Daraja Blog

 

Turning Sisterhood into Action

As Daraja girls learn skills to prepare for the KCSE exams, and prepare them for a university education, they are also empowered to seek change in their communities and in their world. As the second term came to a close, Daraja Academy opened it classrooms to partner with the women of G.R.O.O.T.S (Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood). The members of the Peace Club and the GROOTS club on campus gathered to begin a discussion on creating positive change in their local communities. With the three-week fall break just around the corner, students volunteered to stand up and discuss what plans they had to work with their community, based on skills they had learned from GROOTS seminars.

Each girl touched on problems in their communities with a desire to change; they spoke about ADSC_0311nti-FGM  campaigns, solutions to early marriages and youth pregnancy, all with the real passion to make change in their communities. The GROOTS women recognized the Daraja students for their passion, but pushed the students to think more in-depth about the exact organizations to target to make real change. The students were asked to think strategically, considering stakeholders in their communities, and ways to address community organizations. As each girl brainstormed different techniques, speaker Fridah empowered the girls saying, “When we do something collectively, we have a bigger voice.”

Though these seminars are casual in nature, the lessons learned are not. The students are given a sounding board to work on practical problem solving by empowered women of GROOTS. One of the women on the panel, Rebecca, is a student at university and has been sponsored by the GROOTS organization in her dream of higher education. When speaking with the girls Rebecca spoke about the ‘bottom up’ strategy for creating change, which starts with local action, and works up to global action. They left the girls with strong inspiration and the notion that, “The idea you have today can change you, your community and you leadership skills.”

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Amazing Maasai Marathon: Daraja Runs for a Cause

DSC_0264 (1)On a brisk Saturday morning, while most of us are asleep, nine of Daraja Academy’s student athletes whizz by a finish line, proud to have completed a 21-kilometer race. These Daraja students traveled two hours to Kimanjo to run in the annual Amazing Maasai Marathon. As they awoke at 5am, ready to begin this journey, they were motivated to do more than just run; they were running alongside supporters of girls’ education. Community members, families and spectators cheered on every athlete, with festive music and pop-up shops, the celebration of girls empowerment was felt by every person in attendance.

The Amazing Maasai Marathon started in 2010 when “Ultra-Marathoners” Sarah and Molly teamed up with the local community in Laikipia to create an endurance race for a cause. Soon after the founding of the race, Sarah and Molly created the Amazing Maasai Girls Project (AMGP) to give empowerment to Maasai women through the means of education. With all proceeds raised at the Amazing Maasai Marathon going directly to girl’s education, AMGP is happy to report that, “after an in-depth selection process, a total of 38 girls have been awarded four-year scholarships to one of 3 high schools in the local area to the race, with more to start in 2015” (Amazing Maasai Marathon).

This is certainly a cause the Daraja girls can get behind, and being that many of the girls supported by AMGP are from local areas around Laikipia, Daraja Academy is proud to stand with AMGP in their work to bring awareness. Not only are we proud to stand with them, we’re proud to give them a little friendly competition as well! Becky, form 4, came in third place for the women’s half-marathon! She was called up and recognized by the Amazing Maasai Marathon and when asked about next year she said, “I want to get second place!”

We are thankful for events like this, which bring communities together, give a voice to change, and promote women working and learning together.

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Transition Student Irene Meets President Obama

Dear Daraja Family,

I grew up in a place called Muramati, near Nanyuki, where very few people were educated since not many people in our area believe in the power of education and especially a girl’s education. A girl’s education was not valued. Traditions dictated kitchen as the women’s place. My parents, Mr. & Mrs. Mwangi, are casual laborers and struggled to educate me. They could not get any support from the community. They were viewed as fools for taking me to school and using their resources to buy books and uniforms instead of buying land and expanding their homestead. My parents supported me with the little they had. In return, I worked very hard during my four-year scholarship at Daraja.

I am proud to be the first girl in our family, and among a few girls in our entire country, to meet the first Kenyan-American president, Barack Obama, who is also the first sitting US President to visit Kenya.

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Ken Wakiako, who works at the US Embassy, visited Daraja early this year. I gave Ken a campus tour and explained why Daraja is my home. Ken was impressed, and when the time came to invite people to meet President Obama, Ken remembered me. I was excited and shocked.

When I arrived at Kenyatta University for the event, I was grateful to meet and speak with several leaders and community members about Daraja, including the US Ambassador to Kenya, Robert Godec. I was excited to meet with the President! He was very friendly, interactive, and eloquent. I thought he would only give a speech and leave. I was impressed that his main aim was to listen to the great people in our country, to learn from them, and then give his remarks. He was also very humble and patient, something that moved the hearts of many.

