The World lost a true hero on Saturday September 12th when Richard F. Harley passed away. Rich was 59 years old and is survived by his wife of 37 years, Evelyn, and his three sons Eric, Mark, and Andy.
Rich died in New York City after suffering a heart attack while swimming the length of the Brooklyn Bridge. A competitive swimmer his entire life, Rich had begun swimming in order to raise funds and awareness for Daraja Academy. Daraja Academy is one of Kenya’s first, totally free high schools serving girls of poverty who otherwise would not have been able to attend.
The gifts Rich gave to the school are immeasurable. He had donated thousands of dollars of hardware and materials, sifted through and helped ship well over 50 boxes of second hand books for the Daraja Academy library, but his most remarkable was that of his son Andy. Rich believed in his son and the project so much that he personally financed Andy’s year of volunteering at Daraja Academy. It is accurate to say that Daraja would NEVER have been able to begin as successfully as it did this year without Andy.
Rich showed us all how to live. He served as the “voice” of the Terra Linda Trojans for well over a decade, announcing both football and basketball games for the high school even after his sons left. He will be missed by 1,000s of Terra Linda High School who grew up as his baritone voice described the athletic highlights of their younger years.
That same strong, yet caring voice benefitted the Carr Educational Foundation and Daraja Academy as well. Rich served as emcee and auctioneer for the non-profit and was very successful bringing the young girls to life, though they were half a world away.
A memorial has been created to honor Rich Harley and help the family with some of the economic burdens brought on by his passing, additional money raised will go straight to the renovation of the freshman girls dormitory which will be renamed in his honor. Please, make a contribution to the memorial so that future years of Daraja Academy students will know of this remarkable man.
Jason and Jenni Doherty
Daraja Academy Founders
Daraja has been alive and well on the internet for many years, but we’re trying to make it easier to allow supporters like you to learn about what’s happening on campus. As such, we’d like to point your attention to 2 noticeable changes:
-First off, Facebook. Facebook is a fantastic way to stay in touch with your friends, but it’s also a great way to learn more about your favorite organizations, like the Daraja Academy. So far, we have a “causes” page, a “group” page….but the new addition is our “Fan Page.” The Fan page seems to be the best way to stay in touch with our supporters, and it allows you easier access to learn about the updates we post there, such as pictures, videos, news items, events, pretty much everything. So, if you’re a member of facebook, please consider joining our fan page by clicking here. (Heads-up: clicking that link will take you to log-in to Facebook first, then you’ll be able to join our Fan Page.)
-Secondly, Daraja Academy is on Twitter. We’ve actually been there for almost a year, and in that year, Twitter has really taken off. We imagine that many, many more of you readers are now on Twitter than there were a year ago, so if you’re there, you can follow us! Our account is not the type that will overwhelm you, but instead we’ll just occasionally post updates about the girls that are a bit off-the-beaten-path. Our name is, simply put, @daraja. We’ve created some amazing relationships through Twitter, most recently a connection with Rocky Turner, aka @headmutha. Rocky runs Mothers Fighting For Others, an excellent organization that is (to quote their mission statement) “dedicated to providing orphans and vulnerable children with opportunities their parents would have provided, if they only could; a loving and nurturing environment and a quality education, so they can learn, thrive and achieve their highest potential.” Today we here in the States noticed that Rocky had posted this tweet about a phone conversation with Jason:
And now we’re siked to know that we have another enthusiastic visitor heading to campus. What a cool way to connect with people, and we hope to also end up connecting with you there too.
Check us out as our presence on the internet continues to spread. Thanks, as always, for keeping an open ear and an open heart to all of the updates from Daraja.
It is close to 7pm, that time when the campus glows a warm and golden, after the sun has dropped over the western horizon and I am totally unaccustomed to the quiet.
