Daraja Rain: An essay by Barbara Rick

The following essay was written by our friend, Barbara Rick, about Daraja’s very first Graduation Day this past August. The essay was originally published in issue No. 8 for Works and Days Quarterly, an online journal of arts, letters, and craft. Visit their webpage to read the full Autumn issue and see the original version of this essay.


Utambulisho is the Kiswahili word for identity.

Four hours north of Nairobi in kenya, on the outskirts of Nanyuki, 25 girls are taking center stage this morning. The first graduates of Daraja Academy. Daraja means bridge; the Academy is a unique free boarding secondary school where girls are preparing to changing their communities, their country, and the world.

Gifted in academics, leadership, and courage beyond words, these girls are the soul and wonder of Kenya, its future. They are transcending barriers of poverty and gender–creating a new identity for generations of women, men, and families to come.

We were introduced to these girls in 2010, when our friend Deborah Santana first fell in love with this school and its students and brought my cinematographer husband and myself here to help tell their story on film. We three returned to film in 2012, as the school grew and grew.

Our award-winning short films Girls of Daraja and School of my Dreams are the result of this collaboration. We now begin a third chapter of this trilogy, A Bridge in Kenya, a feature documentary following the girls as they take all that they have learned and fan out to change the world.

Here is New York City on a rainy day as I write, there is nothing unusual about droplets tapping on gutters, shadows rippling in shiny puddles below out windowsill on the asphalt. In the kitchen where I sit, there is clean water always available, the ease of electricity. Fire under the kettle on the stove. Comforts. Plenty.

I remember one afternoon in particular on that first magical trip to Daraja.

The usual bowl of blue kenyan sky was blanketed by bruised cotton clouds painted with the promise of rain. Dampness coming. We were setting up our cameras in an airy classroom on a sloping hill. As the girls headed toward us across the campus field, the sky opened. Joy poured. Every splash a miracle, the first rain in a year.

Daraja mvua. 

Daraja rain.


Photo by Barbara Rick.

A new K.C.S.E. tradition!

On the morning of their first exam day for the K.C.S.E. testing, fourth year Daraja students listened intently as a letter from “Mom and Dad,” or co-founders Jason and Jenni, was read to them. This year is the second year that Daraja Academy has had girls taking the K.C.S.E. and clear traditions are beginning to emerge.

The K.C.S.E. exam will last until November 15, with girls taking one or two subject exams per day. There are only two days excluding weekends, from now until November 15, that the girls have no testing and will spend the day studying. While our students are prepared and confident, testing for this long can be grueling and challenging.

Because of this, the Daraja staff and the fourth year’s fellow students have come up with a unique way to keep the students motivated and self-assured. After study hall each night, testing girls are greeted with a letter on their pillow from a member of the Daraja community. Administrators, staff, volunteers, fellow students, supporters, and more write the letters.

On the first night, a letter from Andy Harley, a long time supporter and former on-campus staff member, was placed on each student’s pillow. In his letter, Andy gave the girls three pieces of advice when taking the exam, such as to relax and be confident. The next night, the class of first-year students on campus came together to write a letter to their fourth year peers boasting their support and confidence in the girls’ performance.

“I told them that I believed in them, but now they have something they can look to whenever they need it,” second year Dianah said about the letter that her class wrote to the fourth year students.

Lilian, Regina, and Rosalia, all fourth year students, squealed with excitement when they realized that they would continue to receive letters past the first night of the exam. “They make me smile a lot,” Lilian reported with a smile, “I didn’t know we’d keep getting them!

With five days of testing down and thirteen to go, students report feeling good about the exams. They have finished all the exams for Mathematics and English as of today! We look forward to more traditions emerging where we can show our support to the students!

Daraja Academy hosts Blood Drive with the Kenyan Red Cross

In the aftermath of the attack on Kenya’s Westgate Mall in Nairobi, the country responded with unity: thousands of people came out to support the country by donating blood to the Kenyan Red Cross in order to help the victims of the tragedy.

