Leadership training over the holidays – Leila and Grace, who previously attended a conference about women’s opportunities in Kenyan politics, are at an East African Self Leadership training in Nairobi. They have spent most of their week in the city, learning from other women and members of GROOTS. Both girls are very active in the Grassroots club on campus, so we’re confident that they’ll have plenty to share with their friends and teachers when they’re back on campus next month.
Grace and Leila
Recovering from the downpour – After weeks of rain, people all across Kenya are getting back on their feet after floods caused damage to livestock, crops, roads and bridges. On campus we were quite lucky, although we’ve been unable to pump river water since the storms. Daraja’s drinking water is boiled rain water, of which we have plenty. But for cleaning and bathing, we rely on water pumped from the river. Peter Rutere, director of maintenance, suspects there was damage to the connection between the generator and pumphouse, which should be repaired this weekend. While most buildings on campus are without running water, staff are fetching water from a borehole on the property.
One of Alex's gabions, standing strong
The rains were the first big test for gabions that volunteer Alex Rodondi built in the summer. The gabions are wire-mesh frames filled with rocks, which act as miniature dams to slow the flow of water and prevent soil erosion during heavy rains. Rutere says they held up very well against the downpours.
A vision Jenni and Jason Doherty had for the Daraja Academy was to create a “little Kenya” on campus, a population of students representing the country’s many unique cultures. When Kenya’s boundaries were drawn, over 40 different tribes inhabited its land – tribes with different cultural practices, religions and languages – which, at times, has led to tribal conflict. The most recent extreme case of tribal conflict was the election violence in 2007, which left 1,200 dead and displaced over 500,000 people.
Turkana, Kikuyu, Maasai and Somali – just four of the tribes represented at Daraja
To address this, the Daraja administrators and board strive to recruit girls who represent different tribes, races and religions, from all over the country. Between these girls, natural friendships and connections form – they discover different cultures and learn how to embrace and celebrate their diversity.
After three years, there are 24 tribes and four religions represented at Daraja. The girls have learned to incorporate this diversity into life on campus. Most recently, the Grassroots and Drama clubs mastered traditional dances and songs from several Kenyan tribes, combined them, and created a tremendous performance for campus volunteers and visitors. They sold tickets to their show and all proceeds went towards a local women’s group. It was incredible to see the girls work together on a project that demonstrated the beauty of their “little Kenya”.
Below is a poem created by Mesret, Ann W. and Molly, who will be starting their second year of high school next month. They wrote about Daraja, where girls come together from different backgrounds but with the common dream of achieving their goals through education.
By Olivia Capra
Two years after my first visit to Daraja, the opportunity came for me to return to the most wonderful group of girls and continue building the school’s WISH program. We describe WISH as a life skills and women’s empowerment class that all students partake in once a week. From my viewpoint, and that of the girls, WISH class is the soul of the education at Daraja.
- Practicing confident introductions in WISH class
Why is this? At some point in our lives we forget why volcanoes erupt, what cells are made of, and how an ancient civilization evolved. There is more to education than what one can read in a textbook. It is the mentorship at Daraja that protects the strength and hope in these girls and molds them to become powerful leaders. They come from a society that fosters closed emotions and doesn’t always provide positive messages. But in WISH, they are encouraged to ask open questions for the first time:
“What is safe sex?”
“What is HIV/AIDS?”
“How can I speak confidently to my father when he is always drunk?”
“How can I make peace with a mother who has sent me away?”
“What can I do to instill justice and fairness when my community leaders are corrupt?”
Each school break they go back to their communities and visit women’s groups, churches, and schools, and for a day or a week they become teachers. They teach about community garbage and sewage systems, HIV/AIDS, and how to strengthen women’s voices in the community. They spread their education not just geographically, but across generations and genders. They come back to Daraja and share how excited and curious these groups were to hear new facts and ideas.
- Olivia with third-year students Leila and Hadija
There is no stronger testament to the wealth of WISH than meeting Daraja girls in their first year and coming back to visit when they’re in their third. They are completely transformed.
As freshmen, they were guarded and closed up. Being empowered young women, in their minds, meant being stoic, emotionless – and no wonder when examples of leadership or success always portray men. They were shy and all too conscious of their place as young, uneducated women from poor communities. They didn’t know of careers outside of house help, cooks, and child bearers – they didn’t understand even the beginning of their potential. It took almost five weeks for them to speak about home to me, of their friends and family, to share with me who they really were.
