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Alumni Check-In: Lillian

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In August of this year, Daraja celebrated our first graduating class of girls. After four years of secondary school classes and a five-month Transition Program, Lillian walked across the stage on Daraja’s campus and received Daraja’s equivalent of a diploma- a certificate of program completion- as well as her official “leaving documents,” standard for graduated secondary school students across Kenya.

Now, months later, Lillian has gotten a job, started working, and continued to represent Daraja Academy in everything that she does. Her classmates can be found across the country doing similar things: finding jobs, working, going to University, and applying to certification programs and trade schools. They’ve each crossed their own ‘daraja,’ meaning ‘bridge,’ to create their own path for their future.

After graduating, Lillian focused on herself. She spent time thinking about the last four years at Daraja and how they have impacted her life. Piggybacking from the last activity in the Transition Program, the Daraja Quest, Lillian reflected on her values, her goals, and herself when contemplating her next steps.

Although she was accepted into the Business Management Program at Karatina University, Lillian decided that she would apply to Nursing Programs instead. Lillian explains, “Nursing is what I really want to do, it’s where my heart is.” Lillian conducted her Transition Program Internship in the maternity ward at Nanyuki District Hospital where she developed her love for nursing and was able to practice what she hopes to study in the future.

For now, Lillian is working at an M-Pesa location near her home. M-Pesa is a mobile-phone based money transfer and micro-financing service for Safaricom and Vodacom, the largest mobile network operators in Kenya and Tanzania. She works conducting money transfers and assisting customers with any issues that they may face.

“I started looking for a job once I graduated in order to stay busy and make some money. I am saving for when I decide to attend school again so that I am independent and can support myself. I just walked into stores and places near my home and asked if they were hiring. I learned confidence and professionalism at Daraja which helped me with that,” Lillian said.

When asked what other lessons she learned at Daraja that she’s utilized so far out of school, Lillian explained, “I learned things like math and interview skills that helped me start working after I left Daraja, but I think the most important thing that I learned was to pursue my dreams.”

Lillian visited Daraja’s campus in October and November to participate in a local Youth Forum put on by Denmark’s Action Aid! organization. She is sure to stay involved with initiatives like these that support local youth and encourage life-long learning, and she is glad to be representing Daraja wherever she goes.

She concluded, “I am proud of myself, and I am happy.”

Lillian, we are proud of you too!

Sponsor Spotlight: Gaughran Family

At the end of each term, Daraja students ritualistically sit down for one of their favorite activities and traditions on campus- writing sponsor letters. Because sponsors are truly the lifeblood of Daraja and the enablers for Daraja’s programs, the girls get excited to share their lives and stories with their sponsors time and time again.

Being a sponsor can be an immensely rewarding experience for people of any walk of life. The sponsor population for Daraja students includes Americans, Danes, organizations, young people, and much more. Sponsors decide to build a relationship with a girl for a number of reasons- to support Daraja’s program, to connect with a student across the world, or to give back to a cause they believe in – girls’ education. Each sponsor gets something unique out of the experience, depending on who they are.

It is becoming common for families to sponsor one or more Daraja students. Sponsoring a Daraja girl is a great way to grow as a family, for and with their student. For the Gaughran Family of New York (Steve, Kathy, and their daughter, Maggie), sponsoring Daraja students has been among the most rewarding endeavors they’ve ever had opportunity to take on. Together, they’ve sponsored four Daraja girls, three who have just finished their K.C.S.E. exam, Shamsia, Grace, and Zeki; and one graduated student, Florence Mueni.

The Gaughran’s explained, “We have really enjoyed forming a relationship with the girls we sponsor. The letters exchanged and hearing about how things are going in school and in their lives is great. The letters are beautifully written.”

Although it is not an expectation, sponsors are welcome to visit campus at some point to meet their student in person, something that the Gaughran Family has done many times. Collectively, through many family and individual trips, the family has visited campus for a total of 25 weeks since Daraja opened.

