could help Daraja. I thought right away I should send a monthly e-newsletter. I have also been involved with student selection (preparing questions for interviews), managed media club and assisted with tutoring.
What have you learned since being at Daraja?
I’ve learned that if you really believe in a project, anything is possible. I’ve learned a lot about dedication, seeing how people are dedicated around here. I’ve learned how to live without electricity and accepting that things might take 3 days here when in Europe that same thing would take 10 minutes.
What surprised you the most about volunteering here?
To see the entire staff’s dedication. Anyone who works on campus, works numerous jobs. It’s not just a job for them, they are so involved and really believe in the project.
What surprised you most about living in Kenya?
The contrast in wealth was even bigger than expected. I think I was prepared to see people around me who live with very little but I was very shocked that they live with even less than that. It was a big experience to observe people around Daraja, what kind of house they live in and how they survive. This was a big change from the comfortable life that I lived in.
What do you plan to do upon your return to Switzerland?
I plan to find a job again in project management. After this experience, I feel like a stronger project manager- I’m prepared now for the unexpected.
How has it been working with Americans as a Swiss?
I was working with Americans right before coming here. When I left I thought, “I don’t want to work with Americans again!”. But then I came here, and I really enjoyed working with everyone. I like Americans because they are really enthusiastic and really positive, especially Jason and Jenni. I also learned how to give hugs. I was never good at it but I’ve had 10 months of training…but I think I still prefer to shake hands.
Any piece of advice for future volunteers?
I think it is very important to come here with a precise project that you want to achieve, you will get full support from people but the best is if you could do the entire project on your own and not count on too many other things. If you have a great project that you could work independently, that’s the best way to work here. Preparation in something precise is very important.
What has been your favorite part of volunteering here? I wish I could close my eyes and wake up 10 years from now so that I could see where all of the girls will be and what amazing things they will have accomplished. What’s happening now is really exciting but the best part is what they are going to do once they graduate and leave the gates. For me, that is the point of the project- to prepare them to make a difference when they go out. So I’m really excited to see what happens because I really believe this is working.
THE FUN STUFF:
Favorite movie: “Dancer in the Dark”. A movie that shows injustice in the most painful way. It is touching and shocking.
Favorite book: The millennium trilogy from Stieg Larsson. The most exciting thriller + an amazing analysis of modern society. Genius!
What was your favorite musical group when you were in junior high? Junior high, is that high school or before high school? First case I would say “Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals” or maybe “Ska-P”. Second case, probably “Shurik’N” who is still a great French rapper.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? Back to the Himalayas. I love mountains and the first time I saw those up close, it brought me to tears. They are incredibly impressive and beautiful. They are a place of real meditation.
You’re about to make your way down the green mile, what do you have as your last meal? Does that mean I’m about to die? Funny, this green mile thing. I would definitely go for a Raclette (melted cheese) with a bottle or two of Fendant (Swiss white wine that we always drink with it). It would probably help me pass away with a smile.
Who is the person you respect the most and why? There are plenty! There is my big sister, who is actually quite small, but who has kept an eye on me since I was born and she wasn’t even 2! She still coaches me. I know she will never let me down. After this great experience at Daraja, I must say that there are Jenni and Jason Doherty who fight so hard for a project, a dream, 24/7. They are incredibly strong and driven, I respect that very much. And Jason has a very serious and reflective voice when he wants, that’s also something you must respect.
What do you think is the secret to a good life? Follow your own ideas, follow your dreams and not only what society would find convenient for you to follow. I try to apply this concept, but honestly, it’s not easy. You have to be very, very courageous.