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Daraja Students: Peacemakers

On Sunday, July 14th, Alice Nderitu from Kenya’s Institute for Inclusive Security visited Daraja’s campus to give a talk to the girls about Women Peacemakers. Alice has a great deal of experience in peacemaking,

Before she spoke, founder Jason Doherty challenged the girls with two tasks: first, to take time to talk with Alice during her one-day visit, and to get to know her. Second, he challenged all the girls to strive to take on the title of “peacemaker” in some capacity throughout their lives.

Alice started her talk by asking all the girls sitting in the back row to move up and sit in the front row. Peacemakers, like women, she explained, must be proactive and have no fear.

“Peacemaking work,” Alice described, “is defined by courage.”

From there, the girls intently listened to Alice’s talk for upwards of two hours. The engagement of the girls on this topic was staggering; it was clear how important this topic is to every single Daraja girl.

A major take away point from Alice’s talk, that the girls chattered about for hours following, was that the point of peacemaking is not to solve the conflict for two opposing forces, but to help create a climate where the two groups or people can solve the conflict on their own.

She challenged Daraja students to demolish the environments where conflict takes place, by avoiding hate speech between tribes and dismantling stereotypes.

“Step out of ethnicity when possible,” Alice advised, “become a Kenyan.”

After Alice’s talk ended and many questions were asked and answered, some girls continued on with their day, eating lunch and studying. However, many girls took Jason up on his first challenge, and asked Alice questions until she left campus.

Students were so inspired by Alice and her talk, that usual Saturday duties were put off to ask more questions and hear more insights, until everyone waved Alice off during her departure. That evening, girls expressed their hope for Alice’s return to campus.

“I want to go back to my community, and help them find peace,” explained Anastacia, Form 4.

“I really loved having Alice here, I hope she comes back” reported Dianah, Form 2.

Alice’s message was a great way for student’s to see pillar 2, of Daraja’s 4 pillars, embodied in a career. “Embrace differences. Treat all with dignity and respect.”

The Importance of Volunteerism at Daraja

Summer is always busy at Daraja, thanks in large part to the slew of volunteers who come, from around the world, to experience the school. In June, 14 high school students from Woodside Priory School in California arrived at Daraja Academy, where they spent a week volunteering in many different capacities. Volunteerism is important for different reasons – it’s important for the students of Daraja and for the volunteers themselves.

Dianah, a Form 2 who’s built special relationships with volunteers over the past year and a half, explained why she thinks it’s important for people to come volunteer. “Volunteers come here for different reasons,” she explained. “Some come here because they want to see how Daraja is – they’ve heard about it so they’re excited to be here. Some are fundraising for Daraja, and others come during the summer to have fun. It’s important because these are two people from different cultures so us, the Daraja girls, get to interact with volunteers and we get to exchange ideas and become better people, and vice versa.”

Daraja cofounder Jenni Doherty agrees with Dianah. “When we think about the vision of Daraja, it’s the concept of the bridge,” she explained. “If you’re not ready to learn you’re just kind of stagnant, I think. One way that we provide enhanced education to our students is through a volunteer program. I think it’s valuable because of the different perspectives people come from, and the more perspective the girls hear from the more well-rounded they’ll be. It’s not about, ‘I’m here to teach you,’ but, rather, it’s about, ‘I’m here to share my past experiences with you.'”

Bob Bessin, longtime Daraja supporter, former Board president, and Priory teacher and chaperone, is happy to be here alongside students like Dianah. “It’s a global world that we have here,” he said. “I think that part of what every person needs to understand is the similarities and differences are between people and how we can contribute to everyone’s well being. Volunteering allows people to contribute to others and also to learn from other people as well. At Daraja they can do that.  We get a chance to get to know these girls for a week at a greater level. I’ve already seen the level of emotional connection and impact that the Daraja girls have had on our kids. We’ve had some kids who’ve had issues like the Daraja kids have had and they’re able to talk about that – they’re able to talk about some of their common issues, concerns, hopes and dreams, sharing them with people halfway across the world. Teenagers are kind of focused on themselves and this helps to broaden them and see how they can contribute to the world.” The high school students gain just as much as the Daraja girls do – explained Dianah, “My favorite part of having volunteers here is that I become a new person each time I get to learn about someone else – that person is very different from me so I get so excited to learn from that person’s character and behavior.”

