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Who are Daraja Academy’s Kenya Scouts?

Each Monday morning on Daraja’s campus, students and staff gather near the flag to hold assembly or “flag.” The assembly is a time where staff and prefects have the opportunity to update the student body about events coming up in the week ahead. In addition, one class each week performs a song and update the campus with news reports that they worked to compile over the weekend.  Each assembly lasts between ten and fifteen minutes.

To kick off the start of the assembly, members from our very own group of Kenya Scouts perform drills, raise the Kenyan flag, and sing the Kenyan National Anthem.

Kenya Scouts is a nationwide organization for adolescents around Kenya comparable to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the United States. The Kenya Scouts website describes the program “as a voluntary, educational, non-political movement for young people in Kenya. It is the largest youth movement in Kenya with over 400,000 scouts and 30,000 scout leaders.”

“The purpose of scouting,” the website states, “is to contribute to the development of young people in achieving their full physical, intellectual, social, spiritual, and emotional potential as individuals, responsible citizens, and as members of their communities.”

At Daraja Academy, 34 students make up the campus Kenya Scouts program. These 34 students are broken up into four troops, each with their own student Troop Leader. These troop leaders organize weekly meetings for their troops and help them learn and practice their drills. The troops on campus are all named after mountains: Himalayas, Mt. Everest, Mt. Kenya, and Mt. Elgon. Each member of Kenya Scouts undergoes training before officially being part of the movement.

Because there are four troops, each troop gets the opportunity to perform at assembly one time each month. This is the highlight of their experience, according to Mary N, a third-year student and current troop leader. “We love so much to perform at flag. I love watching the other troops perform even when it is not my troops turn,” Mary explains.

The drills that are performed are all original routines the girls put together themselves, made up of meticulous steps, sharp turns and pivots, and defined movements.

In addition to these drills, the Kenya Scouts are also responsible for maintaining the flag post area on campus. Each Sunday they make sure that the area is clean and the grass is short in preparation for Monday’s assembly.

Currently, the Scouts are working on a tree-planting project to learn about and take action in environmental conservation. They plan to take great care of the trees already on campus and work to plant even more!

When asked about her experience in Kenya Scouts, first-year Daraja student, Christine explains, “I am really glad that I joined. It is really fun to practice our drills and also learn about conservation of trees.”

KCSE Exams 2013: We’re halfway done!

When the KCSE testing began, Daraja’s fourth year students felt excited, anxious, and undoubtedly nervous. At 8:00 in the morning on Tuesday, October 22, first, second, and third year students hugged their big sisters and watched as they lined up to enter their exam rooms.

Nine weekdays and fourteen exams later, the fourth year students have fallen into a routine with testing. Although their fellow students and the rest of the Daraja community continue to show support and love, the testing students report feelings of relief that each exam day does not feel as monumental as the first.

“Getting through the first day is the key,” warned Dean of Academics, Charles, at Prayer Day. (LINK!!!!!!)

“It just feels normal now,” reflected fourth year Zeki during lunchtime following Friday’s last exam for the day, “we wake up, eat breakfast, take a test, keep studying, and then do it again tomorrow.”

Grace agreed, adding, “The examiners [government-employed proctors] are really nice, too. They always greet us in the mornings and tell us how much time we have left for a paper [test].”

During the times when they are not taking an exam, the girls can be found all over campus studying. Many use the space in the patio outside of the dining hall, which is sunny, open, and bright, while others study in their dorms, on the sports fields, at the tables outside of the campus store, and more.

“I study in my dorm because it is quiet and empty during study times,” explains Fatuma A.

To prevent the girls from feeling strained by the routine, they are encouraged to take breaks in their studying by taking walks, watching or playing during campus-wide sports time, and watching the movie instead of studying on Saturday nights.

When asked what she does during her study breaks, Mercy explains, “I like to meditate. SJ [an intern] taught us all about meditation during WISH class this term, and it is really helpful.” Mercy utilizes a mantra, or encouraging phrase, in her meditation to keep her confident and motivated. “I just keep saying to myself, I can do it. I am making it.”

With nine exam days left to go, the girls are halfway finished! The upcoming exams are more spread out than the past, with more days featuring only one test per day instead of two. This will give the girls more time for preparation in between subjects.

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!