Daraja Blog


Back at Daraja’s campus…

Kenya was calling and the Doherty’s finally answered…

Five days ago and a few minutes before midnight, Jenni and I landed in Nairobi. After a quick visit to the M.S. Kenya headquarters the next morning, we left Kenya’s capital for campus with Daraja’s Dir. Of Operations Peter Wathitu, Andy Harley and Katie Ireland. Andy has been working hard on campus since he arrived in October, while Katie, a primary school teacher from Salinas, arrived the day before us, to lend a hand getting the campus prepped for the students who will be arriving in early February. Though lacking space, the cramped 4×4 did not lack an excited energy as we snaked our way north through the deep green central highlands of Kenya.

Though I had spent the better part of three months on campus this summer, it was the first time that Jenni and I would have been there together since our first introduction to the magical place on the second to last day of our “find-a-place-for-the-Daraja-campus-tour of 2007.” We were both excited, but I was a little nervous… what if she didn’t love the place as much as I, what if she didn’t see the potential that I did? what if, what if, what if… the worry was for not.

Driving through the gates that evening was not anti-climactic. During the hour before the sun drops below the African horizon, every tree, flower and blade of grass lights up with a golden glaze that only this continent understands how to cast. Those who have been here can speak to the absolutely unique hue that an African evening possess’ and it was in that hue that we arrived.

Seeing the staff again was incredible! Hugging Peter Rutere, Ruth, Lauren and of course, Kenya and Tusker, our skinny dogs – was second best only to watching Jenni greet and put a face to the people who had only been names in her imagination until that point. The dream that she and I had ridden so hard, finally had a home to rest and grow, full of incredibly capable people who believed in its purpose. We both cried.

The last few days have been a combination of “meet, greet and renovation.” Sometimes you can just feel when something is right. There is an incredibly rewarding feeling that comes with sweating in the hot sun, getting classrooms ready for girls who this autumn believed their futures were so bleak, but will soon discover the exact opposite.

The roots of this dream that is Daraja sprouted in the belief that people would rally to a worthy cause; in this case, providing access to a better future for girls of poverty who deserved one. The past few years have proved that this belief was true. If you are part of the Daraja family, take the opportunity that is this holiday season to tell others about the project, if you are not part of the family, join it. There is plenty of room for more.

Asante sana from the Daraja Academy,


Daraja through Andy’s eyes

I am so excited to introduce the newest addition to the Daraja Academy Blogging team, Andy Harley. As you will see from his writings, Andy and I first met while I was coaching football at Terra Linda High School, though so much has changed since then. He was an incredible athlete and is now a better man, one who I know improves the Daraja Academy campus each day he is a part of it. Andy has been at Daraja since mid-October volunteering his time and hard work for little more than the knowledge that he, is making a difference in the world. Jenni and I simply could not be happier.

Jason Doherty

Founder of Daraja Academy

Entry I

“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe where riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again – to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.” – Pico Iyer, “Why We Travel”


“Why are you going all the way to Kenya?” I’ve been asked this question numerous times as if I was crazy to leave the safety of America and venture out to an unknown land. I always looked at them confused, unsure how to answer the question; I thought it was obvious why I was going. I guess a little explanation is in order.

It all started when I was young boy, in elementary school or younger, and I became fascinated by African wildlife: Elephants, Lions, Gorillas, Giraffes, Zebras, Hippos, Warthogs and Chimpanzees. I read the autobiography of Jane Goodall in 4th or 5th grade and it stirred in me a desire to travel to Africa and see the animals up-close and in their natural habitat. To this day The Lion King is the only Disney movie that I can remember any songs from, and it’s still a personal favorite of mine. My stuffed animal collection began to reflect my interest in African animals.

My parents, the constant promoters of learning that they are (I’ve been to too many Zoos, Aquariums, Art Galleries and Museums to count), provided my brothers and me with educational books and magazines when we were growing up, most importantly National Geographic. Not only did I learn about the animals but also the people of Africa. I think I’ve always had a secret desire to dress, act and live like some of the Africans I saw in the magazine, it was all so new and unusual and I wanted to experience it first hand.

Continue reading “Daraja through Andy’s eyes” »

Back in the Saddle Again

Salutations! I know that my portion of the blog has been silent for the last two months. But, that will not happen again. If you check just below this blog entry, you can enter your Email address and receive updates every time there is a new one. It is really easy to do and actually helps us out a lot. The more, the absolute merrier. Please spread the word to your fiends and anybody else that you think would be interested in our cause. I am learning that the nonprofit world really focuses on the number of hits and readers your site gets. Your help would be incredibly helpful and not too hard! 

