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.


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).


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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:


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.”

Central Park:

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


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

High-scoring Daraja grad gets full scholarship & job

There’s only one former Form 4 who isn’t attending the Transition Program – Betty, who took the KCSE in November and scored highest of any girl in Daraja’s district (Laikipia East). As a result, she was offered a job by local Equity Bank, and not only is she paid for her work, the bank is also paying for her entire university education.


Betty (on the left) with classmate Hadijah

Equity Bank is the fastest-growing bank in Kenya, as a result of their effort to aid small-scale, low-income clients. They have branches in some of the most remote villages in Kenya, and in an effort to “equalize” Kenya’s lower and upper classes, they strenuously promote education in efforts like these. There are 47 districts in Kenya, and the highest KCSE-scoring boy and girl from each district were awarded the same scholarship Betty got, meaning she’s one of only 94 youngsters afforded this particular opportunity! Other banks and institutions offer similar such scholarships, too.


Betty will work at Equity Bank in Nanyuki part-time until she begins university. Following a week-long training in Nairobi with those 93 other peers, she’s been doing work that teaches her valuable employability skills, while she waits for an acceptance letter from whichever university she’ll attend in September. Then, she’ll stop work and focus solely on her studies, but will have the opportunity to work at the bank again over school holidays. In exchange, the bank pays her tuition, which, even though hers is subsidized by the government as a result of her high KCSE score, is still the cost of two or three month’s income of a middle-class Kenyan. Plus, all her living expenses will be covered – housing, food, transport, etc. Betty isn’t expected to go into banking, either – though at one point during her high school career she dreamed of being an accountant, now she’s not so sure. She’s just excited to begin her university studies and see what classes most pique her interest, and she’ll figure it out from there

New School Store

Daraja maintenance teams spent the last month building Daraja’s first-ever school store, and it officially opened last week! Transition Program students are running and operating the school store entirely on their own, and they are loving the experience so far. The aim of the Transition Program is to teach Daraja grads life skills before they officially leave Daraja and head off into the “real world.”  The program teaches them (small) business skills, bookkeeping, money management, economics, customer service, marketing, and much more. It’s a unique opportunity in that, while the girls may have learned some of these skills in high school class, they now get to actually put those skills to the test.

The store being built

The store being built

“I like bookkeeping,” explained Faith, “because it’s more real. I learned it in high school, and now I’m doing it practically so that’s the interesting bit about working here.” The Transition girls still have class each day, but they’ve devised a schedule whereby they’re divided into groups of six. Each group works in the shop for one full week – early in the morning and after lunch, leaving time for class in between.


Cate and Schola stock supplies

When asked how sales were, Leila exclaimed excitedly, “Good! We’re making a lot of profit!” (This profit gets channeled directly in to the Program, which makes it a more personal task for the students.) The girls think the store is doing so well in part because it is unique in this area, because it’s “self-service.” Between Nanyuki and Daraja (a distance of 25 km) there are a handful of small shops, but this is the only one where on-campus shoppers can actually walk in the store and select the items they want, as opposed to just making purchases at a window. “It’s more interesting compared to the rest of the stores around here,” said Faith.

Girls shop for merchandise in town

Girls shop for merchandise in town

The girls were even in charge of stocking the store. First, they created a survey and then they went out into the local community and asked what people would want from a store. After analyzing their findings, the students headed to town last week where they studied similarly sized shops, learning about their products and prices. Then, they made their bulk purchases and returned to stock the store with a wide array of useful things, including rice and milk, juice and chewing gum, Daraja t-shirts and candy, and much more. It’s been an especially useful task for students who hope to leave Daraja and start their own small business, like Cate, who dreams of becoming an entrepreneur after leaving campus. Stay tuned for more updates from these young businesswomen!

Biology Field Trip to Mpala Research Center

Daraja Academy sits in the middle of the African savannah, and while this might sound a bit intimidating to some, its location “in the bush” is actually a great resource. The campus is beautiful, and in addition to the incredible wildlife, it’s also nice that Daraja is located so close to one of its long-term friends, the Mpala Research CenterMpala is just down the road from Daraja, and sits on miles of beautiful, untouched land. It’s home to elephants, hippos, gazelles, and even lions.


Last Saturday the Form 4 biology students had an opportunity to go on a field trip to Mpala. They divided into groups and participated in a wide array of activities. One group practiced photography (specifically on hippos); another tracked gazelles; and a third learned about mongooses and how to trap them (for research purposes). They also went on game drives and got to check out different wild animals from the safety of safari vehicles. The girls (and Mpala staff!) had an amazing time; check out some of their cool photos below.