Before the Daraja campus was home to eager Kenyan girls, it was a haven for troubled Baltimore boys transferred from their poor-quality schools and rough neighborhoods to the Baraka School in Kenya. The Baraka School was an education program that attempted to transform these at-risk boys into successful students with a future. The program thrived for seven years before it was forced to shut down in 2003 due to the 2002 Mombasa bombings and escalating war on terrorism. Its final year of operation was chronicled in the acclaimed documentary “Boys of Baraka”.
After the program closed, the campus remained largely desolate. The only people on campus were a few remaining staff from the Baraka days that were still employed largely to maintain the campus until a new organization took over. The board of directors of the Baraka School, however, looked actively for four years but could never find the right fit. They determined campus destruction was the only alternative.
But on the exact day when contractors were ready to come to campus to obliterate the school, fate intervened. Baraka school administrator (and current Daraja Academy director of operations) Peter Wathitu recounts the events :
“Baraka shut down its operations in June 2003 and Kenya had been placed as a travel advisory country. There was no way the boys would come back because of the risk involved. So the school stayed shut down from 2003 until September 2007. In 2007, the Baraka board decided to completely close the campus- no guards, no nothing- it was time to wrap it up. I had been asked to come up with a budget for the school’s closure: destructing the campus, anything that could be sold would be sold. I had talked to one of the contractors and we were ready to go. I had written up termination letters for all the employees- and that was the ultimate sign that this is over. The last thing I had to do was pick up the Vice President of the board to finalize everything.
On the day before I had to go pick him up from the Nairobi airport, I checked my email to make sure there were no last minute schedule changes. Then I saw this email from Jason and Jenni Doherty requesting to see the campus. I had heard this story so many times. So many people had come to visit the school and nothing would come of it. The Baraka board wanted to give the campus to an organization that was helping the community. Many visitors would ask to see the campus. Either they weren’t interested or the Baraka board wasn’t interested. I thought this would be one of those visits. The only reason I decided to call them was because Doherty was the last name of one of the Baraka board members and I had assumed they might be related to the board member so I called them back.
The day after I got the email, Jason and Jenni came to the campus, took pictures and loved the place. I told them I’m going to meet one of the Baraka board members that night in Nairobi to see this place off. Jason and Jenni were leaving that next morning so we had a very small window for the two parties to meet.
Fortunately we were able to arrange a breakfast with the Baraka board member, Jason and Jenni explained their dream and their intentions for the campus. With a handshake, they sealed the deal and the fate of Daraja was set at in the lobby of a hotel in Nairobi. They went back to he US, the vice-president of the Baraka School kindly decided to put off the demolition and laying off workers to see if Daraja Academy would work out. The Dohertys took over in September 2007. For a year and a half, the board waited to see if the Dohertys and this school would work out. Fortunately, it has and Daraja Academy opened its doors in January 2009.”
At Daraja Academy, we try to update supporters constantly through social media, newsletters and blogs about the happenings of the students. Your donations are changing lives and you have the right to see that change. Below is a story written by one of Daraja Academy’s freshman. We are making a habit of including these stories as often as possible so that all of you can see how IMPORTANT your support of this school has been. You are not just providing education to these girls- you are providing a consistent source of food, shelter and emotional support. It changes lives from hopeless… utterly hopeless… to limitless. Please read the passage below to see what we mean.
“I live in a village near Ol Pajeta ranch. We have a big family of six members. My father passed away eight years ago. I have two brothers and two sisters. I live in a horrible house with my family. My elder sister’s name is Jane. She is an intelligent girl. After finishing her primary education she wanted to go for higher education, but due to the poverty of our family she had to drop that idea. Then she decided to take a job so that she could help our mother maintain the family. She started to look for a job in a nearby town. She spent days looking for a job, but she could not find any. My mum gave her pieces of advice to look for a job in another town, which was about eight kilometers from our home. Every day she used to go on foot early in the morning and return late in the evening. Thus, she spent more than three months looking for a job. Unfortunately she was not lucky enough to get one.
One day while I was returning home from school, I sat under a tree to rest and I started thinking in my mind, “what bad luck?” For the past three months my sister had been looking for a job, but she had not succeeded. Really I felt pity for my sister who had to struggle so hard at this age to maintain the family. Oh God! Please help my sister in getting a job. The tears of despondency ran down my red cheeks and drew an odd number eleven. But tears and crying is not the medicine. After resting for ten minutes I rose up and I walked toward our home. I was walking slowly because I was very hungry that day. It was the second day for me and my family staying without food. In fact, it took me one and a half hours to walk from school, but usually it was 30 minutes.
After arriving home, I found my sister sitting outside our house. I walked slowly toward her. She hugged me and we went straight to our house. We sat on the round wood that was our seat and some baskets that I was collecting from the garbage. Our bed was made with sticks and on it was some grass and skin to make it like a mattress. During the month of July we were suffering because we didn’t have blankets to warm ourselves at night. This was my worst month with my family. During those cold nights we used fire to warm ourselves.
I was provided with a school uniform from class one to class eight by the people of my village. My mum was struggling hard to educate me and provide all the materials required at school. Sometimes I stayed at home for one month because we couldn’t pay the fees. After doing my national exam my mum was not able to take me to high school because of lack of money. I was very disappointed, but I remembered with God all things are possible. I woke up every day early in the morning to pray to God to provide me with a sponsor that will take me to high school.