Our meeting with President Obama was interactive. A few people were given chance to explain what they do as members of civil society. If I were given a chance to ask a question, I would have asked the President to explain his government’s plan to support the existing girl’s education organizations in order to send more girls to school.

My meeting with the President is a historic event not only in our country, Kenya, but also in my life. I will explain to my children my achievements and how excited I was to meet with the President Obama and other great people in our country. My grandparents never thought the President of the United States would one day be of Kenyan descent. I will get to share this experience for generations to come.

Sincerely,

Irene Wachera

Daraja Academy Transition Student

Missed President Obama’s meeting with Kenyan Civil Society? You can watch the entire meeting here.

Mobile Technology Development Program Expands at Daraja

They came bearing gifts

chrisgarciamobiletech23 years ago, Chris Garcia took his first steps on Kenyan soil with a group of teachers and students from University of San Diego with a huge surprise for Daraja’s teachers and Form 1 class—iPods for every teacher and iPads for every freshman girl.

Next week, Chris is returning to Kenya for the next round of development with the now 3-year-old Kenya Mobile Technology project. “The type of professional development was limited to show teachers and students how to use the iPads and iPod touches in the most basic form without wifi,” said Chris in his appeal to friends, family and professional connections to help financially support his return to Daraja.

Until only recently, campus electricity only ran from 7p-10p from a cranky, 20 year old diesel generator. This meant no charging laptops, phones, cameras, and the USD donated iPods and iPads meant to encourage and critically engage Daraja students in their classroom learning. “Now, the campus has wifi,” said Chris, “and the iPads and iPods need to have their operating systems updated, along with installing apps to enhance the education for Daraja Academy students.”

There’s an app for that: Introducing new applications to enhance classroom learning

Chris, a teacher at Chula Vista Elementary School District in Southern California, coordinated with fellow teachers and participants of the 2012 Mobile Technology Project by distributing an assessment soliciting advice. The assessment addressed how teachers based in the U.S. use technology to enhance classroom instruction, improve grading procedures, lesson planning, and acquiring materials to build a better digital platform for presenting high-quality photographs and images.

Chris used GoFundMe to raise enough funds to cover the return trip to Kenya. Engaging nearly 60 people, he raised an impressive $3,000 for the Project. “This was my first experience using GoFundMe, and it was a very simple set up through their website, and very easy to promote through social media and emailing the link to my contact list.”

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Have you always wanted to visit Daraja? Do you have a project you’d like to see implemented on campus? Email Ashley at info@daraja-academy.org to learn about our Guest Program, Internships, and easy tips and tricks for raising money to visit the school transforming leaders of today into world changers of tomorrow.

Every Drop Counts: Transition Students Host Anti-Pollution Campaign

Daraja Transition Students Win 53,000 Kenya Shillings for Anti-Pollution Campaign

IMG_0199In conjunction with Laikipia Wildlife Forum in Nanyuki, Daraja Academy Transition students created an anti-pollution river campaign grant proposal. Students assessed community needs and compiled research about where river pollution and water shortage was a major problem in communities surrounding Daraja’s campus.

In the transition schedule is a unit about community projects and proposal writing. Sammy of Laikipia Wildlife Forum facilitated this unit. The proposal was written to Laikipia Wildlife Forum as a recognized major stakeholder in the county’s environment and conservation. Said Carol Wanjiku, Transition Program Manager, “The proposal was accepted, passed, and we received a grant of 53,000 Kenya shilling for the campaign.”

Event Day!

OCTThe Anti-River Pollution campaign event took place June 27, 2015, attended by students from Naibor Primary and Secondary schools, Ol-Girgiri Primary school, Simama Project and local community members.

Daraja Transition students used performances and speeches to introduce “Every drop counts”, a phrase meant to encourage conservation and raise awareness to local residents about the dangers of pollution. Presentations covered a range of topics covering biodiversity loss associated with un-sustainable use of river Nanyuki.

Daraja Academy campus residents utilize river Nanyuki water for domestic use and for irrigating our small organic garden, supplementing food to our school.

Said Carol about the success of the grant proposal and campaign event, “It’s a great achievement and we are happy for this empowerment.”

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In order to continue the momentum of learning and growth, Daraja Academy created a fifth-year Transition Program immediately following completion of secondary school to help our students navigate the vulnerable required gap year imposed by the Kenyan government. For more information about the program, please email info@daraja-academy.org.

 

Thank You Woodside Priory!

For the last three weeks, Form 4 & Student Body President, Alice Naini, and Form 2, Abdia Osman, have been studying at Woodside Priory School in Portola Valley. The relationship between Daraja and Priory began back in 2008, when Priory held the very first Daraja fundraiser.

We would like to share with you a press release (below) from Priory and express our sincerest gratitude to Priory for inviting Alice and Abdia to the US and facilitating an experience of a lifetime.