Steve confessed, “Visiting campus is by far my favorite part, going there and seeing how hard everyone works, not just the girls, but the teachers and staff as well. One quickly feels like part of the Daraja campus family while you are there. You are made to feel very welcome and everyone appreciates that you have come to visit and help out.”

Shamsia, Grace, and Zeki, the three girls who the Gaughran’s sponsor, have really loved the relationships that they’ve built with the family. Zeki said, “It is so great that I don’t just have one sponsor, we’re like a big family with them, Shamsia, Grace, and me.”

Shamsia continued, “I want to tell them thank you every chance that I can.”

Grace agreed, “I miss them every single day. I am so thankful that they have supported me at Daraja, I would be a different person without them.”

The Gaughran’s are excited for this coming July, because all three of their girls will be graduating from the Daraja Academy, following their completion of the Transition Program. “The girls are a part of our family,” they explained, “we have pictures of them in our house just as we have pictures of our own family. Seeing them mature from first year students to graduates has been truly remarkable. Watching them grow makes us proud just like they are our own children!”

If you, your family, school club, organization, religious congregation, or any other group are interested in sponsoring one or more Daraja students, e-mail info@daraja-academy.org for more information or visit our website.

What’s Antonella up to on Break?

At the end of each term, Daraja girls venture to their home communities for a short break for two weeks to over a month, depending on the time of year. Comparable to summer breaks and winter holidays in the United States, the girls always look forward to seeing their families and friends during their time away from class.

Part of Daraja’s educational model includes community service, which is how students compensate for their time at Daraja. Over each break, the girls perform 10 documented hours of community service in their hometowns.  Students share the knowledge and skills they have learned in class, WISH, life skills, and interactions with volunteers with their local communities.

Thanks to this initiative, Daraja can reach and serve immeasurable amounts of people. The students act as a link in a chain where knowledge is spread from Daraja to the girls, and from the girls into their communities.  When asked, the girls love talking about the service they perform over their school breaks. Many girls complete their hours at the same location for all four years, while others try new things each break.

Antonella, who has just finished her first full year as a Daraja student, especially looks forward to school breaks because of the community service opportunities. She is from Baragoi, a town in Northern Kenya.

She explains, “doing community service at home is like bringing Daraja with me wherever I go. Sometimes, if I don’t have too many chores at home, I do more than ten hours, just for fun!”

For the last two breaks, Antonella has completed (and exceeded!) her hours at a local hospital. Her tasks have included washing the wards, greeting and managing patients, calling them into their rooms, and cleaning the dispensary.

Antonella has been doing community service even before she arrived at Daraja, helping her fellow primary school students as a tutor and doing chores for the elderly in her community.

“During community service, I become a better person,” Antonella reflects, “I like talking to other Daraja students about their community service because I like hearing about what their home communities are like.”

Like Antonella, many girls complete their service hours at hospitals and dispensaries. Some girls even help organize medications and tend to patients as a nurse or pharmacist shadow. Others teach in their local primary schools, tutor younger students, lead workshops to teach their communities about lessons they’ve learned at Daraja, and more.

We are glad to instill a service mentality in each Daraja girl, and graduates continue to perform community service after they leave Daraja. With 30 hours minimum completed each year by 104 total girls, the impact that Daraja is able to have on communities across Kenya is vast and inspiring.

Meet Our Head Chef: Aloise!

Thanks to a dedicated staff, life on campus runs smoothly each day. With sometimes over 200 mouths to feed, a farm to tend to, and the security of the campus to ensure, Daraja employs a large local staff in order to keep things up and running. Many of these staff members have been working on campus since the “pre-Daraja” days, where the campus was home to the Baraka School, a small educational program that aimed to transform at-risk boys from Baltimore into successful students with a future.

IMG_5886Aloise, however, was not one of those staff members. He serves as the head of the kitchen department and he can tell you the exact date for when he began working with Daraja.

“It was 2009,” he explains with a shy smile, “26th of July, 2009, I was very excited and very nervous.”

Before joining the Daraja Academy community, Aloise worked as a chef atop nearby Mount Kenya, where he cooked hot meals for hungry and tired trekkers. In 2009, Aloise worked in our kitchen as a general staff member, before becoming the head of the department in late 2011.