Inspired by this, Daraja Academy administration booked a blood drive with the Red Cross in order to give students the opportunity to give back to those in need across the country. Because of the generosity the country has shown, the Red Cross did not have time to come by Daraja until last week.

Nearly half of the eligible-to-donate Daraja Academy community decided to donate blood. Although the blood donated from Daraja’s campus may not be going directly to victims of the attack, since it was nearly a month ago, students and staff felt good about their contribution to the Red Cross and Kenya as a whole.

After a short presentation to the girls, Red Cross volunteers and representatives began to set up their donation space in the lounge outside of a dormitory, Utamu Hall. Girls filled out their donation forms and lined up excitedly for a prick-test, blood pressure test, and a turn on the scale to see if they were eligible. These tests were meant to test overall health, iron levels, and weight, as donors must weight at least 50 kg and be at least 16 years old.

Administrator, Charles gets his blood pressure checked to ensure that he is eligible to donate.

Administrator, Charles gets his blood pressure checked to ensure that he is eligible to donate.

Dean of Academics, Charles Mbuto, donated first, showing the girls how easy, safe, and painless the process was. From there, other Daraja staff and students began to take a seat and donate. For most of the afternoon, the line led out the door.

Sylvia, a brave first year Daraja student reported, “It didn’t hurt at all,” encouraging other students to follow in her footsteps.


With girls peering in through the windows from the outside of the donation room, Euphrasia and Esther, both third-year students, expressed their gratitude for the Red Cross’ visit and their feelings about donating: “It feels good to help our country in any way,” reported Esther.

Euphrasia continued, “we usually do community service at home on breaks, but donating blood is a different kind of service to our community.”

Agreeing, Esther concluded, “we feel very proud.”

By late that afternoon, the Red Cross had collected donations from 45 people in the Daraja community including students, teachers, administrators, staff, and volunteers. We’d like to extend a big thank you to the Kenyan Red Cross of Laikipia Country for visiting our campus and affording us the opportunity to donate blood! From the Daraja Academy community: Asante sana! (Thank you very much!)


“It’s not goodbye, just see you later”

To develop and maintain the programs at Daraja Academy, we need not only an expansive and talented staff on the ground, but also a network of strong support from The Carr Educational Foundation. The Carr Education Foundation headquarters are located in California and the mission of the foundation is to create sustainable educational models in struggling communities. Daraja Academy is it’s first project.

Mark Stefanski served on the board for the Carr Educational Foundation for 3 years. He began his journey with Daraja when he brought students from the school he teaches at, Marin Academy, to visit Daraja and experience campus. Mark led 2 trips to Kenya with Marin Academy and along with visiting Daraja on his own or with his Wife, Johanna, many times. Not only is Mark an incredible inspiration for the Daraja girls, who look forward to his every visit, but he also played a major role in the development and execution of the Transition Program curriculum.

Although Mark’s time with the Carr Educational Foundation board has come to a close, here at Daraja we never say goodbye, only see you later. We have no doubt that Mark will stray too far from Daraja and girls will still look forward to every interaction we have with him.

“Mark has supported me through my education at Daraja,” reflected Shamsia, a fourth year student, “He is one of my closest friends. I miss him when he is not here so much.” Shamsia is sure that her bond with Mark won’t weaken, despite Mark’s departure from the board and her upcoming graduation next August.

This past August, Mark visited Daraja to help with the Transition Program that he worked to develop with the board. The girls loved the insight that Mark brought to the program with the Daraja Quest activity (I will link to the post about this) and his encouragement to value their individual passions.

When asked to reflect on her experience working with Mark on the Transition Program, Carol’s face lit up, “He was so great,” she explained, “He was excited and full of great ideas. The girls look up to him so much and they were always excited to see what he would teach them next.”

In addition to helping with the Transition Program, Mark also helped teach the students about composting and ran an activity with co-founder, Jason to put together a new compost pile for the garden on Daraja’s campus.


Although we are sad that Mark will no longer be serving on the board, we can’t wait to see what things he will go off to accomplish in his future ventures. Remember, it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later!

It’s that time of year again: the K.C.S.E. testing is here!

Tomorrow morning at 8 AM sharp, fourth-year Daraja Academy students will sharpen their pencils and squirm in their seats as they begin the test that they’ve been working towards for four years: the K.C.S.E.

The K.C.S.E. stands for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, and it is an exam taken at the completion of secondary school. The exam covers seven subjects for each student: English, Swahili, Mathematics, at least two sciences, one subject in the humanities, and one practical or technical subject.

All over Kenya, students are preparing to take their KCSE exam. At Daraja, the test will be administered over the course of three weeks, with some days being longer testing days than others. Before the test begins, schools around the country host a day celebration where the community comes together to show their support. Because of Kenya’s religious nature, the celebration is called “Prayer Day.”

On Saturday, staff, teachers, administrators, community members, and families of students gathered under the trees near Daraja’s garden for Prayer Day. After welcoming remarks from Daraja teachers, Dean of Curriculum Charles shared some words of encouragement to the students: “I sincerely believe that you will do your best. Believe in your abilities and refuse to be discouraged. Keep your mind filled with thoughts of determination and hope.”

Pascalina, a fourth year student, helped her family take their seats as the program began.

Pascalina, a fourth year student, helped her family take their seats as the program began.

Next, the fourth year students shared three songs with the crowd with reassuring lyrics like “I know you can make it,” and “just keep on trying.” Lisayo’s Mother, a parent to one of the fourth year students, spoke on behalf of the girls’ families and wished them luck.

Then, a guest to Daraja’s campus took to the podium to share some wisdom to the girls. Reflecting on the song they shared he remarked, “I’ve never seen hope before like the hope I can see in your eyes. You’re here because there is something special about you. I am looking at the faces of bright futures.”

Guest speakers spoke with enthusiasm to the fourth year students.

Guest speakers spoke with enthusiasm to the fourth year students.

Playing on the meaning of the word “daraja” meaning bridge in Swahili, he continued, “For four years you’ve been walking on this bridge for quite some time, your feet are very strong. You must believe that you will make it to the other side because you will. And when you will, I know you will lay down another ‘daraja’ for someone else.”

To engage the students, he had them repeat the words “I am special” and “I am making it,” proudly to the group. To wrap up, he stated, “This is the group that is going to make history in this country. I will see you all one day as mighty women transforming your world and I will say: I knew them.”

Following a second guest speaker who advised the Daraja girls to stay focused and calm, guests ate lunch on campus and hugged goodbye to their students. Mercy, a fourth year student and K.C.S.E. candidate remarked, “I was so happy to see my family. The day made me feel very supported and actually a little bit excited.”

Anastasia, whose family could not make it to campus on Saturday, reported, “Even though my family could not come, Daraja makes me feel confident. I had a lot of fun.”

To Celebrate the International Day of the Girl, Daraja students read and sign The Girl Declaration

To celebrate International Day of the Girl, Daraja Academy students assembled in the patio outside of the dining hall on campus. Students talk about the power of girls and women frequently, so the International Day of the Girl celebration was unique to the holiday. As a partner of Nike’s Girl Effect, Daraja girls were excited to read and discuss the Girl Effects newest project- The Girl Declaration.

The Girl Declaration is a statement written by 508 girls living in poverty around the world with the expertise of more than 25 leading development organizations, declaring the power and strength of girls, in order to be included in the world’s next development agenda. The Millennium Development Goals, which were established following the Millennium Summit at the United Nations in 2000 and expire in 2015, fell short in prioritizing girls, and this declaration was written to ensure that would not happen again.

So on Friday, Daraja students broke into small groups and read the declaration aloud. They talked about what they thought about the declaration, and what it means to them. Girls shared with the entire group what they learned from the declaration, and inspiration that they took from it.

In discussion, Jecinta, a first year Daraja student explained, “The Girl Declaration has made a huge impact on me. I know my potential, I am so proud to be a girl.”

Her classmates agreed.

“I have a voice, and I will use it,” asserted Bilha, a second year student.

“I would add,” advised third year Irene, “This is the moment whereby rising up does not scare me.” The other Daraja girls at her table nodded in response.

Following the discussion, Daraja students were ready to show their support to the declaration by signing it. Few by few, they came up to the front of the room and signed a poster with the declaration on it with excited squeals, happily stating their solidarity with the goals of the declaration.

To read the declaration and watch Daraja students signing it, watch this short video:

From everyone at Daraja, Happy International Day of the Girl!

There is a busy excited buzz on campus today as the Daraja community recognizes The International Day of the Girl. 2013 is the second year for observance of the holiday, and Daraja students are excited for the world to celebrate what we celebrate every day: the power of the girl.

The International Day of the Girl is an international observance day declared by the United Nations in April 2011. The holiday supports more opportunities for girls worldwide and calls for awareness of inequality faced by girls around the globe based on their gender. The theme for this year’s observance is “Innovating for Girls Education.”

From our impactful educational model to WISH (Women of Integrity, Strength and Hope) class to the Transition program, Daraja fits the bill on this year’s theme quite well. Working with girls and Kenya rather than just for girls and Kenya is important to the Daraja Academy community, and helps encourage further innovation to ensure the most effective and meaningful educational program possible.

Today, around the world, organizations, students, and families are celebrating and talking about educating girls. Upon learning about this holiday, Daraja students were excited to share a message to girls around the world, empowering them for education the way they are empowered by Daraja every day.

Check it out:

Please join us in celebrating the International Day of the Girl by sharing this post with your family and friends through e-mail, social media, dinner table talk, and more! Help us grow our family of support by spreading the word about the power of girls and Daraja Academy!

Daraja girls use their voices to honor Malala’s fight for Girls’ Education!

One year ago, two days before the first ever International Day of the Girl, a man with a gun tried to silence a girl fighting for her education.

On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by members of the Taliban for speaking up and using her voice to fight for the right to an education. Malala’s wounds were felt around the globe, as other girls fighting for education hoped and prayed for her recovery. The students at Daraja Academy reacted to this event, and recorded a song to show Malala their support:

Daraja students have not forgotten about Malala’s bravery in using her voice. We celebrated Malala’s recovery and birthday in July. This year, on the first anniversary of the shooting, Daraja students are highlighting the importance of advocacy in their fight for an education and have decided to stand up, like Malala, and use their voices.

Girls reflected on questions like, what makes a girl so powerful and what does it mean to “be the change I wish to see in the word.” After fifteen minutes of a journaling-style free write exercise, Each girl took a marker to paper to visually represent their message about the power of girls to the world. The result was powerful:

Girl Statements1

“It is important for us to be loud and use our voices. We have things to say,” explained third year student, Irene W., “We will not be ignored.”

Girls proudly shared their exclamations with one another and explained their meanings. Older girls taught first year students about Malala and they learned about the worldwide movement about access to education for girls.

“I am glad that there are girls around the world who fight for school, like us. It is the most powerful tool,” reflected first year student, Barbara.

Girl Statements2

Daraja girls know how powerful and important it is to use their voices, and they are ready to yell their messages at the top of their lungs. One year later, Daraja girls still stand with you, Malala!

Join us in celebrating the second annual International Day of the Girl on Friday, October 11 by tuning into the Girls Speak Out webcast at 3 PM Eastern Time and 12 PM Pacific! Look out for a special message during the program from Daraja students!

Four Amazing Advocates Get on Board in 2013!

We welcome four new board members to the Carr Educational Foundation. The mission of the Carr Educational Foundation is to create sustainable educational models in struggling communities. Daraja Academy is it’s first project.

In 2013, Margaret Pack, Sara Howard, Lisa Halsted, and Erika Merrel joined the board of directors of the Carr Educational Foundation, which currently raises awareness and funds for Daraja Academy initiatives and the work occurring on campus. The addition of these passionate four to our cause is tremendous as they exhibit the qualities of true Daraja women.