When I came back at the end of their third year, these (very grown up) women ran up to me and talked all at once about what they have been up to. Now they know what goes on in their communities, but they aren’t scared to talk about it. A large group started the Grassroots club, where they meet women leaders from East Africa, attend conferences, and plan proposals and volunteering in their own towns. They created an amazing performance – a variety of tribal dances and songs (reducing a few of us to tears!) – that raised money for the completion of a chicken coop in a local town.
These women have been given a safe place to talk and reflect – and they have utilized it. The many Kenyan teachers involved in WISH have become role models and mentors. Professionals and leaders from around Kenya are coming to Daraja to share their experiences and break down the walls of silence. The students are excited about their futures – there are aspiring nurses, journalists, community business owners, politicians, magistrates, UN workers, doctors, lawyers, researchers, teachers. They aren’t naïve to the challenges – they have back-up plans and they are ready – ready to graduate and start a life they hadn’t dreamed of when they first arrived to Daraja.
There may be drought in other parts of Kenya, but in the Daraja area there have been record rains. On Friday morning, the river that flows near the Daraja campus overflowed its banks for the first time since 1997 after the water level raised about 16 feet higher than usual. The bridge that connects the Daraja campus and several other communities with the nearest large town was flooded. Traffic was stopped in both directions for several hours on an especially busy day; Dol-Dol, one of the villages past Daraja, holds its market on Fridays. We also heard about a car that was washed off a bridge near Dol Dol. Everyone on board was rescued.
The water level was about 16 feet higher than usual, trucks headed to a local market were held up for several hours
Unfortunately, the smaller footbridge built this summer to connect the community with the nearest village was washed away. Small family farms were destroyed by the flood, and Daraja’s water pump isn’t working because of the amount of silt stirred up in the river and the pump’s motor is partially covered in water. Since the girls are home for the holidays, the campus water usage is quite low – head of maintenance Peter Rutere says we just have to wait for the water levels to go down before we can start pumping from the river again.
Teacher Joseph, Coach Dorcas, Andy Harley, Mr. Charles, Peter Rutere and Chef Symon check out the situation at the water pump
Unveiling one of their biggest projects to date was a big highlight for the art club and all the Daraja girls. Earlier this month members of the club finished painting the Daraja gate, plans for which were started back in June when students from Marin Academy were on campus.
The gate – before…
The Daraja girls worked with the American students to come up with an idea that would represent Daraja and give a strong impression to campus visitors as they roll in.
Painting the gate was more than just a task in art club, says Alice A., a second year student. It has helped the girls recognize their artistic gifts as well. “Being able to draw and paint are talents we wouldn’t have discovered without Daraja.”
With some good time management the girls were able to fit this huge project into their final term schedules. They are so proud of the results! Amazing job, girls!
… and after! (With Mesret)
For many of the girls, a highlight of this past term was when four ladies from Nairobi visited campus to talk about their lives, their careers and their experiences as women in Kenya. It was one of the first times Daraja has had Kenyan women volunteer their time and experience to the girls.
Berewa with Ann W.
It was special for the girls to hear from successful women who come from backgrounds similar to theirs. Berewa, Njeri, Carol and Dorcas told stories about the challenges they faced in their educations – paying for high school, getting scholarships in fields that didn’t necessarily excite them, and using adult education to move ahead in their careers.
A few of the ladies had studied abroad – one entered Switzerland as an au pair to get a visa, then enrolled in school instead. Many of the girls had questions about pursuing university studies in another country.
They talked a lot about how the directions of their lives have changed, sometimes according to plan, other times not. Njeri went from being a secretary to a journalist. After a few years of work for a newspaper, her interests changed to law and she returned to school to become a lawyer. Now she does work for the United Nations in human rights law.
Joyce, a Form 2 student who dreams of becoming a magistrate, was so encouraged listening to these ladies speak. “It was great to know that they had overcome some of the same challenges that I face,” she said.
Irene N. explaining her tree, and the candle that shines in it
As an exercise, the girls drew trees that represent their lives – the base and roots being family, or those people who positively influenced their childhoods; the trunk being education, starting in nursery school and moving up to Daraja; and the branches representing career and family. “Some branches start to grow and then stop, and that’s okay,” Carol said. “Sometimes we have to let our lives change direction.”
They taught the girls that just like a tree, our lives have seasons – a time to plant, a time to grow, a time to flower and a time to bear fruit – and that we should make the most of whatever season we’re in, not move on to the next too soon.
The girls spoke about these visitors non-stop after they left. We would love to seem them return next year and continue bringing inspiration and hope to the Daraja girls.
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