Because he started in 2009, he has watched the student body grow from just one first-year class, to where it is now at full capacity with about 26 girls in each of the four classes. He reports that it has been a lot of fun to watch the campus grow and explains that “now, the campus is more lively. It is more exciting with so many girls.”

The girls love having Aloise around, too, and most pass up using his name in order to refer to him as “Uncle” or “Bush Baby.” In addition to preparing meals and overseeing operations in the kitchen, Aloise can be found helping out on campus with anything from harvesting kale and greens in the farm to addressing technical difficulties during the weekly movie on Saturday nights.

When asked about his favorite part of his job, Aloise explains, “I love to bake. Daraja has an oven and we bake bread almost every day, and sometimes we bake cinnamon rolls too.” The wide smile across his face shows how much passion lies behind his words. “I have never gotten to bake so often before,” he finishes.

From the girls cheers when Aloise fixes broken wires during Saturday movies to their excited interaction with him as he prepares and serves up meals, it is clear that the students are glad to have Aloise as part of the Daraja family as well.

Daraja Girls Participate in Local Youth Forum

When end of term exams ended on Thursday, November 14th, first, second, and third year students left campus for school break before the new 2014 school year begins in January. That is, except for three soon-to-be fourth year students, Moreen Kajuju, Mary S, and Mesret, who stayed behind to participate in a Youth Forum for a few days.

The Youth Forum was presented by Action Aid Denmark, an organization that shares a portion of Daraja’s campus for their activities. Action Aid is a global youth network involving thousands of local and Danish volunteers and located in more than 25 countries. Youth Forum’s are organized each month to involve local youth and promote open discussion, innovative thinking, and global partnership with rotating topics.

November’s Youth Forum topic was Gender and Health, and featured collaboration style activities where local Nanyuki Kenyans, Daraja students, and volunteers from Denmark worked together to learn about topics such as the difference between sex and gender, defying gender roles, and how gender can stigmatize health issues.

In the first activity, groups were asked to illustrate differences between men and women by drawing what they think men and women look and act like. In her group, Moreen Kajuju was vocal and excited to share her experiences with the differences between genders in Kenya. Without hesitation, she became the spokesperson for the group when sharing what they’d discussed with the other groups.

A major part of the day’s activities revolved around a session called “Forum Theatre.” In forum theatre, both actors and spectators play a crucial role. During scenes, spectators engage in discussion about what they are seeing and can even stop and change the performance to see better outcomes. The Daraja girls were not afraid to participate in this activity and valued the different approach to drama and acting.

Moreen Kajuju reflected, “It was really cool to combine what we were learning with acting. I got to learn a lot about discussion and how to talk about sensitive topics. Lots of people disagreed, but in a good way. It was very interesting.”

The workshop ran from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and the girls returned from the event feeling excited and thankful for the opportunity to participate.

Mesret explained, “I learned a lot and made a lot of new friends. It was a fun time sharing stories and discussing how different our experiences are.”

Mary S. agreed, continuing, “I am glad that I was able to go to the forum. I learned new things that I never thought about before.”

Daraja graduates are also involved with the Youth Forum. Lilian, who lives in Nanyuki, was also able to attend the forum. This was the third forum and topic that she has been able to participate in, and explains that she “really likes going to them and learning each time.” Monicah, who will be attending University of Nairobi in January, has spent the past few months volunteering as a facilitator for Action Aid, especially at the Youth Forums.

“I would never recognize me, if I saw myself now”

When she arrived at Daraja Academy four years ago, Joyce was quiet and nervous, but undoubtedly determined for a better future. Although she grew up in an environment with little encouragement and no positive role models, Joyce was determined to continue her education past primary school.

During her first and second years at Daraja, Joyce was a very quiet student. She studied hard but often kept to herself and rarely felt comfortable raising her hand in class or participating in extra school activities. Joyce focused on schoolwork in order to achieve her dreams for a better future.