So back to why my blog took a 2 month nap… I apologize but “Africa happened” to my computer in mid September, basically frying my laptop’s monitors thus making communication impossible. However, since then I have returned to the states, fixed the laptop, am gathering my wife and tying up a few loose ends before we return in early December, TOGETHER, to get the school rolling. If all things work out according to plan, the doors of the school will open to its first class of girls in late January/early February and TahDah! Mission accomplished… sort of. There will always be funds to raise, and things to do. Currently we still need to raise another another $10,000 to make sure school starts the way we want it to. Hogan High’s Daraja club has selflessly offered to raise the $2,000 dollars to purchase our students a new pair of shoes and two new uniforms each (which works out to about $80 for each girl.) Woodside Priory’s Daraja Club is working on a way that they can also contribute, so maybe that ammount will not be quite so hard to raise!!!


On November 7th, Jenni and I piled into our car and bounced down I5 to San Diego.

The University of San Diego campus has changed in so many ways since I graduated in 1998. Impressive buildings have shot up including the Kroc School of Peace and Justice and Daraja Academies ’08-’09 partner of the year, the School of Leadership and Education Sciences. What has not changed is the academic charge that buzzes across the campus, past students studying for their chemistry final on the fountains and those debating poli-sci over a quick snack on the grass. If I have to make it clearer, I love this place!

The School of Education and Leadership Sciences (SOLES) served as our home base during our five days in San Diego. Board member Kim Florence flew down and accompanied Jenni and myself into our first and possibly most reassuring meeting with the SOLES leadership team of: Dean Paula Cordeiro, Assistant Dean Linda Dews and the head of the Global Studies Center, Whitney McIntyre Miller. Impressively, all SOLES graduates must have an international experience, which fits closely with Daraja Academies desire to create lasting relationships between volunteers and campus. SOLES’ Global Studies Center will help facilitate the creation of those ‘bridges.’

The SOLES’ group was very excited about collaborating with Daraja Academy because it lined up with their school’s objectives and is eager to continue fund raising for the campus. In fact, as we walk through the sala of the SOLES building a large, color poster explaining Daraja Academy stood out next to a large donation jar. They also offered to help us facilitate meetings with Professors who specialize in areas that Daraja Academy will need more focused expertise in the future, as well as with graduate and undergrad students who may be interested in volunteering.

Over the course of our time at USD, Jenni and I met with professors whose fields of expertise ranged from conflict resolution, teen counseling, and leadership to recognizing sexual trauma in teen girls. The knowledge we gained in those short meetings will improve Daraja Academy in multiple ways; however, it was the relationships we created that I feel will bare the most fruit. Many of the educators we met with, including the Dean and Assistant Dean of SOLES seemed interested in visiting the campus and working with our students and staff personally. What an incredible gift that would be!!!

All five of the classes that Jenni and I spoke at, were brimming with passionate students, many of them eager to help Daraja in one way or another. They asked incredible questions ranging from how our girls will be chosen, to what we had to personally sacrifice in order for a project like this to come to fruition. Though we have only been home a few days, we have already received a handful of Emails from these students that were brimming with energy and interest.

Speaking at the alumni meeting had an effect on me that truly surprised me. As I was stepping up to the lectern, I looked around a room full of talented business women and men, teachers, physicians etc. that were all linked by one, undeniable fact – we had all attended the University of San Diego, yet we remain connected to it. Part of all of us, simply did not want to leave the campus behind. It occurred to me, that is exactly what we are trying to achieve with Daraja Academy. We also want to create a beautiful place of learning, where students discover things about themselves, they otherwise might not have; where they learn about the world and how they fit into it. We want to create a campus that our girls in four years, also will not want to leave totally behind them.

The USD alumni association is an amazing organization, and connections were made with alumni who will be able to help us with such things as shipping, teacher exchanges and fund raising.   

Though I graduated from USD 10 years ago, the trip to my old campus was not only beneficial to Daraja Academy’s future; it was good for my soul. Who says you can’t go home again?

Thank you SOLES, thank you USD. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

If you are interested in assisting Daraja Academy’s cause of bring free education to the deserving young women of Kenya, please contact us through our website. This has been such an incredible project, and we are soooooo close to beginning classes that it almost feels like a dream sometimes. Fortunately, there is plenty of seating available on this dream.


