I am fourteen years old. I grew up in Kenya in a village where many girls try hard to make a better life for themselves. When I was five years old, my family moved to an urban area where I met different children and people. My life changed greatly when my parents passed away…
My life continued with no hope of going to school. Knowing this, I continued to appreciate myself despite knowing that I have no parents of my own. Time went by, I admired other girls going to school and coming back carrying their books and I wished I were like them. Two years later, I gained courage and I told my guardians that I was meant to go to school. Three years passed since I started nursery school. What a hard life that was! I kept on coping with my situation believing that one day I will make life better than this. Obstacles succumbed; sometimes I was harassed by many that I was a poor child, that I didn’t deserve anything in life. I was not alone being an orphan. Other girls in our villages who were the same as me ended up working as maids before ever being able to achieve their dreams and goals. Life was a struggle. Going to a public school, teachers were often sending me home to bring the school fees. Failing to get them, I ended up staying home. It was an unimaginable and unbelievable hardship that I will always remember.
The most devastating thing was that I was being mistreated by my guardian. I would wake up at dawn to work on the garden before going to school. I walked about twenty kilometers (12 miles) barefoot to school and sometimes went without food. I was only barely surviving, being emaciated for lack of food.
Five years went by and I was in standard five. Life got more difficult because sometimes my guardians would abuse me saying I needed to marry a rich man near our home, but the words hurt me very much. I prayed god to give me strength to face this. Making a decision was not an easy thing, and I struggled very much. I tried to figure out the right way to get through it. I ran away from home to my friend’s home far away; I left school for about five months. They searched for me, but they found it was all in vain. Afterwards, I came back hoping that their minds and the decision had changed. I went to school again but my teacher sent me back to bring my parents to come and explain why I had run away from home and school.
As an orphan, my thoughts of lacking parental care flooded my innocent mind vividly. Life continued being hard, but I did not give up. Years went by and I was in class eight in 2007. I did my first exam of Kenya Certificate of Primary School (K.C.P.E.). After a few months, the results were out and I was as eager as a bride and groom to see the results.
Looking at it, my happiness overwhelmed me. I had passed very well getting 356 and it was an unbelievable thing. With a mean grade of B+, I started forgetting the problems that I was going through. Changing their minds, my guardians promised me that I would join Alliance Girls High School in Nairobi.
A promised debt I told my guardians, but things turned very bad again. My guardians began pouring abusive words, claiming that I was not their child and they were not supposed to pay the school fees. Being of less fortune, I stayed home the entire year (2008) without going to school. Remaining at home was not an easy thing for me, but I coped with the situation because I had no other alternative. My cries fled on defeat and no one heard my cries. I lacked the freedom of expression because I was never allowed to say anything.
The following year (2009), I went back to school to repeat the same year. What a hard experience! But my instincts were telling me that fortune was ahead of me. I worked very hard and I finally sat for my second KCPE exam. A few months went by and the results were announced and I had passed. The results this time were not as pleasing, but I understood the cause of it. By this time, my guardians were still saying that it was time to get married by the same rich man. It was not pleasing at all.
In the beginning of 2010, I stayed home, planning to run away again to escape my innocent life from the brutality. By good luck, I heard on the radio that there is a school that supports orphans. My heart pumped very hard. The manager of World Vision in our village approached me and told me I was supposed to go for an interview.
Now here at Daraja is where my life has changed. I have hope for an education. It has influenced my life and it will continue until I complete my studies. What will my life be like after ten years? I hope to have a precious and prosperous life. I look forward to when this dream becomes a reality. My fear is not that I am inadequate, but that I am powerful beyond measure.
I will live to be remembered.
My name is Lisayo and I live in Ng’areng’iro village near Ol Pajeta ranch. We have a big family of six members. My father passed away eight years ago. I have two brothers and two sisters. We live in a horrible house with my family. My elder sister’s name is Jane. She is an intelligent girl. After finishing her primary education she wanted to go for higher education, but due to the poverty of our family she had to drop that idea. Then she decided to take a job so that she could help our mother maintain the family. She started to look for a job in a nearby town. She spent days looking for a job, but she could not find any. My mum gave her pieces of advice to look for a job in another town, which was about eight kilometers from our home. Everyday she used to go on foot early in the morning and return late in the evening. Thus, she spent more than three months looking for a job. Unfortunately she was not lucky enough to get one.
One day while I was returning home from school, I sat under a tree to rest and I started thinking in my mind, “what bad luck?” For the past three months my sister had been looking for a job, but she had not succeeded. Really I felt pity for my sister who had to struggle so hard at this age to maintain the family. Oh God! Please help my sister in getting a job. The tears of despondency ran down my tomato cheeks and drew an odd number eleven. But tears and crying is not the medicine. After resting for ten minutes I rose up and I walked toward our home. I was walking slowly because I was very hungry that day. It was the second day for me and my family staying without food. In fact, it took me one and a half hours to walk from school, but usually it was 30 minutes.
After arriving home, I found my sister sitting outside our house. I walked slowly toward her. She hugged me and we went straight to our house. We sat on the round wood that was our seat and some baskets that I was collecting from the garbage. Our bed was made with sticks and on it was some grass and skin to make it like a mattress. During the month of July we were suffering because we didn’t have blankets to warm ourselves at night. This was my worst month with my family. During those cold nights we used fire to warm ourselves.
I was provided with a school uniform from class one to class eight by the people of my village. My mum was struggling hard to educate me and provide all the materials required at school. Sometimes I stayed at home for one month because we couldn’t pay the fees. After doing my national exam my mum was not able to take me to high school because of lack of money. I was very disappointed, but I remembered with faith all things are possible. I woke up everyday early in the morning to pray for a way to get to secondary school.
One day I was just sitting outside our house and I saw a man coming toward me when he arrived he gave me an envelope. On the top was written “Daraja Academy”. He told me to open it and I did. After opening it, the man helped me fill out the gaps. I returned the envelope to him. On Tuesday I was given an interview. The people came to interview me and they told me I would wait to hear the report on 15th February. On Monday, Miss Jenni called me. She told me I am admitted to Daraja Academy. I was very happy and I thankful for this blessing.
Today at Daraja Academy
Lisayo is famous on campus for exceptional athletic abilities. Her excellence in athletics, along with support from her peers, has brought out a latent inner confidence. Lisayo has learned to strive in high-pressure national competitions. “I was nervous, very nervous,” she said recently about her 400-meter hurdle race in early April [pictured below]. “But I thought, I can be just as good as anyone here.” Lisayo not only blew by the competition, but advanced to the next level.
A once painfully shy girl, Lisayo has learned to come into her own “A challenge for me used to be speaking in public, but at Daraja we are encouraged to be confident women. I was able to overcome that challenge, and maybe I’ll continue to overcome any new challenge that I am confronted with.”
I was born in a village called Loruko. I am the last born in a family of nine. Five brothers and four sisters. My father is old, but my mum has some strength. They brought me up by facing some difficulties. Although they were not rich, they tried their best to bring me up. Both my brothers and sisters have not joined high school because of lack of money. My two brothers have only reached primary and have come back to stay at home. They are older than me and they have wife and children. But they don’t have good jobs because in order to get good jobs you have to be educated.
I was unable to join school because my family’s earnings were only enough for daily meals. But when I was six years old I joined Ol-Girgiri Primary School because the education was free. My life went on as my parents struggled to provide me with food and clothes. Sometimes I went to school without uniform, books, and pens. The teachers sent me back home, I found no one, I went back to school, and they sent me back again and at the end of it all they understood and managed to buy some books and pens for me.
Sometimes at home we didn’t have anything to eat and so that made me be absent in school. But besides lacking breakfast, food, or clothes, my life was still going on. Walking half kilometer to school was my normal routine. Because I used to walk half a kilometer to school, sometimes I was late. My teachers sent me back home to call my parents and whenever my mum came to school she told them my problem and my teachers became more understanding.
My teachers advised me on how to cope with life. That’s when I started working hard in my education. I struggled to compete with boys and girls. I had the words in my mind “God help those who help themselves and others” and “in order to succeed you have to struggle”. I started attaining good grades in school and my parents were as happy as a sandy boy as he bathed in the chilly water.
Whenever I see my parents working I would cry to my Lord to help me because I know with my education I could help my parents from being poor. I was then having a verse in the bible which says, “Nitainua macho yangu juu miimani, msada wangu watoka wapo, msaada wangu watoka kwa bwana” This verse helped me very much to cope with life.
By eighth grade, I was still doing well in my education. My mum tried her best to take me for tuition (a tutoring program) in other schools. I was also participating in sports and athletics, which made me famous in school. I started joining the school teams and I went up to the district level in working race and netball. That made my teachers and schoolmates love me. I finished my eighth grade year in 2009.
Life out of school was not as good as life in school. Sometimes I was bored sitting at home alone doing nothing because all my best friends were out visiting their relatives. Yet, I tried to keep myself busy by reading the Bible. Soon, our grade was announced. I was anxious waiting for my grade.
I found out that I was the top girl in the school and top three in the district.
I felt as happy as a king and my parents were very happy and excited.
I learned that Daraja was helping the poor, I then wrote my application and sent it to Daraja Academy. After two weeks I was called for an interview. I found a loving Dad and Mum: Mr. D and Miss Jenny. They showed me a lot of love and they told me that I was amongst the twenty-six girls. Truly I was very happy. I was not even able to express my feelings.
I then joined Daraja Academy of Kenya, which means bridge and we are Daraja. I found a loving, wonderful family, which cares for people.
For now my mum is still at home with no work to do and also my father is too old to work. My mum is the one to look for food and she struggles every day to get something to eat. She goes to the shambas (farms) to look for a job and if the works is not available she just stays at home. I always have pity for my family. Sometimes it makes it hard to concentrate in class whenever I remember them. I cry and tears of pain come out of my eyes. But with God anything is possible. Daraja makes me so happy so that all the thoughts about my family’s hardships are gone.
Now that I am educated I think and feel that I will help my family and the needy. I will make sure ten percent of my earnings will be for the poor.
Truly Kenya is a very big and beautiful country in the world. Many people from foreign countries come to Kenya because of our beautiful wildlife and landscape. Despite the fact that Kenya is a very wonderful country, life is not that easy.
You can’t simply walk up and down to have a bright future in your life. You really have to work hard either in your academic study, talents, or others.
In Kenya, the richest people are considered to be of high class. The poor are looked down upon by the rich. If you are poor, you are considered a useless person. Everybody in Kenya is really striving to be as hardworking as ants. The level of education is very high. Today for you to get a good job you have to get good grades. Life is not easy. You may even encounter some problems like robbery, rape, prostitution, drug abuse, among many others. Sometimes there is no political stability in Kenya. This brings conflict between the different ethnic groups. Some families are displaced from their homes and even others are killed.
I am Brenda and from a family of 4. I am 15 years old. Before I joined high school I encountered many problems. I would wake up very early in the morning and walk many miles to school. I would come across dangerous animals e.g. elephants, lions, and many others. But all this did not hinder me from going to school and performing well. Although my background was not from a rich family, I was never left wanting anything. I really worked very hard in my studies knowing that hard work never goes unrewarded. After I was through with my final examination of primary education, I got very good grades which qualified me to join a very good high school. I was so happy and my mother was very proud of me. I had a very fantastic holiday that year. My mother tried by all means to make sure that we had food, shelter, and clothing. She is a woman of integrity, strength and hope.
The date to join secondary school finally arrived. I was stressed because my mother could not afford to pay my school frees. I would cry all day, but my mother always comforted me, telling me to never lose hope because God had good plans for me. I was surprised to see my fellow colleagues go to school.
One day when I had gone to a nearby market to get some vegetables, I heard some women discussing that there was an interview taking place at a school called Daraja Academy and it would offer a free scholarship for four years. I was so happy and went to inform my mother of the good news. On hearing the good news she became as happy as a lark. The next day I woke up very early and I went for the interview. When I reached Daraja I was surprised to see Americans for the first time in my life. They were very happy and gave me a warm welcome. I just felt at home. I did the interview and a few days later, they gave me an envelope. I was so surprised when I started opening it to see what was there. Wow! I just saw a big letter written: “Welcome to Daraja”. Tears of joy ran down my cheeks and thanked God that I was among the lucky twenty-six girls to join Daraja.
I could not wait to join Daraja. My mother was so happy that I got a school that would not cost any more money for her. I really thanked Mr. and Mrs. Doherty and other volunteers for being so kind and merciful to a Kenyan girl.
Life at Daraja is very cool. We are all treated with dignity, respect, and love. Through Daraja and our hard work, we shall have a bright future by achieving our goals.
My heart is pounding against my little chest as I remember my past. It has been three years now since my sweetheart mom left my siblings and me. It seemed hard to live my life without her.
I was afraid that I would not go further in my studies since my older sister was far from us. There was nobody’s shoulder to cry on during that hard period. To me it was unusual to live without even a single parent. On the other hand I felt discouraged when I heard some of my friends discussing how their parents are and how they bring stuff whenever they go for a picnic or an outing. It was hard for me to reserve the pain and the problems I encountered. I stayed by myself and encouraged myself to face things no matter what they were.
I woke up early in the morning and prepared myself and my little brother for school. We would sometimes go without taking our breakfast whenever it was not there. Since we attended a public school, everyone was supposed to bring his/her lunch. The lunch hour we stayed hungry in the sun watching other pupils as they swallowed their food and drinks. The only thing we had was a bottle of water. We would drink and proceed to class.
The amazing thing was that in class I was ever attentive while other pupils dozed due to their fullness. In the evening, when the classes were over I would rush home to do the chores. I would always finish the chores so late in the night that sometimes I would not do my homework. I believe in God and prayed hard to relieve my burden. After a few months I started performing well in my studies. This also happened to my brother as well. The other pupils now started realizing that although we were orphans, we could make it. We made friends and the loneliness tended to disappear. My teachers encouraged me to be even more hardworking than I was. After a few weeks I recognized that I was not alone. Not only with my friends, but many people wanted to be associated with me.
Once I did not attend school for about three days due to more work that I had to do at home. When I went to school one of the teachers who was a young lady called me aside and asked me what had happened to me and why did I not attend to school. Since I was unfamiliar with talking to older people, I did not utter any word to her. She was so worried that it may be a bad thing that had happened to me since I did not respond. She did not stop approaching me until one day she told me about her story and how she lived. I found that she had passed difficulties even worse than mine. The worst thing is that her mom and father had passed away when she was in high school and she had to drop out of school due to lack of money and also her brother dropped out of university due to the same problem. She stayed home for about two years when a good Samaritan came to her and she was taken back to school and that’s when she was able to achieve her goals of being a teacher as well as a counselor. The important thing I learned from her is that everybody has problem and has to pass through so many. And also she inspired me to work hard so as to achieve my goals.
I now do not care about my past, but I am eager to see a future life. I work hard to achieve this in God and for Daraja I believe that I will do so.
Lilian lived most of her life in Thika. When she was 10, her mother passed away of a “headache” which may have referred to meningitis. Five years later, her father was killed in a hit-and-run accident. With both parents deceased, she moved to her grandmother’s shamba (a small subsistence farm) about 5 miles from Nanyuki. Last December, her older brother, who had been living in Nairobi, passed away of “pneumonia” – likely AIDS. Lilian has had to face many incredible challenges in her short life. Somehow she manages to keep a smile on her face. She has managed to turn her circumstances into a positive as she counsels others. For many students, Lilian is the first person they go to when they are struggling or sad. She is a wonderful example of a young woman of hope. Below is a sample of her beautiful writing:
As a child growing up, I always believed that I have a gift of writing but didn’t have an idea of what to write about. Today one of the most interesting things I love doing in my leisure time is writing my life history. I give out what is with within me because it is of help not only to me but to all.
“I once was in the midst of darkness when life tried to challenge my heart and mind. Goals seemed to be unachievable and though I was a failure, I embraced everything and empowered myself with trust, then went ahead and put on a spare tire of strong determination, added oil of perseverance, and changed my heart with positive network. Through the struggle I was able to learn that everything was and is achievable if we have passion and energy towards it.”
“True ladies never give up but accept the reality. The best part of experience is the ride itself. They accept disappointments, rejections and even failures and continue with the journey without turning back, because they know the only barrier that can hinder them or make them losers are they themselves.”
“My name is Lilian Wanjini Nduhiu and we are only two in the family. My younger brother and I. Am a lady who was born with great ambition and a gift of love and trust. Part of my life is of giving what I know to others. Ability I have to make my future bright and full of happiness. Choices I have towards tomorrow. Am what I am today to make tomorrow great. I stand with what I know to do what I don’t know. Am a woman of integrity, strength and hope. I accept the realities and never give up. Also setting goals and dreams because everything worthwhile in life starts with a dream. I love helping and giving love to the rejected, giving them bundle of hugs and should to cry on. We are all equal and need great love. The purpose of this life is to be useful. Action springs not from thoughts but from readiness for responsibility.”