Monthly Archives: July 2011

Week wrap up

 Exams – The girls are just one day away from the end of Term 2 exams – marking the end of Daraja’s eighth term! They will be heading home in one week; the Form 1 and 2 girls will be away until the beginning of September but the Form 1 students will come back early for extra tuition to help them prepare for next year’s KCSE exam.

Welcome back! – Jason’s mom and dad, Karen and Jack Doherty, arrived on campus yesterday afternoon. The students were writing exams when they pulled in but there was no shortage of hugs once everyone was reunited!

HIV/AIDS education – Volunteer Maggie Gaughran will be wrapping up the girls’ HIV/AIDS and family planning lessons this week. She has been training the girls to become leaders in HIV/AIDS awareness in their communities and to be comfortable sharing this important information with their peers – just in time for their term break at home.

Exams in Kenya

Final exams for this year’s second term are underway. Most of the girls approach their term finals, which cover everything they’ve learned since the beginning of their high school studies, with relaxed optimism. But if you mention the exam that the Form 3 girls will be writing next autumn, the girls respond with the unusual combination of nervousness, exasperation and confidence.

At the end of high school, Kenyan students are required to sit for a final exam that covers all four years of secondary school – the KCSE (Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education) exam. It is an enormous cumulative test that is delivered over an exhausting stretch of almost one month. The grade a student gets on this test determines if she can attend university, and what kind of university she can attend.

To be considered for university with government subsidies, a student needs to achieve a B average. Students with lower scores may be admitted to universities, but will be on the hook for the entire tuition cost. The reality is, however, that if a student achieves a lower score and can afford the entire tuition, a student with a higher score who cannot afford school fees is likely to be bumped.

Carol, a Form 3 Daraja student

Despite its competitiveness, many students are unprepared for the exam when they finish high school. According to the Standard, a Kenyan newspaper, only 27 per cent of students achieved high enough scores last year to be considered for university admission. This could be a reflection of the quality of education the students receive, the result of the stresses of home life and poverty – many students are not able to attend classes, write mocks, or even sit for the exam for lack of fees, or a combination of factors.

The Form 3 girls will be the first Daraja group to take the KCSE; students and faculty are preparing to ensure the success of Daraja’s first graduating class. Carol, one of the Form 3 students, said the exam is so crucial she feels like she should start studying for it now. “If I do well on the KCSE then I stand a better chance of getting in to university. Then I can get a good job and help my community.”

Week wrap up

Volunteers – Steve Gaughran (father to Maggie, who’s leading the HIV/AIDS lessons) and mother-son duo Eliza and Chase Paré arrived last weekend to spend their summer holidays at Daraja.

Steve is working on a playground for the Daraja staff and teachers’ kids; 25 small children live on campus so it will be a welcome addition that will get a lot of use.

Eliza and Chase are pitching in all over campus: chopping vegetables in the kitchen, working with the girls on study skills, and Eliza is leading some WISH classes.

Talent show – The students took a break from studying for their final exams last night for the Daraja Talent Show, which volunteer Sarah Montgomery helped put together. On the line-up were several singing routines, as well as skits, creative writing and dances. Caroline and Marylene took first prize for a poem they performed. It was a great night of talent and relaxing!

– In this week’s Women of Integrity, Strength and Hope classes Form 1 created signs to represent their personal values. They decorated the signs with stickers, letters and photographs brought by Eliza Paré. Some of the values the girls included were persistence, honesty, mindfulness and creativity. The Form 3 girls talked about how to make and keep a budget while they are at home. Form 2 worked on interview skills as they’re getting ready to go home for the break and interview more people in their communities for the oral history project.

“Good teaching is good teaching wherever it happens” – two American teachers visit Daraja

By Colleen and Karen Lafferty

Our main project focused on working with fellow English teachers at Daraja to help them prepare students for the K.C.S.E., the crucial, cumulative exam that Kenyan students take at the end of high school. In our time on campus we noted many similarities and differences between the teachers at Daraja and our schools back home.

Like dedicated teachers in the U.S., those at Daraja work long hours in the interest of their students. We saw them chatting with the girls before class, staying late during study hall at night, and engaging with students throughout the day. They know which girls excel in which classes, who is having a rough day, and whom to congratulate for making a great play in the last football tournament.