Writing Project at Daraja

Kathy Gonzalez is a high school English teacher at Woodside Priory School in California. Since last week, she’s been one of four chaperones accompanying 14 Priory students on their trip to Daraja Academy. All of the volunteers are having exciting experiences; Kathy is doing something especially cool. Since fall 2012, Kathy has been electronically communicating with Daraja, so that she could facilitate a writing project with the Form 2 and 3 girls. By the beginning of May, the Daraja girls had written three rough drafts on three different topics:

1) What is your full name? Who named you, what does it mean, and do you have any nicknames? “The Daraja girls had some hilarious nicknames!” Kathy said.

2) How did you learn about Daraja? What were your first impressions, and what were your fears? “Hearing the stories from the Daraja girls gave the Priory students chills. A couple of them were teared up from hearing the stories,” said Kathy.

3) Write about your family – what are the best, funniest, and most difficult things about your families?

Kathy, the Priory students, and the Daraja Form 2s gathered in class twice this past week, when they split into groups of three and held writing workshops for each other’s pieces. The experience, said Kathy, was “totally awesome!” “There was huge learning about each other’s lives and cultures, and huge excitement to keep the writing exercise going.” Priory is leaving Daraja tomorrow, and they’re sad to go, but the writing project will continue and will be overseen by Dianah and Yvonne (F2) and Euphrasia (F3), all of whom aspire to be writers. Kathy hopes, down the road, that everyone who participated in her workshop will have a chance to publish some of their work, either online or in print.

In addition to the creative writing workshop, Kathy also held a brief poetry workshop over the weekend. You may already know that Naomi, Form 3, is well-versed in poetry, as evidenced by her rap performance at last term’s talent show. But what you might not have known is that Naomi is also an incredible poet. Below is a scanned copy of the poem she wrote. We’re so impressed!

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Daraja girls win big at local music festival

Last Thursday and Friday, June 13 and 14, fourteen Daraja students spent the days in Nanyuki town, where they participated in a large, government-run music festival. Dozens of high schools from across the local county of Laikipia gathered to sing songs, recite poetry, and do (traditional Kenyan) dances.

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Prior to the festival, the fourteen participants gathered with Daraja teacher Doreen, and as a group they agreed who would proceed to the festival to represent the Academy. Form 3 Claris was one of the participants, and she reported on the two-day event. “We had fifteen performances presented by fifteen girls,” she wrote. “Although they were few, they didn’t lack hope after practicing thoroughly for one week. Among the fifteen, eleven of them would  proceed to the next level” (which will be held in two weeks in a different town).

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Claris continued, “Congratulations to everyone who participated in the music festival. You really showed a lot of strength. Music festivals are very important to students. They help people to develop their talents through speaking and acting. Participating also develops the students’ thinking capacity to come up with something influential to other people. Finally, performing helps students to interact with other students from other schools and share views. Personally, I would like to encourage teachers to allow students to participate in music festivals.”

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Despite their busy schedule, the Daraja participants had a great time. We’re excited to see how the eleven winners do when they perform at the next leg of the competition!

Daraja screens new film for students

Last Friday evening, every Daraja student gathered to watch, for the first time ever, the newest Daraja film “School of My Dreams” (by Out of The Blue Films, Inc. – check out its trailer here). Before its premier, the girls also watched “Girls of Daraja,” the first movie made about the school years ago by the same company. (You can watch it here.) Everyone but the Form 1s had seen this first film, but it was still fun re-watching it, and helpful as a precursor to the new film.