One day I was just sitting outside our house and I saw a man coming toward me when he arrived he gave me an envelope. On the top was written “Daraja Academy”. He told me to open it and I did. After opening it, the man helped me fill out the form. I returned the envelope to him. On Tuesday I was given interview. The people came to interview me and they told me I would wait to hear the report on 15th February. On Monday, Miss Jenni called me. She told me I am admitted to Daraja Academy. I was very happy and I praise God for this blessing.”
On 10/10/10, the Daraja students, volunteers and staff had a fantastic day creating adobe bricks that would eventually be used for the construction of a new shed for the garden. That day, however, was only the beginning as the shed required a lot of time and hard work to be built. 18-year-old volunteer Cora Went worked with students and local workers for weeks afterward to finish building the shed. The shed was created to show the students an example of natural building techniques. Cora reflects on her experience below.
The New Daraja Shed
The closet (right) inside the Shed
If I could have looked into the minds of the smiling, mud-covered participants in the 10.10.10 Adobe Brickmaking day, I doubt that anyone could have imagined those 200 bricks turning into a shed. Yet, a month and a half later, anyone passing through the Daraja shamba will pass through a beautiful adobe structure. The Shamba Shed stands sturdy and finished, with a door leading to a locked closet on the inside, iron sheets to provide shade from the equatorial sun, a coat of plaster over the bricks, and even glass bottles embedded in the walls for an artistic finish.
Though daily, I worked with just two local men, at every open time slot – during sports on Thursdays and Fridays or over the weekends – we invited the girls to come help. Each week, I worried that they had gotten tired of working with soil and sand and might not come, but each week, at least ten girls came waltzing down to the garden to prove me wrong. Together, we stomped materials in the holding pit to form more bricks, or helped to mortar the bricks onto the walls inside the shamba.
These days, when the girls came down to help with the project, were by far my favorite. As soon as they expressed their excitement at seeing the day or week’s progress on the shed, I would be re-inspired in the project. They worked with immense joy and perseverance, pushing me to do the same. One afternoon, Faith helped me to bring wood planks to lay the drying bricks on for over an hour. Another night, Alice A. and I worked through her free time from five till six with Stevie, the 5-year-old son of one of the staff members, just because she wanted to make more bricks.
“I’m going to teach my family at home how to make bricks,” Teddy told me. If I have taught even one girl a useful skill, or shown that even an 18-year-old girl can construct a building – or do anything, for that matter – with help from her community, then my work here has been far worth it for me.
My last week at Daraja arrived too soon, and it came time to plaster the shed. I told the girls at lunch on Sunday that it would be their last chance to work on the project, and invited them down to the garden. I expected ten girls to show up, but at two o’clock, all 52 girls walked down in work clothes, earnestly excited to help for the last time. We went to borrow additional wheelbarrows, then mixed and plastered all afternoon. Happy shrieks spread around the building as they threw, slapped, or smoothed the plaster on with their hands until we had completed the structure.
By now, it would be rare to find a person on the Daraja campus that has not gotten their hands or feet dirty in the shed construction. Teacher Catherine jumped into the holding pit wearing a nice suit, and even Ruth in the kitchen would stop by to check on the progress daily. Teachers, kitchen staff, volunteers, Danes, kids of teachers, members of the local community, and especially students: the success of the Shamba Shed can be attributed to all of them. “The Daraja Family built this adobe shed from 10 Oct. 2010 to 21 Nov. 2010,” the inscription reads.
This year has been magic. The combination of hard work from the Daraja students, staff, volunteers and advocates like you has culminated into an incredible year of both educational and organizational growth.
The girls’ departure from school on December 4th symbolized the end of the academy’s second school year. We’ve composed some of the year’s milestones below so you could see your generosity at work.
26 NEW STUDENTS
The academy opened the gates to a brand new freshman class of 26 remarkable Kenyan girls that show signs of being future Kenyan leaders.
WATER TANKS BUILT
Events at Woodside Priory and University of San Diego collectively raised over $30,000 to ensure a sustainable water source for the campus.
The Sausalito event raised nearly $60,000 for student scholarships. The event’s success motivated host philanthropist Deborah Santana, pictured below in the center with founders Jenni and Jason Doherty, to make it an annual event to help sponsor students.
30+ INTERNATIONAL VOLUNTEERS
The newly formalized campus volunteer program hosted over 30 volunteers, the highest number of volunteers in the school’s history. The outstanding volunteers from all over the world have come to campus to implement programs having to do with everything from environmental education to computer technology. Their programs have been an integral part of the girls’ learning this year.
Thanks to Marin County donors, the school was able to establish a computer lab filled with Netbooks (economical notebook computers), flash drives, external hard drives and other essential tools. The project has been instrumental in increasing students’ knowledge of modern technology. We hope to establish internet and electricity next year in order to work on research projects, global correspondence, and other internet skills that are essential for university and the workforce.
The school has begun construction of a brand new dorm. The first wing of the dorm, which is scheduled to finish next month, will provide the infrastructure needed to accommodate the 26 new freshman coming to campus in January. Once the dorm is complete, it will have the ability to house 52 students, 4 dorm matrons, a counseling center, washroom and a multi-purpose room that will seat 150+ people.
Keep spreading the word, fundraising and donating because all of you are you are helping this little project grow into something bigger than any of us could have imagined. Can’t wait to see what the next year will bring!
On December 1st, the students went to the nearby orphanage to offer their services in honor of World AIDS Day. The students were only supposed to stay for a few hours, but they refused to leave until they completed all the chores! They displayed a great attitude and energy the entire day. It was indeed an inspirational day of giving back…
To learn more, check out the album on Daraja Academy’s facebook page which has tons of pictures and informative captions to give you an idea of how the special day went.