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Photo by Sean Mclain Brown & Jim Kirkland

For Immediate Release 3/28/2015:

Kenyan Students from Daraja Academy Visit Woodside Priory School

Abdia, Class of 2015, and Alice, Class of 2017, seem like any other high school students; they like music, ice-cream, and dancing, but they are also from Kenya where electricity is unreliable, access to clean water is rare, political turmoil is rampant, and girls access to a quality education is severely limited.

“Everyone has been so friendly and helpful, we’ve made new friends that we hope to carry with us the rest of our lives,” said Abdia. Alice nodded in agreement and added, “At Daraja, we have four pillars that guide us, one of them is to embrace differences, this is true at the Priory as well, we felt so welcomed and embraced.” said Alice.

Abdia and Alice’s visit was the first of a partnership with the Daraja Academy (which means ‘Bridge’ in Swahili). Woodside Priory School began its relationship with Daraja in 2007, since then, students and faculty have fundraised for the school and led faculty and staff summer volunteer trips to Daraja Academy.

Priory science faculty and former Daraja Board member, Bob Bessin said, “The purpose of the visit is for cultural learning and exchange,” he continued, “This is an opportunity to expose Woodside Priory School students to similar aged student’s perspectives and insights from Kenya.” Mr. Bessin also said that the Daraja Academy “serves to educate and empower women who have no other means of support,” and that they also help “break the cycle of males getting preference to be educated.” 

Abdia and Alice’s visit wasn’t just to mingle, they were also panelists on a Cultural Forum Series at the Priory. At the forum, Abdia and Alice discussed stereotypes, cultural differences, and how people can open their hearts and minds to break down destructive barriers. As an example, Alice cited the fact that many of the Daraja girls come from different tribes that sometimes are hostile toward each other. Alice said, “At Daraja, we learn to listen and respect each other’s differences, and to leave every day better than we found it.” 

After traveling in Africa extensively as a child, and teaching in Tanzania for a year after graduating college, Daraja founder Jason Doherty realized his life’s purpose was in Africa. Wanting to do something about the lack of access to secondary school for East African girls, Bay Area natives Jason and his wife, Jenni (both educators) decided to move to Africa to start a school.

Daraja Academy provides a quality secondary education to exceptional Kenyan girls because we believe that educated girls can transcend poverty and change the world. For more information on the Daraja Academy, please visit http://daraja-academy.org/

Woodside Priory School is an independent, Catholic, college preparatory school in the Benedictine tradition. Our mission is to assist students of promise in becoming lifelong learners who will productively serve a world in need of their gifts.

KCSE Results – Class of 2014 Sets New Daraja Records!

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Look out World, there is a powerful storm brewing and its epicenter is at Daraja Academy. The results from the 2014 Kenyan Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) national exam are out and they cannot be ignored! Girls’ lives are changing as they grow to be powerful, intelligent leaders and girls’ education is changing right along with them.

IMG_9078As a whole, this last class of test takers set a new standard of excellence at the school. In Kenya, graduates who receive a score of around 60 or higher, a grade of B, are assisted to university by the Kenyan government, student with a C- or higher are given loans to attend 3 year college courses.

EVERY SINGLE STUDENT FROM THE CLASS OF 2014 RECEIVED A C- OR HIGHER, ALL WILL BE GOING TO UNIVERSITY OR COLLEGE!

This is a first at Daraja and a total game changer for girls who 4 years ago could not have gone to secondary school. If the Ministry of Education uses the same benchmark it did last year, 12 girls from this class will be attending universities across Kenya soon.

IMG_9422These are no longer just smart, lovable high school students; they are the nurses, teachers, paramedics and business owners of our future. They will follow their truths into the world of professional adults with a tool kit full of lessons learned during four years of WISH class and the Daraja Transition program. They have learned that they are not defined by the views of others, but by their own hard earned beliefs and ideals. Girls CAN BE good at math and science… kindness is not a weakness… each day you leave it better than you found it.

Please watch the short video below and remember two things. First, the genuine, frenzied reaction to the KCSE results is not that of the relieved recipients, but their proud “younger sisters.” Secondly, notice the different tribes and religions equally excited for their “older sisters” – those are young leaders who refuse to recognize the traditional divides of their predecessors… those are future change makers united by love and hope, those are the amazing girls of Daraja!

Thank you for equally believing in the dream,

Jason Doherty

Founder of Daraja Academy

 

Making Peace

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Sometimes things fall into our laps. They become ours without much work, effort or forethought. However, sometimes we see something that we desperately want and it takes a lot of energy and discussion before we can even dare to dream of that thing becoming ours.

For Daraja’s Form 4 students Rose R., Lilian T., Mary S. and Asuza… the thing that they wanted more than almost anything else was peace. Peace in their communities, peace in their homes and peace inside of themselves. The creation of Daraja Academy’s Peace Club was the first step in that process.

