Daraja Blog

 

KCSE Results – Class of 2014 Sets New Daraja Records!

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She Believed She Could…So She Did!

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.

What Would You Do For Girls’ Education?

Seven years ago, my wife and I had a serious, life changing conversation that orbited around one key question: “how far were we willing to go for girls education?” We knew the data that was building up annually that showed that educated girls were true game changers… but, all of this means nothing without a little personal action.

We decided to up root our lives, leave our jobs and families, and open Daraja Academy.

Now it’s 2014 and Daraja has graduated two classes of students. 35 of those young ladies are on their way to college and university with government assistance and there are future graduates lined up on the runway. But it is still vital to ask ourselves, “what would I do for girls education.”

Alice Ng, the Daraja Education Fund fundraiser took that question to heart and gave an dizzying answer:

“I will climb El Capitan.”

Alice will begin her ascent of the 3,000 foot granite monolith on October 11th, the International Day of the Girl. For five to seven days Alice will eat, sleep and everything else while suspended above the Yosemite Valley floor, in order to bring attention to Daraja Academy and inspire people to ask themselves, “what would I do to help Daraja?”

This story gets better! A long time Daraja Academy donor and friend learned about the amazing climb and offered a challenge Daraja community – if we can raise $10,000 by the time Alice summits El Capitan, she will match it with another $10,000.

That goes a long way in Kenya.

We need your help to think of creative ways to raise funds and awareness for Daraja Academy so keep an eye out for our “What Would You Do For Girls Education” campaign. And in the meantime, please support Alice’s Climb For Daraja.

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.

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

Reflections on Student Selection

Daraja administrators have just completed Student Selection for our new Form 1 (first year) class.  Here Daraja founder, Jenni Doherty, gives a view into what Student Selection trips are like:

We have 2 more days to go on Student Selection and we are spending the night in Makindu (a small truck stop town on the Mombasa Highway). There are no hotels worth mentioning, but the Sikh temple has dormitories so we are staying there.

We’ve had incredible interviews that showcase a Daraja Girl to perfection. And then…there are interviews that change your life. There is a familiar pattern we get into when we do an interview. You sit in a circle around a table; we each have our pen at the ready to record poignant comments. Charles, our Head of School begins by introducing the Daraja Admin. He has the kindest and most smiley face. He tells the girls that we are writing down the things they say because we want to remember them, and not to worry. We are only writing good things. Then, he kindly asks the girl to introduce herself to us.

Many girls start with their names, age, parents names or names of their primary school. Some stand to attention while doing it, others are prompted to speak louder so that we can hear them. The first part of the interview is to ascertain their financial need, often asking questions about older siblings who had gone to school, occupation of the parents, and learning about some of their challenges regarding education. The second part of the interview is to see if they are a Daraja girl. We ask 4 basic questions.  In the past 3 weeks, we’ve talked a lot about how we would have answered them at their age and what we might answer now.

I could go on and on about our process, how we “grade” them, what we look for. But suffice it to say, we know a Daraja Girl when we meet her.

And we met a Daraja Girl today.

We have a policy that we don’t tell girls if they have been accepted to Daraja until we have finished the 3 weeks of interviews. We have broken our rule 4 times this year. And today marks number 5.

Her name is Mbinya (Bean-Yah). She comes from Makindu. Her mother and father passed away from AIDS in 2011, leaving her and 4 younger siblings orphans. They are sent to live with an Uncle, whose wife dies in the first year leaving behind a 1.5 year old child. The uncle finds work 25 miles away as a watchman who makes about $50/month. He no longer lives in the home. Mbinya is the Mom in the household. She is 16 and takes care of her 5 younger “siblings”.

I wasn’t sure about her upon first meeting her. She didn’t volunteer to go first in the interviews; she was actually the last. But she did look me in the eye when we shook hands. And when she went to introduce herself she spoke loudly and clearly, more so than any other girl in the past 3 weeks. After her introduction, we were all speechless. I’ve never been so lost for words. This girl was the Mom, the caretaker of her whole family. AND she got a 325 on her KCPE. That is SO high for the circumstances. When we went to do our 4 questions, she shut down. She wouldn’t answer at all. We stopped and asked Sara and Diane to leave the room. We breathed in deeply together, twice. We reiterated our instructions. And then she started talking.