Generally, the students would be scattered across campus, trailing into the classroom block or the library, from their dormitory, tdhe dining hall or points beyond. Study hall runs from 7pm to 9pm every night except Saturday, and just before it begins girls can be heard laughing and singing and chattering, packing the noise they will be unable to make during study hall, into these last minutes of daylight. But this evening only a quiet breeze in the acacias disturbs the silence… the girls have gone home for their end of term break.
The last six school days at Daraja Academy were totally dedicated to finals, and the tests were attacked with campus-wide team effort. Similar to many African nations, a Kenyan secondary school student’s entire four years of high school are judged by how well they do on a cumulative national examination (in Kenya, the K.C.S.E. exams). In the United States that would mean taking a series of HUGE subject specific tests on information the student learned AND retained over all four years of high school.
Knowing this, one of my objectives as a principal is to make these young ladies as comfortable as possible in a test setting. Daraja’s students are smart and driven, they will have learned the information, but stories abound of teenagers freezing when the go to take the K.C.S.E. It’s not melodramatic to say that for many students their future life hangs in the balance of their tests results.
Over the course of almost two weeks Daraja Academy was hitting top speed in the evenings as opposed to revving down by that point. Teachers, administrators and volunteers all fell into roles assisting the process. Long term volunteers Andy and Kayla were great, overseeing study hall as a whole, making sure that the girls were in the right spots and had all the materials they needed (paper, books, flashcards etc.) Peter and Carolyn Gilbert, a father daughter team from Vermont, passed through campus for a few days and helped with the studying as well.
One of my closest and oldest friends from the U.S., Anthony Van Moppes and his girlfriend Kelly Chang – both teachers by the way, English and Math – dove in head first prepping the students. At one point I walking into a math study session that Kelly was leading and was shocked to hear the students belting out a song about integers to the tune of “Row, row, row your boat…” Anthony, a natural English teacher truly showed his mettle by preparing our girls for, of all things, PHYSICS! Though on his summer vacation he spent hours learning, creating questions and preparing the girls for an examination they were fearing, and it worked!
When the last of the finals were scored and term grades were tabulated, I was genuinely blown away by the results. I’d been preparing for the Term II grades, expecting to see a significant slide compared to the grades from Term I for two reasons. First, the students were so amazed and grateful to be attending secondary school at all during Term I that they produced like 26 mad scientists, working and studying at all hours of the day. I expected them to slide into a more relaxed pace as they became more comfortable within the Daraja Academy environs. Secondly, Term II was nearly 3 times as long as Term I. The Kenyan curriculum is much more demanding than the public schools I have taught at in California, with 3 times the material, I was truly nervous about how our students would balance the information and perform. I expected grades to fall, by an entire grade point for some of the girls without an already strong academic foundation. I would have been overjoyed to witness students whose averaged grades slipped by only 1/3rd (A- to B+). Considering the rigor and amount of information they were required to have mastered any student who maintained their letter grade (B to B) would have made incredible strides in my mind.
I should not have been nervous. Only one Daraja Academy student slipped more than 1/3rd of a letter grade between Term I and Term II and that was only a slide from A- to B. Eight students matched the A they’d received during the shortened 1st term with another in Term II – mind you that would be like getting a 4.0 in the USA, but doing so while taking 12 subjects. In case you are curious: English, Swahili, Geography, Math, Business Studies, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Music, Religious Studies, History and Government, and P.E – as a Freshman.
Eleven of our students maintained the same letter grade or only slipped by a few percentage points, which earlier I would not have thought possible considering the reasons listed above. AMAZINGLY, five of our girls: Relina, Christine, Lillian, Esthere and Florence, improved by at least 1/3rd of a letter grade – with Florence making the biggest leap, B to A-! It has always been very important to creators of Daraja Academy, that the student body be a cross-cut of the country and resemble the population and its tribal and religious make up as best as is possible, it is interesting to note that those girls who improved… are a cross-cut of Daraja’s cross-cut. One is from the urban slum of Kibera; another is from a pastoralist, Maasai family from the rural countryside. They are five girls, from five tribes and five distant locations of the country, but Daraja Academy is working for ALL of them.