The rapport the teachers at Daraja have with their students extends the “normal” student-teacher relationship, though. Given that the teachers live on campus, eat meals with the girls, and are available for help well beyond the confines of an eight-hour work day means that the teachers and students work more like a family.

That was evident in the faculty’s relationships as well – what we experienced was a real community of teachers. At Daraja it’s routine for teachers to invite colleagues to attend their classes, or simply to invite themselves! As we were teaching English lessons with Carol, Charles sat in to listen – Carol popped in to Mary’s class as well. When we conducted a Friday-night symposium with Carol on The River Between, a required novel for the K.C.S.E., both Peris and Charles sat in. This is often discussed as a good idea in American schools but teachers rarely follow through.

In the end, good teaching is good teaching wherever it happens. When teachers show passion for their subject matter and care about their students, success happens. We loved being part of the Daraja learning community for a brief time and left hoping to bring some of the Daraja spirit back to San Diego with us.

Colleen and Karen Lafferty are both English teachers from San Diego, California. Colleen teaches at Steele Canyon Charter High School and Karen at Westview High School. They were on campus working with Daraja students and teachers for two weeks.

Mandela Day 2011

Nelson Mandela celebrates his 93rd birthday today, July 18. To recognize his special day, people all over the world are dedicating 67 minutes – one minute for every year Mr. Mandela worked for human rights – to do work for someone else, either in their communities or for a charity. Today the Daraja girls walked to the nearest village, Naibor, to do a 67-minute garbage clean up for the neighbors.

In Naibor, the girls were joined by students from a nearby primary school and a few adults to pick up plastic, candy wrappers, cloth, papers and even batteries that had become part of the Naibor landscape. In addition to the students hunched over picking up trash, other girls were raking behind acacia trees and sweeping paths clean of debris.

Despite their busy schedule and exams just around the corner, the girls were happy to spend a bit of time off-campus, helping out in their community – Brenda in Form 2 even got to spend some time with family members who live in Naibor.

Please visit the Daraja page on Facebook to see more photos from the clean up.

Week wrap up

With final exams just over a week away, the girls are working hard during their classes and study hall time to prepare, but still taking some time to enjoy some extracurriculars as well. Here’s what happened on campus this week:

Mpala Research Centre – A group of Form 3 students, along with biology teacher Mr. Charles, went on a field trip to a nearby wildlife foundation on the weekend. Mpala researcher, Katherine, visited campus a few weeks ago and asked to have a few girls go to the centre to help with research on ant communities in acacia trees. Monicah, Mary K., Everlyne, Florence, Maureen and Pauline got to learn first-hand about field research.

HIV/AIDS education – Most of the girls have learned about HIV/AIDS and family planning before, but volunteer Maggie Gaughran is taking a different approach to these lessons. She wants the girls to become leaders in HIV/AIDS education so they can teach others in their communities about disease transmission, prevention and treatment. Maggie’s classes are fun and comfortable; the girls are happy discussing ideas with the large group and Maggie provides a question box for anonymous inquiries.

Lisayo in action

Sports – The Daraja table tennis team was proud to go out and represent the school at a tournament last week. They all played exceptionally well but were unable to clinch one of the top spots to proceed. Coach Joseph is pleased with the girls’ performance and looks forward to helping them develop their skills in coming terms.

Lisayo had tears in her eyes when the Daraja football team voted her best player and best teammate of this term.  Coach Martin presented Lisayo, who’s a very quiet and reserved student, with a medal to recognize her achievement. She said the acknowledgment made her feel “very, very happy.” The team will be reorganized after the final exams to get ready for next term.

WISH – In this week’s Women of Integrity, Strength and Hope classes the Form 3 girls discussed caring for the bedroom, including cleanliness, design, heat and ventilation. The Form 1 girls learned how to “break the silence” – Victoria encouraged them to think about times when they are silenced, or feel uncomfortable speaking, and reminded them that they have the right to speak out at school and in their communities. The Form 2 students continued work on their oral history project.

If you had never used the internet before, where would you start?