“For me, peace is everything,” Zulfa said.

Like Form 1 Zulfa, many of the club’s 18 members come from the Kenyan north, an area often riddled with tribal conflict. It is impossible to envision a peaceful tomorrow without a strong dose of hope. As the girls discuss their club, it is clear that its roots are planted firmly in the lessons learned during the school’s W.I.S.H. class, Women of Integrity, Strength and Hope.

“Peace is important at Daraja. Where I come from the Somali, Samburu and Turkana are fighting. But, when you come to Daraja we have Somalis, Samburu, and Turkana and we are all friends with each other,” explained Scholastica during a Peace Club meeting under one of Daraja’s old shade trees.

In a beautiful stroke of Daraja irony, founding member Rose began thinking seriously about a Daraja peace club while traveling home during one of the month-long term breaks – a trip that takes three days portal to portal.

After completing the first leg of her journey, Rose, a member of the Gabra tribe, called home to let her mother know that she would be staying the night in Marsabit with her classmate Shamsia’s family, who come from the Borana tribe.

Her mother was terrified that her daughter would be harmed by the host family. Always quick on her feet, Rose calmly asked, “Mom, would you harm a house guest just because they were from another tribe?”

Without a moments pause, Rose’s mother answered, “Of course I wouldn’t hurt a guest in our home.” To which Rose responded, “Good, they will not hurt me either. And Mom, one of my classmates will be staying with us for the night as she travels further North… and she is a Rendille.”

Regardless of whether they hail from the Somali, Samburu, Turkana, Gabra, Borana, Rendille or another of the tribes represented in Daraja Academy’s culturally rich student body, while on campus they are all young women growing in a unifying dream. The students of Daraja dream of a better, more peaceful tomorrow, free of hostility and fear.

Under the Tree

Under a tree, on top of a hill that over looks the Daraja Academy campus, a few members of the school’s administrative team met with a group of elders from the local community… 70 elders from the local community!

The meeting began with a traditional Maasai prayer as the clouds burned away from Mt. Kenya to the southeast. In customary call and response style, the local holy man chanted a sentence or two in rumbling, deep KiMaasai, to which the entire group answered, “Ngai” (God).

Mzee[1]As far as “community meetings” go, this one broke the mold. Absent were griping neighbors and unresolved issues, this gathering had one agenda married to a common goal: assisting Daraja Academy’s mission to educate Kenya’s young women. Some of the group had daughters or granddaughters who attend Daraja, many were interested in learning how their girls could join the school. But everyone wanted to see the school succeed.

People spoke about the differences they had seen in the village girls who attend the school. A stooped, white haired gentleman stood and addressed the group insisting that “Daraja should be left out of peoples mouths” when it came to political disagreements, specifically those concerning land rights. “Daraja is not with a Kenyan political party, it is with Kenya.”

While I’m in the US the most common question that people ask about Daraja is if we receive push back from the local community because we are educating girls. Currently, the only issue that the local community has with Daraja Academy is that we are too small and cannot educate enough girls!

There are 70+ Maasai and Turkana elders who understand the value of educating girls, who are willing to gather, discuss and plan ways to educate more – now, it is time for the rest of the world to follow their lead.

KCSE Results Are Cause for Celebration at Daraja!

As February rolls into March, tensions begin building in secondary schools across Kenya. Each morning principals, teachers and especially student restlessly check the news in anticipation of the K.C.S.E test results: the exam that defines each student’s high school performance and determines their ability to attend university.

Daraja Academy’s level of eagerness has been just as high and finally the results are in for the students who sat for the 2013 national examination. Though it is still early in the process and the Ministry of Education has not released what the grade cut-off will be for students to receive government assistance to attend university, right now things look good.

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What do we know?

We know that 20 of the 26 Daraja Academy exam sitters received a score which qualifies them to attend a four-year university.

We also know that at least 7 girls received scores high enough to earn them admission to four-year university on guranteed full government scholarship and another 4 may qualify for scholarship depending on where the cut-off falls this year.

These results are staggering when one considers that these young women did not have the means to attend secondary school four short years ago.

We also know that the girls who did not receive scores that will immediately allow them access university loans are neither gone nor are they forgotten. In fact, as I type this blog they are back on the Daraja Academy campus taking part in the school’s Transition Program.

The Transition Program provides graduates with the tools to be a successful in their next phases of life, whether that be in college, careers our as leaders of their communities. They are learning life skills, gaining practical experience during two-month internships and significant for many of the graduates, how to locate scholarships, loans, and other ways to further their educations.

No matter what tomorrow holds, these ladies are bright, hungry and capable of changing the world around them!

Jason Doherty

Founder of Daraja Academy