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Jason Doherty, Daraja co-founder, introduced the films by asking the girls, “Do you want to be exceptional? This is a serious question! Sometimes we are afraid to be extraordinary – it would be easier to just be ordinary, right?” Everyone agreed that they wanted to be extraordinary, and that explained Jason, “is why you are all here.” “Yes,” he told them, “you might come from challenging backgrounds. But this movie will allow you all to see that you’re not alone in that – all of your peers have struggled in their past. And in the future your past will be so helpful. When you go to a job interview after University and it’s you, a girl with high grades who has struggled, versus another student with high grades who came from wealth, who do you think they’re going to choose?”

What did the girls think of the films? Mary N. and Jesica, both Form 3s, enjoyed them both. “The movie made me realize that there are so many people who couldn’t be in school if it were not for the sponsoring and blessing we have from Daraja,” explained Mary. “It’s not the aim of the school only to teach about academics but also to make girls become more responsible and also to become important people in their society.”

Watching the movie was important to Jesica, too. It reminded her that “it happened like a miracle to many girls since they could not be able to get the money to take them to school…This way, they could realize their goals and they could be able to change the world. [The movie] also showed me that I’m not the only person who had the problem of not being able to go school; there were actually many girls who did not have the opportunity of going to school.” Mary added, “It also inspired us because we had some girls who were talking about their career goals and through that we realized that there is much that we can do for ourselves and for our country.” “It was an educative movie,” added Jesica. “It encouraged other students to be able to give their views and share with others, and also it was another way of maintaining their speaking abilities and good postures – it showed a lot of grace.” Mary agreed, and liked seeing her friends in the film. “It made me feel good to see my friends in it because I used to believe that there is no time that I can see my friends, self, or relatives in a movie. I concluded that if you appear in a movie you are not more superior than others; what it means is that you’ve accepted yourself as who you are. Through that you can build up your confidence.”

Madaraka Day

Full independence from British colonizers in Kenya occurred almost fifty years ago, on December 12, 1963. Last weekend, Kenyans celebrated Madraka Day, which was the day when they received internal self-rule on June 1. Since this is the fiftieth anniversary of the monumental occasion, Purity, a Form 1, wanted to share an explanation of the importance of the holiday with Daraja supporters. Here’s what she wrote:

Why we celebrate Madaraka Day

“On 1st June 1963 Kenyans gained independence, but not self independence since we were still under the British rule. The late Mzee [revered old man] Jomo Kenyatta was crowned the first Prime Minister of Kenya. During those days there was a group known as the Kapenguria Six who were against the British rule. Many organizations were formed famously known as the Mau Mau Rebellion who were led by Dedan Kimathi. The Kapenguria Six members were the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Kungu Kaumba, Bildad Kagia, Achieng’oneko, Dedan Kimathi and Oginga Odinga (father of former second prime minister of Kenya Raila Odinga).

These six people fought for independence until October 20th 1963 when the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was crowned as the first president of Kenya. On 12th December Kenya attained total independence and became a republic from that day.

Also on this day 1st June the Kapenguria Six are also remembered. On 1st June 2013 it is the 50th anniversary since Kenya attained independence.

From the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta to Daniel arap Moi to Mwai Kibaki to now His Excellency the current President of Kenya, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, this day is celebrated with much respect to the people who fought for independence. Also the National Anthem is sang to them.

On this day it is when Kenyans set aside what they are doing in order to respect this day since it is a special holiday for the Kenyans.

The National Anthem is sang with loyalty, respect and pride by Kenyans on this day, even if we remember what we passed through in order to reach where we are today.

Thanks to this day that we us Kenyans are free from any slavery and we have a government which respects the right of all citizens in Kenya.

I am truly a Kenyan and Proud to be a Kenyan. Najivania kuwa Mkenya.”

First-ever District-wide Education Symposium

Last Friday, four Lakipia East (Daraja’s district) high schools joined Daraja Form 4 students in an English and Swahili symposium, the first of its kind. While educational symposiums have been used as a tactic for boosting test scores around Kenya, this is perhaps one of the first whereby an entire district joined forces in an effort to boost education.