For those of us who have been wired for years, it’s difficult to imagine having never been online before. But for many teens in Kenya, the internet is not easily accessible or affordable.

Daraja was recently awarded a Yahoo! grant to help get internet access on campus. Many of the Daraja girls said they would use the internet to download music, meet new friends and look up information on their favorite celebrities. But their eyes lit up when they heard you can also find information about universities, scholarships and careers.

Here’s what Margaret and Irene N.  look forward to doing online:



Week wrap up

Sports – After last week’s fantastic table tennis performance, Mesret, Esther C., Ann N. and Mary S. are off campus today, competing for Daraja’s ping pong glory. All four of them are thrilled to represent Daraja in sports for the first time. We’ll let you know how they do! Meanwhile, the whole school is preparing for a post-exam football tournament. Each form will be creating a team for a friendly match at the end of term. It will be a great way for the girls to unwind from their exams and get excited for next season.


The Daraja table tennis team

Bob and Jane Bessin visit campus – the president of Daraja’s board, Bob, and his wife, Jane, were on campus this week and last. They spent some time shadowing students, and learning more about the school and what Daraja provides to Kenyan girls. Bob had traveled to Daraja three years ago, before the school was open; this was Jane’s first visit. It meant a lot to the girls to meet them and have them on campus!

July volunteers – New volunteer Paige Counaughton and returning volunteers Sarah Montgomery, Maggie Gaughran, Alison Korman (from Marin Academy) and Martin Husum Mikkelsen are on campus ready to help the girls with everything from football training to HIV/AIDS education.


Rosalia, Form 2, sharing during WISH class

WISH – In this week’s Women of Integrity, Strength and Hope class the Form 3 girls discussed cooking, including safety and health. As the Form 2 students move ahead with their oral history project, they did some team building and discussions about core values to help them stay connected during this important assignment. And the Form 1 girls talked about ‘becoming my best’ – listing their greatest supporters and inspirations that will help them to their best in life.

Music and Poetry Festival – The final participant in last week’s provincial competition was Mary N. from Form 1. She came fifth in Swahili public speaking! Congratulations to Mary and the other competitors: Rosalia, Teddy and Emily!

Yahoo! awards Daraja with a $26,784 grant – a step closer to internet in the classrooms

Thanks to Yahoo! employee and long-time Daraja advocate Minoo Ayat, the Yahoo! Employee Foundation has granted the Daraja Academy funds to help get internet on campus. “Once I learned about my company’s foundation, I had to make sure Daraja was in the running for a grant.” We are glad she did! After a two-month application process, the foundation awarded Daraja the grant.

Currently, Daraja Academy’s computer lab consists of 14 laptops. The students take shifts on the computers to practice their computer skills. For many girls, this is their first interaction with a computer.

Internet availability will transform the current computer lab into a place for students to learn how to conduct online research, interact with international students, and master basic web communication tools such as email. All of these skills will be vital for the students to know upon entering university or the workforce. A huge thanks to our Yahoo! employee champion Minoo Ayat!

Going home with inspiration from the Daraja girls


By Sumari Barnes

Being at Daraja has been an amazing and life-changing experience. Aside from all the projects we have been working on we have also lived the full life of a Daraja Academy girl. Whether we were sorting beans and singing with the girls, to sitting in a triple biology class for two and a half hours, we really got the full taste of a Daraja girl’s life. I was honored to be partnered with a girl in Form 1 named Pauline. She is so hardworking and always tried to keep me on track in class. I had to wake up with her before sunrise to do sports, help her with chores, go to all nine classes, and top it off with study hall until 9 p.m.

These girls are truly the most hardworking group of people I have ever met in my life. All of my time here I have not heard one girl complain about the late nights and early mornings. Working with these girls in and out of class has really inspired me. I am glad my schoolmates and I got this opportunity. Being so hands on and developing such strong bonds with these girls, they have made a mark on our hearts. If we go back to school with half as much motivation and determination as these girls, we will be the most outstanding students at our school in America. This was definitely the trip and experience of a lifetime for us.

Sumari is a student from Marin Academy who stayed at Daraja for two weeks. To learn more about the students’ time on campus and to read more personal accounts, visit their blog: