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“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.

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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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0v2cB4B2Cg

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:

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“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.

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

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

Four Amazing Advocates Get on Board in 2013!

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

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

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Margaret Pack

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

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Sara Howard

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

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

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Lisa Halsted

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

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Erika Merrell

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

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

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

Peace building class helps make sense of Westgate attacks

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

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

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

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

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

Peace illustration by Mesret

Peace illustration by Mesret

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

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

We Are One.

Our hearts go out to the victims of the recent attack in Nairobi. Daraja Academy students, faculty, staff, and their families are safe and accounted for.

Daraja stands in solidarity with the victims and their loved ones, the brave response personnel, and generous relief volunteers. We are one!

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Ten Daraja students run for Girls Education!

On Saturday, September 28th, ten Daraja girls woke before sunrise to stretch. Ready to run in The Amazing Maasai Ultra Marathon, the girls walked together to the start line at 6 AM. The Amazing Maasai Ultra was started by two teams on the Chinese version of the popular television show, The Amazing Race, China Rush. Paul and Francis, who made up the “Maasai Warrior” team quickly bonded with Molly and Sarah, or the “Ultra Marathoner” team. After talking about the need for education access for Kenyan girls, the group came together to collaborate on starting a Marathon to raise funds for school sponsorships.

Last year, Daraja Academy hosted the marathon runners during the week before the race during their acclimatization period. Since all marathon proceeds go toward educating Kenyan, specifically Maasai, girls, Daraja was an appropriate stop. After learning about Daraja and experiencing a day on campus, runner Jane Davis and her six year old daughter, Jayna returned at the beginning of September to volunteer with Daraja for three months and run the marathon with some students.

The runners representing Daraja were clearly excited the night before the race, as they stretched and jumped in between giggles late into the night in preparation. They woke by 4:30 AM to eat breakfast before singing the Daraja Anthem and marching to the start line at daybreak. Prepared to run 21K (13.1 miles), the girls took off as the morning sun broke the horizon.

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While waiting for the first runners to come in, volunteers Dibo, Joyce, and Mary N were busy preparing medals, water, raffle tickets, bananas, and more. Juliet and Mesret, along with five Daraja teachers helped out with timing the runs at the finish line.

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The first Daraja girl to finish the race was Rebecca, a second-year Daraja student who placed as the second female finisher for the 21K with a time of one hour and forty six minutes. Salome, Jesica, Ruth, Pauline, Winrose, Moreen, Lilian, Joyce (third year), and Alice all followed close behind, finishing before the three hour mark. Each girl beamed with esteem and pride as they crossed the finish line, with months training all feeling as if they’d paid off.

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Daraja volunteer, Jane ran alongside Alice during the race. “She was confident the whole time. She kept telling me, I feel my body being strong. I can do this. She is someone who never previously considered herself a runner, and she sure should now. She did so well, I am so proud of her,” Jane reported.

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As an integral aspect of putting on the marathon, Daraja student volunteers were all celebrated with thanks from the race directors. Staying involved with the girls education movement by participating in activities that benefit girls is important to Daraja students, as it unites them with girls around their country and the world. In addition, Daraja administration constantly seeks chances for students to showcase their talent and abilities. Daraja couldn’t be more proud of our runners and volunteers, and we thank The Amazing Maasai Ultra Marathon team for making the day a huge success!

With knowledge comes opportunity

As a benchmarking tool, Daraja started a project where students and staff leave campus for a few days to experience a nearby school. This tool will not only be used to observe how Daraja measures up in terms of a Kenyan educational institution, but will also expose staff and students to various teaching styles, schedules, and expectations that the administration may consider adapting, making the program even better and more effective in our mission to provide girls the highest quality education possible.

To kick off this initiative, the new Daraja prefects left campus last week to learn about and experience life at other boarding secondary schools in the area. Prefects were ready to positively represent Daraja Academy and bring back new perspectives and ideas.

Lilian N, Fatuma, and Yvonne all went to Muramati Secondary School, while Rachel, Mary, Joyce, and Alice all attended Loise Nanyuki Girls School. Lastly, Dianah, Lilian T. Irene, and Charity attended Laikipia Air Base Secondary School.

The girls left Monday morning and remained on campus at these three secondary schools for two full school days and one night. Prefects became students at these schools- they did everything that the girls in their assigned schools did in order to really understand how the school was run.

Upon return, prefects reported that they learned a great deal, and appreciate Daraja Academy more than ever. With Daraja being one of the only free secondary education boarding schools for girls in the country, it offers the girls the opportunity to complete their education and take the KCSE exam without worrying about the burden of school fees.  They are able to leave much of the stress and uncertainty behind.

Alice reported, “I had a lot of fun at the other school. I liked observing how it is both different and similar to Daraja. I felt inspired.”  The prefects shared their appreciation for Daraja’s readily available and enthusiastic teachers and the great food they enjoy each day on campus!

In addition to prefects visiting other schools, Daraja hosted four students from Loise Secondary on campus. This way, Daraja students that did not attend other schools or leave campus were still able to learn from our visiting students! The girls had a great time showing the new visitors around, teaching them the way that the school is run, and learning with and from them in the classroom. Above, Purity, a form 1 (first year) Daraja student, poses with a visiting first year student from Loise.

We hope to send more students and teachers to visit other local schools in order to network in the area and continue to look for ways that Daraja can improve teaching styles, schedules, and quality of life for students!