We knew these young ladies had strength inside of them, it is part of the reason why they were admitted to Daraja Academy, it is their resolve that amazes me. Everyday they wake and decide that they will improve themselves and be better when the climb in bed that night, and then they do it. It is incredible and it is inspiring, personally I cannot believe that I get to be a part of it.
World, thank you for believing in these girls, this school and our dream.
Ladies and Gentlemen, allow us to introduce you to Will Laughlin.
If Will looks a bit tired here, it’s because he has every right to be tired. Will ran the Wild West Relay from August 6-8, a 200 mile race that winds through Colorado. And although the race is a “relay,” Will, or “UltraWill” as he has been rightfully nicknamed, ran the entire relay ALONE.
He didn’t stop. He didn’t really take time to sleep. He instead “sleep-walked” through the nights for a few hour stretches, and persevered to accomplish this astounding physical feat.
It is hard to quantify in words how remarkable of an accomplishment this is. He ran for 59 hours straight, through 2 nights. And to top it off, Will did the whole thing to help raise awareness and funds for Daraja and our girls. He created a website, designed t-shirts which can be purchased here (with 75% of proceeds going directly to the school), and has gotten excellent news coverage recently, with a story in the Steamboat Pilot and a television interview on Colorado’s 9News.
To quote the Steamboat Pilot article,
“All these things start with a little ‘wouldn’t that be great if,’” Laughlin said, admitting he was on the brink of passing out. “This was the hardest race I’ve ever had mentally. But in this you learn to be in the present, which is always good in life.”
Please click through all of the above links to learn more about Will’s remarkable race. The more you read, the more impressed you will be.
Will’s current plan is to keep on running. His ultimate goal is to run across the country of Kenya, and stop by campus along the way. As such, you’ll be hearing much more about Will and his training from this blog.
Congratulations Will, and a most sincere “Thank You” from all of us at Daraja. This school started as a dream, and it has taken the blood, sweat, and tears of countless volunteers to turn this school into a functioning institution, one that is changing the lives of Kenyan girls. We are honored to have you contribute your own sweat, 200 miles worth of it, to Daraja’s cause.
So what are the rest of us waiting for? Go get a t-shirt, get off the couch, and go for a run!
Gratitude does not even come close to describing the emotions that have coursed through me during the past few weeks. After a tiring, but extremely fruitful 2 months in the US, building new and nurturing old relationships, raising awareness for the school and funds for it operations… I AM HOME!!! Back in Africa, back at Daraja Academy.
I am home and last week, while sitting in the back of physics class, observing Mr. Charles weave his magical web of scientific information, it struck me… I am literally the luckiest man alive. I am “that guy”, who got to watch his dream of dreams come true.
There I was sitting behind 26 girls in beautiful, blue and gray uniforms, being asked questions by a talented instructor and ALL had their hands high, reciting the eager, “… teacher me. Teacher, teacher me,” that only pupils who’d mastered the material would dare murmur… IT HAD WORKED!
We did it. The dream is a reality and incredibly this dream has 26 amazing young ladies, who’d otherwise have been forgotten dancing through it. And, should all fund raising efforts go as planned, if supporters continue to appear and join the growing family of believers and workers, we too will grow. If watchers become joiners, in January of 2010 we will dive deeper into Kenya and find the next 25 Daraja Academy students.
Thank you World for believing in Daraja Academy. What would it take for you to become active? What would it take for you to help the dream real for the next group of girls?
PS – Due to a flux in volunteers and one giant effort getting our students and staff through finals, there has been a lull on the Daraja Academy Blog. I assure you the lull is over. We are back to full steam and ready to bounce down the happy road that is Daraja.
Hopefully, this will be the last blog I post from the US. I board a plane on Sunday July 13th and after stops in Holland and the UAE arrive in Kenya on Wednesday.