Margaret Pack

Margaret Pack is an account coordinator at Breakaway Communications, a technology public relations agency, in San Francisco. After graduating from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a B.S. in journalism, Margaret traveled to Cape Town, South Africa to volunteer at a primary school. This experience encouraged her to become involved with a non-profit upon her return to the U.S. Margaret learned more about Daraja when working as a PR intern before becoming the Carr Educational Foundation board secretary.

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Sara Howard

Sara attended University of Colorado, Boulder for her Bachelors degree, and Tufts University in The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy for her Masters degree in International Law and Diplomacy. From New York City to San Francisco, She has lived and worked across the United States. She has a longstanding interest and expertise in International Relations. Sara now resides in California with her husband, Kip. She has three daughters between the ages of 16 and 24.

This summer, Sara’s youngest daughter, Amelia, volunteered with Daraja and conducted a water use audit with Leigh Pomerantz. Jackline, a first-year Daraja student, grew very close to Amelia and Leigh and expressed: “I hope that I get to meet Amelia’s mom, Sara. I am really excited for her to be helping Daraja in America!”


Lisa Halsted

Lisa has thirty years of experience as the Founder and Director with Adventures Cross-Country, a company that offers adventures travel and community service programs around the world to teenagers. Lisa has knowledge and expertise in marketing, program development, human resources and bookkeeping. Through her travels, Lisa has gained a fondness for Africa, both its culture and its people. Lisa now resides in Mill Valley with her husband, Scott, and their four children, Katie, Sheldon, Heidi, and Willie.

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Erika Merrell

Erika Merrel grew up in Northern California before attending the University of Southern California where she received a Bachelors degree in Political Science. She has lived and worked across the United States and recently spent nine years in Sydney, Australia. Her career includes over seventeen years in sales and business development, and she is currently a Director with professional services firm, EY. Erika now resides in Marin County, California with her husband and 3 little boys.

“I am always excited when our Daraja family grows,” explained Molly, a third-year Daraja student, “I hope that I can meet Margaret, Sara, Lisa, and Erika one day.”

We couldn’t be more excited to welcome these four to the Carr Educational Foundation, and we appreciate their many contributions!

Peace building class helps make sense of Westgate attacks

In WISH (Women of Integrity, Strength, and Hope) class this term, third year Daraja students (11th grade) are learning all about conflict resolution and peace building. Piggybacking Alice Nderitu’s peace building talk during Term Two, the lessons are full of exciting ways to brainstorm the development of peace throughout the world, but more specifically, in Daraja students’ home communities.

Following the attack on the Westgate Mall in Kenya’s capitol, Nairobi, Daraja students were eager to make sense of the violence and have discussions about how peace building strategies can intervene in conflicts such as these and help prevent them in the future.

In the lesson prior, third year students were asked to envision an ideal world or ideal Kenya for the year 2030.  The objective of this exercise was to create an end for which peace building would serve as the means. After the attack, the girls were ready to continue with positive lessons encouraging them to think about peace and potential rather than dwelling on negative realities such as violence.

To explain the exercise, volunteer, Jane, outlined a “violence tree,” where the causes of violence served as the root system, and the manifestations and different types of violence served as the branches. Because of the harm that this tree creates in the world, the tree was unhealthy and bore no leaves, flowers, or fruits. Next, the girls were each given a large sheet of paper and markers to create their own personal “peace tree.” After individually reflecting and devising “roots” and “branches” of peace, the girls put markers to paper to illustrate their ideas.

Some girls chose to illustrate peace using the tree metaphor, while others exhibited their creativity and illustrated peace in other ways. Mesret drew a series of hearts, growing in size.

Peace illustration by Mesret

Peace illustration by Mesret

Despite running out of time, girls agreed to extend their class into their free time based on their excitement to present and share their ideas. When presenting, Mesret explained her hearts by saying, “The smallest heart represents the love and peace that you must have in yourself in order for the rest of the world to see peace. As more and more people accept that love for themselves, peace grows into everyone having love for everyone else.”

This exercise proved to be helpful in response to the attack in Nairobi, and also relevantly supplemented the WISH curriculum. We are thankful that the entire Daraja community including students, staff, and their families are all safe and accounted for after the attack and out hearts go out to the victims and their loved ones.