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A little over a month ago, Daraja’s head staff gathered with other Laikipia East heads of schools to discuss what were, unfortunately, lower-than-expected KCSE test scores around the district. (In its first-ever KCSE year, Daraja had the third-highest KCSE scores of all 18 Laikipia East schools.) The heads of schools decided to join in numerous symposiums over the course of this year so that high school seniors could learn from one another.

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Later in the year, these same five schools will gather to cover symposiums that include sciences (chemistry, physics), math, geography, and history. So far, the first symposium, whose focus was both English and Swahili literature, was a useful tool. “We did it to bring students together and help us teach each other. Teachers were only there to help us where we were unable to explain,” said Mercy, a Daraja Form 4. Some of the literature they discussed included “The River Between,” “Shred of Tenderness,” “Utengano,” and “Mstahiki Meya.”

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A week prior to the symposium, each school was given a question based on a text, for which they spent the week preparing answers. Then, on Friday, each school  presented the answers they’d prepared in front of all the other students (there were 174 in total!) and a panels of the schools’ head (English and Swahili) teachers. Then, teachers gave feedback, adding information and correcting mistakes where needed. “It was very helpful,” explained Pascalina, another Form 4. “The best part was that the students had modeled [the literature] in a different way than how we normally do it in class.” Added Mercy, “I liked how the other students had different definitions of different things used in literature – we all had different interpretations of the books.” The next symposium (for the sciences) will be held next Saturday, and we’re excited to see how these 174 local students help “lift each other up.”

 

 

Transition students do community development

On Saturday, May 25, every Transition Program student went to Nanyuki town to work on community development. They gathered in Central Park, a small park in the center of town which, at night, is often populated with street kids (vulnerable/orphaned children who may be homeless and are fighting for their lives). There, the girls split into groups. One headed to CEDEC Children’s home (a home for disadvantaged children in Nanyuki), and the other stayed at the park. Here’s a look at what happened at each location:

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The girls helped staff cook pilau, macaroni and cabbage (for 500 people!), others washed laundry, and still others played with the street kids and mentored them. “The whole experience in CEDEC was amazing and also challenging to learn from street children and their lives,” the girls explained. “We enjoyed being with the kids since they were dancing together and playing some games that were fun.”

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The girls helped seat people in chairs that had been brought in for the day. Then, they ushered them to the makeshift medical clinic that had been set up by Red Cross for the day, to attend to street kids and other needy locals. The girls helped feed street families while they waited to be seen at the clinic and some acted as receptionists, recording names of people who came to see the doctors. They brought drinking water to doctors and patients, and distributed clothes to the street children. Of this experience, the girls said, “We got a chance to meet different youths, with different abilities of helping the needy. All in all, we hope to continue working with such wonderful people.”

Overall, the groups felt that “the experience was good since we enjoyed work…to develop our community!”

How do nearby schools compare to Daraja?

Naibor is a small town walking-distance from Daraja Academy. There’s not much there – the main road cuts right through a handful of small shops, churches, and restaurants. A secondary school opened in Naibor last March, but it is lacking.

 

The Naibor region

The Naibor region

A few months ago, Daraja cofounder Jason Doherty was visiting Naibor Secondary School when teacher Richard Githaiga introduced himself. Richard loves teaching but recognizes the difficulty his school faces. Students from around the area – which is very rural – may walk three hours (ten kilometers) just to get to school. Unfortunately, in Kenya, secondary school is not free, and each student must pay a little less than $200 per year to attend. This money goes directly to paying teachers and buying what school supplies they can afford, but this fee is quite high for most families in the area, and Richard says this “is the most difficult part.”

Naibor Primary School

Naibor Primary School

The school is waiting for government approval, at which point the Kenyan government should subsidize some of the school’s cost. If and when government money does come in, it should cover the cost of tuition, which exists to pay for meals, workers, a school cook, watchmen, and facilities. Right now, Naibor Secondary doesn’t actually have its own facilities, and is instead using those of Naibor Primary School.