After participating in WISH (Women of Integrity Strength and Hope) class each week at Daraja and taking the lessons she learned in school back to her community, Joyce’s shy demeanor began to change. During breaks, Joyce demonstrated how hard she was working at school by applying lessons learned in class when she conducted her community service in her hometown.

Then, Joyce began to play netball, a popular sport in Kenya. Netball is a game where players play a specific role and their actions are crucial to the team’s overall success. Joyce excelled in the defensive positions on the netball field and developed a strong sense of responsibility and confidence. Soon, teachers and administrators began to notice, this sense of responsibility and beaming confidence began to translate to her studies and her interactions off the field.

During her year as a fourth year student on Daraja’s campus, Joyce could be found studying with her fellow classmates, playing netball during sports time, or sitting with the first year girls during meals. She explained, “I remember when I first came to Daraja, I was really nervous and I wanted to make friends. I know that some of the Form 1’s [first years] feel the same way that I did, I want to show them what can happen if you believe in yourself and believe in Daraja.”

Today, she is back home after finishing her secondary school education. With the second-ever Transition Program fast approaching in March, girls were asked to mail in a confirmation that they’d be attended this voluntary opportunity. It came as no surprise to the administration that Joyce’s confirmation came in first, only a few days after she’d left campus.

When she finished her K.C.S.E. exam, Joyce took time to reflect on where she was four years ago, and how she felt at that very moment: “Four years ago, I never would have believed that I would get to take the K.C.S.E. I never would have believed that it would be easy for me to speak in front of a group of people. I would never recognize me, if I saw myself now.”

Administrators and teachers have seen the transformation as well. Charles, Dean of Academics, explained, “It’s actually very amazing the way that Joyce has changed. It shows how much of an impact Daraja can make on students. There are so many dimensions of impact that can be made when a girl is given opportunities and attention. They not only become better learners, but they also become better people. Joyce developed faith in herself through the things she has done at Daraja, it’s really, very amazing.”

With a couple of months at home before returning for the Transition Program, Joyce will be busy focusing her time on being with her friends and family and finding a place to volunteer or work in her community. “I can’t wait to come back to Daraja, I wish it could be right now! Instead, I will show all that Daraja has taught me while I wait.”

We can’t wait to see you, either, Joyce!

Alumni Check-In: Leila at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology

Since Daraja’s first graduation ceremony in August, our graduates have dispersed themselves throughout the country, each with a separate journey. Some graduates have been volunteering before their January report date for University attendance, some have already started their University classes or are starting in January, some have been teaching, some have found jobs with banks and stores, and some have been joining trade schools.

Because, at Daraja, we always say “see you later,” and never “goodbye,” we’ve been excited to catch up with our graduates to see what impacts they are already making in their communities, just a few months after graduation. Leila Ali, from Isiolo, has already begun her classes at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

To start her Bachelor of Science degree, Leila reported at school in Nairobi in September, just a few days following the graduation ceremony. Like Daraja, Leila explains that University is filled with students from different areas and schools throughout Kenya.

When asked about her experience at University thus far, Leila explains, “I am taking nine class currently including Mathematics, advanced Biology, Chemistry, and more. The subjects are challenging but I am doing my best and I am working very hard!”

In the next few months, Leila will make the big decision about what to major in. Between classes, she’s busy contemplating her options, “I am choosing between Microbiology, Bio technology, and ecology. I just can’t decide!”

During the Transition Program, Leila conducted her internship on Daraja’s campus alongside Martin, our IT specialist. She quickly became versed in how to restore the solar power and wifi when it dropped, and she was the go-to resource for computer troubleshooting with teachers, volunteers, and staff.

Leila explains that although she really loves campus life at University, she really misses Daraja’s campus. “I miss my friends so much,” she reports, “especially those that live far from Nairobi. I also miss Mr. D and Miss Jenni [co-founders of Daraja Academy] and all of my teachers.”

Leila has carried the lessons she learned at Daraja with her to University, and frequently talks to her new friends about Daraja’s WISH (Women of Integrity, Strength, and Hope) class and the power of girls- or in her case- young women.