Women should be educated because they have mercy and help other people. If she could change her area, she would bring in HIV testing centers, build a mortuary, bring ARVs to the hospitals, and make sure that zero percent die of HIV. She, at first, claimed she wasn’t a leader. When we prompted her about her home life she said, yes, she teaches her family about cleanliness, how to organize, how to live in a clean compound, and teaches the importance of education. We told her that was being a leader.

We asked her what she’d feed the children tonight, and she looked incredibly forlorn. She said, she’d go to her neighbors and ask for 1kg of Maize. For those of you who have been here, Maize is about the size of hominy and I swear you burn more calories chewing it! We asked what she ate for Christmas, and she said her uncle bought wheat flour so they could make chapati.

I wish I could pass to you the feeling from the interview. It is rare that at the end of one, we weep. And both Victoria, Daraja’s Principal, and I wept, we could barely pull ourselves together. We all hugged each other at the end of the interview just for comfort because we know what a scholarship like ours will mean to this amazing girl. We asked if she could take us home. One the way, we stopped for some basics–oil, beans, ugali flour, and wheat flour. She told us shyly that she cuts her neighbors’ bushes for firewood for cooking.

And we went to her home. At night the primary school’s watchman stops by to make sure they are okay. The community health worker stops in a few times per month. Words can’t describe the condition of the home they are “squatting” in.

But the best moment was when we were standing around, and Victoria said, “Mbinya, because you have been so amazing to your family, we want to give you a present. We want to give you a 4-year scholarship to Secondary school.”  The Community health worker bursts into tears, the social worker bursts into tears,  and Mbinya? She breaks into a smile that splits her face, just as her 2 youngest siblings run up to the house from school. It was one of the most poignant moments of my life.

The community has pledged to take on the family while we take Mbinya to school. It feels like a happy ending. And in a way, it is. But really, it is only just the beginning of a long road for Mbinya. I’m just so glad that Daraja gets to be her bridge to a better future. Mbinya is the reason we started Daraja. And she is the reason we don’t tell the first 26 girls we meet that they have been accepted to the school. But today, we broke that rule, again. And tonight as I snuggle into bed, I rest a little bit easier because I’ve helped change the life of a girl.

Looking Back: 2013 was a Fantastic Year at Daraja Academy!

With 2013 coming to a close, we’d like to take a walk down memory lane and look back on such a momentous year for Daraja Academy.

January started off with a new school year – the 5th for Daraja. Second, third, and fourth-year students returned to campus excited for the upcoming year, eager to learn. Also this month, “School of my Dreams,” a new documentary about Daraja was released by Out of the Blue Films and executive director Deborah Santana. Be sure to check out the trailer here!

In February, the K.C.S.E exam scores were released for the Class of 2012. For the first Daraja class to ever take the exams, we were blown away by their success. Daraja’s top scorer, Betty who scored an average of an A-, also had the top score in our district, which earned her a job at Equity Bank and a scholarship to the University of Nairobi. Daraja ranked 92nd out of 1,233, an extraordinary achievement for a school taking exams for the first time.

Students celebrate as they receive awards for the 2012 K.C.S.E. Exam

Students celebrate as they receive awards for the 2012 K.C.S.E. Exam

March welcomed Daraja’s newest group of students: the Class of 2016. 26 bright and determined young women have continued to impress their fellow students and teachers with their enthusiasm to further their education. They quickly became part of the Daraja family by joining clubs, sports teams, and even being elected prefects – a high honor for a first-year student.

Class of 2016

Class of 2016

April brought a brand-new program to campus: The Transition Program. Daraja students who finished their fourth year at Daraja in 2012 returned to campus to join Teacher Carol and participate in the first ever transition program. The first few months consisted of community service and learning skills such as personal finance and resume writing before the girls left for their internships all over the Laikipia region in schools, game parks, hospitals, hotels, and even on Daraja’s campus.

In May, Daraja students ran with thousands of other supporters around the globe for the annual Bay to Breakers fundraiser. Our tied-for-first place winners on campus were first year Salome, third year Joyce, and fourth year Lisayo. We had over 150 runners from California to Australia running to support our students.

2012 Bay to Breakers Champion Lineth Chepkriui and Zeki

2012 Bay to Breakers Champion Lineth Chepkriui and 4th-year Zeki

Throughout the year, Daraja students competed in different tournaments- be it sports, music, and more! Between a three-day sports competition in Nanyuki, the annual Music Festival, and a local science congress event, the girls were busy applying their skills outside of campus! The soccer (football) team won the Provincial tournament and moved onto the Regional tournament. Seven Daraja students ranked in the top ten positions at the Regional Music Competition.

Members of Daraja's Soccer (Football) Team

Members of Daraja’s Soccer (Football) Team

During Term 2, Daraja hosted its very first community event in Kenya in nearby Nanyuki. The purpose was to network with local organizations, representatives, and community members to spread the word and mission of Daraja! Guests enjoyed snacks, meeting Daraja students, Daraja’s two films, and a Q&A with co-founders, Jason and Jenni.

4th-year Gitwa speaks with Community Day visitors

4th-year Gitwa speaks with Community Day visitors

In June and July, Daraja was lucky to host numerous special guests. Kenyan peacemaker, Alice Nderitu, came to campus for a seminar. She was an inspiration to the Daraja students, many of whom dream of following in Alice’s footsteps, nationally and in their home communities. We also welcomed visitors from California high school, Woodside Priory, who volunteered around campus and played an important role in the cross-cultural experience Daraja strives to provide for our students. Visitors from Mpala Research Center, just outside campus, as well as students from James Madison University and University of San Diego shared their experiences and talents with our students.

Peacemaker Alice Nduriru speaking to Daraja students

Peacemaker Alice Nderitu speaking to Daraja students

In August, the world welcomed the very first graduates from Daraja Academy. After completing secondary school, winning many awards for their K.C.S.E. performance in our district, and finishing the Transition Program, 25 of the world’s best and brightest crossed the stage on Daraja’s campus and threw their caps into the air to signify their completion of the Daraja Academy program. It was a momentous event not only for our students, but our entire campus community. The Class of 2012 has already exceeded our expectations and are changing the world with more than eight graduates in university, a few teaching, and many more volunteering or working in their home communities.

Daraja's Inaugural Class of 2012!

Daraja’s Inaugural Class of 2012!

Daraja Academy was sure to celebrate big in October for the second ever International Day of the Girl. With the theme being “Innovating for Girls Education,” Daraja fit the bill quite well. On campus, student reflected on the power of girls and discussed The Girl Effect’s newest project: The Girl Declaration. Off-campus, Daraja was highlighted by the UN Girls Education Initiative as an innovative and effective organization in breaking the mold of girl’s empowerment and was featured on the Girls Speak Out webcast for the International Day of the Girl Summit.

During Term 3, 15 students traveled two hours North to Kimanjo, where they competed in the Amazing Maasai Ultra Marathon and volunteered at the event. Second-year Rebecca raced especially well, placing in the top three female finishers for the 21K distance!

2nd-year Winrose finishing the Amazing Maasai Ultramarathon

2nd-year Winrose finishing the Amazing Maasai Ultramarathon

In October, Daraja hosted a Kenyan Red Cross blood drive after the Westgate attacks in Nairobi. It was a tremendous success with students, teachers, staff, and volunteers donating blood as well as learning about the donation process. Daraja donated over 50 units of blood in just one afternoon.

1st-year Alice donating blood.

1st-year Alice donating blood.

Our next class of graduates began and completed their K.C.S.E. testing during October and November, and have now completed the secondary school curriculum! Results for the exams will come out in the next few months, and they will soon be welcomed back to campus for the Transition Program in March!

The Class of 2013 hours after finishing the K.C.S.E

The Class of 2013 after finishing the K.C.S.E

The new school year will begin the first week of January with campus welcoming the 6th first-year class (Class of 2017!) in February.

We can’t thank you enough for your support through this significant year for Daraja, and we look forward to all that’s to come in 2014! Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from our family to yours!

Happy Holidays from the Daraja Family!

For much of the world, the November, December, and January months signify a time of celebration, quality time, and meaningful gift giving. In Kenya, holiday celebrations do not differ much from the United States. Right now, Daraja students are on break from classes and are home with their families. They are celebrating holidays, spending time with their loved ones and communities, performing community service, and preparing for the new school year starting in January.

Because Daraja students come from various areas of the country and are members of 30 ethnic groups and 3 religions, their holiday celebrations differ in unique ways.

In Kilifi County on Kenya’s coast, Jesica and her family will sit down to a meal of fish and rice to celebrate Christmas. “I love it so much because our family comes together to share stories from the year. Being with all my relatives brings me so much joy; it is my favorite part of school break. I can’t wait,” Jesica explained before leaving at the end of term three.

Right outside of Daraja’s campus in Nanyuki, Naomi and her family prepare a large meal to celebrate the holidays. They invite many people in their community to join, since Naomi says “no one should be hungry, especially on the holidays.” Her family opts to prepare simple, affordable dishes in order to feed a larger quantity of people. Naomi expressed her excitement for this tradition by saying, “in my community, we are all friends. We take care of each other.”

In the Sultan Hamud region of Kenya, both Winifred and Rose await their favorite holiday of the year- New Years. Winnie and Rose both just completed their first year at Daraja, and they clicked instantly upon discovering that they are from the same area. They intend to visit one another during the school break since their communities are within walking distance. Winnie looked ahead and explained, “Maybe at new years I will visit Rose. At midnight we will go outside and cheer and yell. We can run through the streets and dance and sing.”

Purity, another student who will begin her second year at Daraja in January, will be traveling to various areas in Kenya in order to spend time with her vast network of relatives. She explained, “Since it is the rainy season, traveling prices are high, but my family saves money all year to visit family members. It is really important to us.” She spent time in nearby Nanyuki with her Aunt immediately following the end of the term, until she traveled to Nairobi to be with her Mother and siblings. Together, they are all visiting other relatives around the country this break.

Mary N will be a fourth year student in January, and she is preparing for the new school year at home in the Mombasa region, celebrating with her family. “This break is my favorite because I love sharing jokes and stories with my whole family. We get to spend a lot of time together, and the elders in my family tell lots of stories and give us history of our ancestors,” Mary N explained.

From the Daraja family to your family, Happy Holidays! To support Daraja Academy for the start of the new school year, help stock at student’s backpack or fund their healthcare for the upcoming year. Visit our Crowdrise Holiday Challenge fundraising page for more information

Why Daraja?

There’s a little thing we call “Daraja Fever,” that visitors and volunteers often catch and spread during and after visiting campus. Symptoms include sore cheeks from smiling, a full heart of love, and a plaguing desire to return once you’ve left. Experiencing campus and meeting the Daraja girls isn’t something that everyone is able to do, so we’d like to illustrate it for you, as best we can with the limitations of words.

“Daraja is more than just a school; it is a great idea that’s been given flesh.” -Laikipia County Minister of Education 

The idea: Provide a place—not just a physical space, but an atmosphere—where bright, eager, left-out-of-the-equation Kenyan girls can realize their potential and play an active role in crafting their future.

The flesh: Every weekday morning on Daraja’s campus, more than one hundred girls button their shirts, tie their ties, buckle their shoes, and walk to study hall. If not at Daraja, many of them would be on their way back from the 6 kilometer walk to collect the day’s water or comforting a crying sibling in the absence of one, or maybe both parents. But, these girls are more than their stories.

They’re teenagers.

It’s Saturday afternoon and girls are already gathering stools and arranging seats in front of Daraja’s small television for the Saturday evening movie. The girls finish dinner and anxiously await 7:30 PM, when computer and tech prefect, Lilian, returns with a Harry Potter film- everyone squeals with excitement. Girls shuffle in their seats and get comfortable as Regina ensures that the cords are all plugged in and working. During action-packed scenes, girls cheer on their favorite characters and predict what’s coming next. Movie-watching at Daraja isn’t a passive activity, it’s an event.

They’re role models.

To sit with second-year Agnes during a meal is like sitting with the wisest person you’ve ever met. You’ll grab your rice and beans and she’ll motion for you to come join her, moving over to make room for you. She’ll instruct you, “tell me about yourself.” As you speak, she nods along and her eyes never leave yours, she’s really listening to all you’ve got to say.