I love being in California. I am so grateful I was able to be stateside to help my parents who are both overcoming some pretty serious physical injury/illnesses. But, I miss Daraja Academy. If home is where the heart is, I have been away from home for FAR too long. I miss the smell of smoke in the crisp, dawn air as the mommas in the Turkana village behind my house start their cook-fires. I miss hearing baboons in the middle of the night “woooofff” a each other high in their tree by the river. I miss my wife, I miss the students… I miss Daraja Academy.
From Vallejo to a Kenyan Bush school, Kayla Lozier is a remarkable young woman. That was clear 3 years ago when I taught her in Honors World History, when she became Hogan High School’s student body president, when she set a goal of visiting Daraja after she graduated and began opening the Benicia Gym at 4am every morning (on school days!) in order to earn the money to do it.
Though they were written about a week ago I only received her 1st two blog posts today, I hope you enjoy. World, meet Kayla…
June 27, 2009
Today is my first official day at Daraja Academy. Its only noon but I can tell you already that I’m going to love it here.
I didn’t sleep last night. For a few reasons, I think:
1. Jetlag and the time difference.
2. I was out of my mind excited to meet the girls when I woke up in the morning.
3. Once I lay down in bed I got smacked in the face with the realization that I’m on the other side of the world, without my family or the love of my life and that this place will be my home for the next five months…without them. Then I got over myself and stopped being such a boob my first night here.
And 4. Daraja Academy wins the gold medal for sporting the most wretched pillow in existence…. Just a tip, if you plan to visit Daraja for any amount of time, be sure to bring your favorite pillow from home. You’ll regret leaving it. So, since I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t stand just laying in bed any longer, at 5AM I got up and went for a self-tour/hike around Upper Campus. It was beautiful!
Watching the sunrise over Mt. Kenya and the view of Rift Valley was amazing. I saw amazingly beautiful plants, and some scary ones. I met a jackrabbit that let me get surprisingly close and gorgeous birds. It was an incredible morning.
When the sun was fully up (around 6:30) I headed back to my house and got ready for the day. I arrived at Jenni’s house for breakfast (planned for 9AM) at 7. By breakfast time I taught a little girl puppy with no manners named Rasta, how to sit on command.
Andy and Olivia, two other volunteers currently at Daraja Academy joined us for breakfast and we talked about the students. Andy took me on a real tour of campus. I saw the dead body of a mongoose, had a close encounter with a bull I thought was the cow, met the cow I had actually been looking for, met the sheep, goats and chickens who have free reign of the campus along with the four dogs, bull and cow. I got introduced to the sculls of various animals, including elephant, water buffalo, and antelope.
Finally I met the girls. Right away you could tell that they are fun, happy people. They were very friendly. They danced and sang and showed me their rooms.
At this moment there are toucan looking bird (I learned is a hornbill) was pecking at my window. This place is a miracle. I am so proud to know that such wonderful girls get to live here, and excited that I get to share some it with them. One hell of a half-first day.
Let me start out by saying how amazing these girls are. Yesterday morning I went down to lower campus a little bit before breakfast so I could see the girls. When I got to the dorms, half the girls were scrubbing the floors (OMG! First thing in the morning?!) and the others were in their common room…. doing homework and studying! Again, “First thing in the morning?!!”. If that doesn’t show how badly these girls want to be here I’m not sure much else will. I was very excited that some of them felt comfortable enough to ask me for help. I’m still trying very hard to learn names. Lillian, who has been helping me with my Kiswahli, taught me the basics of reading music.
Yesterday was Sunday, so the girls held church services. I went to one, and let me tell you, it was amazing! The services are student-led and the girls are so extremely excited for God. These girls, who are shy and quiet, were dancing and singing loudly and just having a good time. They shared scripture with each other and their own interpretation of its meaning. For the whole two hours I was there I couldn’t stop smiling and at points had to hold back tears. I hope Daraja is like this all the time, because this weekend has set some pretty high standards.