In a recent article published by Marin News, the local newsletter of San Rafael, CA, the hometown of Daraja’s founders, co-founder Jason explained that he could see girls like Leila as future parliament members and politicians in Kenya, if not a future president.

K.C.S.E. finishers say “See you later” to Daraja’s campus!

After four weeks of grueling test taking, our Daraja’s Class of 2013 finished their K.C.S.E. testing last Friday! At 10:30 AM, the final testing bell rang and students emerged from their classroom with radiant smiles, sighs of relief, and jumps for joy. They each turned in their finals papers to the test administrators, who shared a few words with the girls before departing from campus.

The main administrator, shared how impressed she was with the Daraja girls. Speaking to the girls, she explained, “I could tell you were determined because after each exam, you girls did not go to sleep or play around, you immediately began studying for the next day’s exams. I am very impressed, you will all go far.”

Another administrator said, “no matter how the results turn out, you girls should be very proud of yourselves.”

Excited, the girls rejoiced with their fellow students during tea break. Gitwa, a fourth year student, explained, “it feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. No matter what happens, I’ve made it. I feel so proud.”

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Although the testing had ended, the girls’ day was far from over. During their final afternoon on campus as students, the girls wrote the final letters to their sponsors, applied for University, prepared for the Transition Program beginning in March 2014, and packed their things. Mercy took extra care in writing to her sponsor and explained, “I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for giving me this opportunity. I don’t have the right words, I don’t think the right words exist in English or Swahili to thank them enough.”

Because applying for University can be confusing and stressful, regardless of what country you’re in, the administration helped girls apply here on campus to ensure that all of their questions were answered and the application process went smoothly. While this was happening, the kitchen staff was hard at work preparing a celebratory meal with all the girls’ favorite foods: chapati (Kenyan staple, sweet and tortilla-like), pilau (rice with vegetables and meat cooked in spices), nyama choma (roasted meat), and ice cream!

Tables in the dining room were arranged in a huge circle, and students, staff, and volunteers came together to feast, talk, share, and laugh together in celebration of the incredible accomplishment that the girls had made: finishing their secondary school careers. Students and staff called upon one other to stand and share words of encouragement, pride, wisdom, and celebration.

Pascalina, a fourth year student, stood confidently and proclaimed, “I am so proud to be a Daraja girl. The past four years, I have learned that I am powerful, I am valuable, I am worthy, I am smart,” regarding the staff, she continued, “thank you from the bottom of my heart for believing in me, believing in us. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we will impress you and show that we were worth it.”

Teacher Elizabeth shared some advice, “Life is like a mirror. What you show it, it will give back to you. If you smile at the world, it will smile back at you. If you frown upon it, it will frown back upon you. Be sure to take on the world knowing that what you put into it, you will get that much back.”

When it was her turn to speak, Teacher and Principal Victoria had the fourth year girls congregate outside of the dining hall and handed each of them a candle. Knowing what to do, the girls marched back into the dark hall singing one of their favorite songs, “Light Your World,” originally performed by Chris Rice.

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The night concluded with a letter from co-founders Jenni and Jason, read aloud by Volunteer Coordinator, Sarah, and lots of dancing. On Saturday morning, Daraja’s second-ever class of girls to finish secondary school left campus for a well-deserved break. In March, they will return to participate in the Transition Program, an opportunity unique to Daraja.

From everyone at Daraja, we say Congratulations Class of 2013! To see more photos from the day, be sure to ‘like’ our Facebook page and check out the 2013 KCSE Exams album!

Sponsor Spotlight: Lauren & Jael

In addition to participating in events like Bay to Breakers, visiting campus, and staying up to date with Daraja on our Facebook and Twitter, supporters have a unique opportunity to sponsor a student on Daraja’s campus. This sponsor-student relationship is incredibly special, since the students really treasure their sponsor’s contribution to their education.

Students communicate with their sponsors and sponsors are able to respond. In addition, sponsors are welcome to visit campus to meet the student they support and learn more about her life.