 

Daraja is lucky to have its many amenities

Daraja is lucky to have its many amenities

When Jason met Richard, he offered to give him some old textbooks, which Richard happily accepted. Still, the school needs more than that – Richard explained that his students have never seen science equipment, like microscopes. They’re hoping government funds will supply some of these things, but it’s a slow process and could take a year or more to get government approval. “In the meantime they’re supposed to be learning but they don’t know how to do it,” explained Richard. “You’re showing them experiments in the book but you are not doing them.” In addition, the students are supposed to be learning English but with only three teachers there they don’t have the teaching capacity to teach English.

 

Daraja is located in the middle of the wilderness, near Naibor

Daraja is located in the middle of the wilderness, near Naibor

The textbooks donated by Daraja will help – “Those books will do us a great deal.” Still, Naibor is a very poor area, and many of the students come from single mothers. Before Naibor Secondary started, some of the students had been out of school for three years, since there was no free secondary school in the area. Before, the only option for education would have been boarding school, which would be much too expensive for these families. Some of the freshmen at Naibor are already 18 years old, because they’ve been waiting so long to start their education. So far, Naibor has 26 students, only eight of whom are girls. The students are happy to be in school, but it’s reminders like these that show the importance of places like Daraja, where all students get to live and eat on campus, they all have access to adequate school supplies, and their families – all of which are low-or-no income – don’t have to worry about school fees. We hope Naibor Secondary School gets its government approval soon, and we hope to continue cultivating a relationship with them!

 

 

 

K.C.S.E. Exams – Big, Big News

BIG, BIG, NEWS

From the Founders of Daraja

 

After four years of hard work, the pioneer class of Daraja Academy students sat down and took the 2012 K.C.S.E. (Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education) examinations, and the results are in!!!

What is the K.C.S.E.?

Though high schools in Kenya do receive report cards at the end of each of term, the real measuring stick is a rigorous three-week national examination taken at the completion of year four. Students are given written tests in subjects ranging from Swahili, English, Business Studies, Math, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, History, Geography and Religious Studies; there is also a practical lab component for the science exams.

So much rides on the results of these exams that stress levels run very high.  A few points may determine whether a person attends a four-year university of a polytechnic training school, or if the student will be eligible for government loans.

How did others predict Daraja Academy would do on the K.C.S.E.?

Surprisingly, though just about everybody supported the concept of Daraja Academy providing scholarships to Kenyan girls of need, some felt that we were doing the students a bit of a disservice once they arrived at campus.

They felt that we were wasting valuable study time by teaching W.I.S.H. (Women of Integrity, Strength and Hope) Class, a four-year leadership and empowerment course, and incorporating Project Based Learning into the curriculum. Some felt that the amount of planning required in order to create a quality, multi-subject project might actually serve as a distraction the students.

What were the results?

In its first attempt at the menacing K.C.S.E. Daraja Academy announced its presence to the nation of Kenya!

The school ranked 92nd out of 1,233 private secondary schools. Five of the district’s top ten girls’ scores belonged to Daraja students. Betty and Faith both received a mean score of A- and were ranked 1st and 2nd respectively in Laikipia East District. By nailing down the highest girl’s score in the district, Betty was honored with the Equity Bank Scholarship, a full scholarship through university.  Though the score needed to attend university has not been released by Ministry of Education yet, it appears that at least two-thirds of the girls will be eligible to attend a four-year university, and approximately a dozen will be able to get government loans.

What do these results tell us?

The results show us that Daraja Academy is working. They show that when given an opportunity to succeed, the ladies who sat for the 2012 K.C.S.E at Daraja did just that. They were successful in spite of the incredible stress and nerves associated with this huge test and proved that courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it.

Perhaps the biggest gift the pioneer class of Daraja Academy was able to give the school and subsequent classes of girls is the high standard which they set. They truly proved themselves to be scholars, sisters, and women of integrity, strength and hope.

I say to you 25 girls, ASANTE SANA (thank you very much) – you refused to let this world move on without you and we are so proud of you,

 

Jason and Jennilyn Doherty

Founders of Daraja Academy