“What do you aspire to be,” she will ask, “I need role models, so that I can learn to be one myself.” She will tell you about her dreams to become not only a doctor- but a flying emergency doctor- and to transform health in her home community of Kiambu. Agnes will insist on washing your plate when you finish your meal, and won’t let you leave without a hug. She’s passionate about carrying herself with confidence and dignity, and those qualities nearly radiate off her five-foot-one body as she walks across Daraja’s campus.

They’re game-changers.

When Cate was in primary school, she collected as much paper as she could on her way home from class to burn for light when studying after dark. She admired her teachers for their kindness and knowledge, and knew that she wouldn’t give up on her education. She interviewed for admission to Daraja since she knew that her family wouldn’t be able to pay school fees and she got in; Cate was the first girl in her primary school to attend secondary school in many years. After four years, Cate is now a teacher at Junior Scholars Elementary, a private school just outside of Nanyuki. Since she began teaching there, her students’ scores have improved on every single exam they’ve taken.

Faith grew up just outside of Daraja’s gates, in the nearest settlement called Naibor. She grew up battling the stereotypes of unimportance because of the intense poverty in her community. In August, during Daraja’s first graduation ceremony, Faith gave her salutatorian speech and claimed pride and ownership over her hometown, in addition to confidence within herself and trust in her growth. “We’ve grown wings,” she declared about herself and the rest of her graduating class, “and we will fly even higher than you expect.” Faith could barely look Daraja administrators in the eye out of shyness during her admission interview, and she is now studying hard at Kenyatta University, one of the top schools in the country.

Why Daraja Post

The Minister of Education is right; Daraja is more than just a school. Daraja is a spirit, which enters the hearts of everyone involved. That’s why we call ourselves a family; we are bound by something greater than ourselves; we are bound by the excellence of these girls, faith in their development, and excitement for their futures.

Alumni Check-In: Lillian

In August of this year, Daraja celebrated our first graduating class of girls. After four years of secondary school classes and a five-month Transition Program, Lillian walked across the stage on Daraja’s campus and received Daraja’s equivalent of a diploma- a certificate of program completion- as well as her official “leaving documents,” standard for graduated secondary school students across Kenya.

Now, months later, Lillian has gotten a job, started working, and continued to represent Daraja Academy in everything that she does. Her classmates can be found across the country doing similar things: finding jobs, working, going to University, and applying to certification programs and trade schools. They’ve each crossed their own ‘daraja,’ meaning ‘bridge,’ to create their own path for their future.

After graduating, Lillian focused on herself. She spent time thinking about the last four years at Daraja and how they have impacted her life. Piggybacking from the last activity in the Transition Program, the Daraja Quest, Lillian reflected on her values, her goals, and herself when contemplating her next steps.

Although she was accepted into the Business Management Program at Karatina University, Lillian decided that she would apply to Nursing Programs instead. Lillian explains, “Nursing is what I really want to do, it’s where my heart is.” Lillian conducted her Transition Program Internship in the maternity ward at Nanyuki District Hospital where she developed her love for nursing and was able to practice what she hopes to study in the future.

For now, Lillian is working at an M-Pesa location near her home. M-Pesa is a mobile-phone based money transfer and microfinancing service for Safaricom and Vodacom, the largest mobile network operators in Kenya and Tanznaia. She works conducting money transfers and assisting customers with any issues that they may face.

“I started looking for a job once I graduated in order to stay busy and make some money. I am saving for when I decide to attend school again so that I am independent and can support myself. I just walked into stores and places near my home and asked if they were hiring. I learned confidence and professionalism at Daraja which helped me with that,” Lillian said.

When asked what other lessons she learned at Daraja that she’s utilized so far out of school, Lillian explained, “I learned things like math and interview skills that helped me start working after I left Daraja, but I think the most important thing that I learned was to pursue my dreams.”

Lillian visited Daraja’s campus in October and November to participate in a local Youth Forum put on by Denmark’s Action Aid! organzation. She is sure to stay involved with initiatives like these that support local youth and encourage life-long learning, and she is glad to be representing Daraja wherever she goes.

She concluded, “I am proud of myself, and I am happy.”

Lillian, we are proud of you too!