At the end of each term, students spend an hour or two writing letters to their sponsors. It is an exciting time that students look forward to each term. In their letters, students tell their sponsors all about things that happened over the term, things that they are learning in class, and share stories of their families, backgrounds, and experiences. They also include drawings, poetry, stories, or whatever else they’d like in their packages, to share their talents and passions with the people who make Daraja possible.

Not surprisingly, most students develop a very strong bond with their sponsor. The connection is highly personal and incredibly rewarding. Many sponsors look forward to funding another student after theirs has graduated. To raise funds, many sponsors hold fundraising events, ask for gifts of donations in their name, and save money throughout the year in order to support their student.

Lauren Goff, a 22 year old California native, has had a wonderful experience sponsoring Jael, who will be a third year student in January. Lauren has visited Daraja’s campus twice and has developed a close relationship with many of the girls, but her relationship with Jael is especially special. Lauren often sells crafts such as rings and bracelets that Daraja girls have taught her how to hand make to continue supporting Jael.

On campus the pair of them are nearly inseparable, and Lauren consistently sends letters of support Jael’s way when exams are coming up. One of the highlights for Lauren is that, through sponsorship, she is able to know Jael’s life and the things she likes and wishes for. She continues:

“I am able to do something about that and help her to achieve her goals. I love sponsoring Jael and I cherish every moment that I am able to spend with her. Sponsoring her allows me to really be a part of Daraja’s movement in a tangible way, in empowering the young girls of Kenya. Each girl at Daraja has dreams just like Jael. Running alongside them, rooting for them the entire way is an absolute blessing and one of my greatest joys.”

Jael’s face brightens when she is reminded of Lauren. “She is my sister,” Jael reports, “I can do anything because of Lauren. I love her. I miss her.”

 

For information about sponsoring a Daraja girl, contact us at info@daraja-academy.org!

An Inside Look: A Day in Class with First-year students

Many visitors to campus have experienced what it is like to be a student on a typical day at Daraja. Students wake up early in the morning before the sun rises for study hall and attend classes until late afternoon. After classes, girls participate in the afternoon activity for the day which can include clubs, WISH (Women of Integrity Strength and Hope) class, Physical Education class, talks from visiting professionals, and more. During dinnertime, girls often discuss the events of the day before attending study hall to complete their homework assignments and study for any upcoming exams.

Even though their days are long, Daraja students are active in class discussions and excited to ask questions and engage with their teachers. Equally excited to teach, Daraja teachers prepare engaging lesson plans that allow students to apply the knowledge that they are learning in a practical way.

On Wednesdays, first year students return from their mid-morning tea break ready to learn in business class. They chatted about banking as they wait for Teacher and Principal Victoria to enter the classroom and begin the day’s lesson. Victoria began class by asking students about their day, to which they enthusiastically replied in unison, “it is very good!”

Victoria asked students about what they learned the previous day. “Who can tell me,” she asked, “what is a check? How is it used?” With little hesitation, hands shot up into the air.

Salome stood to answer the question, “a check is a form of payment.”

Victoria nodded and Mary O stood next, “it is an instruction to the bank to make a payment to a certain person.”

During their discussion about checks, Victoria had the class stand in order to ensure that they were focused on listening to the lecture rather than writing notes. “Remember,” she advised, “discussion helps you remember and comprehend things. Do not always concentrate only on writing down what we say. Concentrate on understanding it.”

Continuing the lesson, Victoria moved on to explain several other forms of payment. As students took notes, she asked questions about her explanations to keep students engaged. Using real life situations, Victoria had students break into groups and discuss when certain methods of payment are appropriate at certain times.

Business is a crucial subject at Daraja. It prepares students for potential careers as well as general life skills. Lessons learned in business support popular desired professions among students such as accounting, marketing, tourism, hospitality, business ownership, and more.

Although their days are long, students at Daraja remain engaged and excited about their studies. “If it weren’t for Daraja,” Mellab explains, “I would still be repeating primary level classes to keep learning. I look forward to class everyday, especially Business class.”