The Best Tickets Ever

Carr Educational Foundation’s director Mark Lukach told me last month about an interesting current that is running itself through the WorldWideWeb: the “6 word autobiography.” It’s not as easy as it sounds. How would you crush your entire life into six words? Moments ago I asked my father, who is visiting campus for the first time, that same question. Mind you, little thought and less reflection went into his answer. At the same time, at 71 I hope to God I can say the same.

“I would not change a day” – Jack Doherty

As I have been typing up the following installment of the Daraja Academy blog, the question has returned to me several times – how would I explain my life? The way I viewed my relationship to the world and my place in it, in only six words?

Though not my six-word autobiography, I am going to preface what is left of this blog, with a realization that has been surging through me in larger and larger swells of emotion…

I honestly believe that I would rather be dead, than live my life minus the feeling of gratitude.

Mind you, I miss my wife, friends and family. There are tastes, smells and things I often took for granted while back home in California that I deeply wish I had here in Kenya. Even so, the following phrase continues to circulate through my mind, often on a daily basis, “how did I get so lucky for this to be my life?” Continue reading “The Best Tickets Ever” »

Back in the Saddle Again

Preface:  Hello world. It’s been a while since my last posting and a month since I arrived in Kenya. For the first time thus far, I am on my own. Though extremely exciting, the past month has also been a bit on the strange side. Put simply, I’ve had to wear my share of “hats”. Though I have enjoyed wearing them all, it has been different. With the Daraja team members (Grey Brooks, Mark Lukach and Bob Bessin) I was in the “on-the-go-meet-Daraja-Academy-and-Kenya” hat. This had less to do with them, all three are easy to travel with, than it had to do with me and the nagging feeling that I wouldn’t be able to show/do/be and see enough during their allotted time in Kenya. I’ve worn the “meet-and-rally-the-staff” hat, which is now nicely transitioning into the “part-of-the-staff” hat. There has been the “dressed-up-becoming-acquainted-with-potential-benefactors, donors and bestowers of knowledge” fedora and many others.

But, during that time I never really got much of a chance to don the “wow-I-just-moved-to-Africa” hat. This is the hat I have been breaking in since Bob flew off the continent nearly one week ago. It is also the reason my blog has been silent. That and the fact that my cell phone, which also serves as my modem at campus, got wet and was out of action for 72 hours.

As I begin this update I am conflicted. In my first blog entry I vowed to be completely honest, reporting both the highs AND the lows that I encounter leading up to Daraja Academy’s commencement in January. My thinking was: the creation of a free, girls Secondary School in a developing nation, is if anything – a unique story. Tell it how it is and people will read. However, today I am remembering something… I’m human.

I’m human and Daraja Academy is my baby. I am so excited about its future; the beauty that is its mission and the degree of possibility that exists in the classrooms, campus and future, as well as the growing contingent of volunteers and donors.  At times I find myself unintentionally protecting the story. I’ve learned that part of me is nervous about sharing the “other-than-positive” news, fearful of its effects on the school’s gathering momentum. Continue reading “Back in the Saddle Again” »

Hello Bob, hello Kibera

(Rather than sending out many short blogs, I am going to have to send out occasional, lengthy ones until I find a more efficient method of Email.)
So far each day in Kenya has been a bit unstable. Due to the fact that I am trying to play the role of host, showing volunteers and directors of the Carr Educational Project around this remarkable land and our campus loved ones back home is tough. To put it mildly it is very hard living on the other side of the world from my wife. This is exacerbated by the fact that she is also my partner and cofounder of Daraja Academy. She has worked just as hard as I have making this dream of equal access to education for girls possible. Now she hears updates concerning the state of Daraja, learns about our roadblocks and successes during short, 3-minute cell phone calls in the dark of the night.

Carr Educational Foundation director Bob Bessin arrived at 8pm Thursday night. Our crew – Mark Lukach, Grey Brooks, Peter Wathitu and I picked him up at the airport and quickly bounced him over dark Nairobi roads, man-hole sized pot holes, and all to the place where Stanford HumBi Professor Bob Siegel and his graduate student Dashka were recouping from their descent of Mt. Kenya. Dinner was incredible. Dashka and a group of former Stanford classmates are starting a girl’s secondary school that sounds very similar to Daraja Academy in Iringa, Tanzania. Ironically, Iringa is very close, by Africa’s standards, to Makambako, where I lived in 1999. Finding like-minded Americans always fills my tanks, and a full tank shouldn’t be a suggestion, it’s got to be a requisite when visiting Kibera – tomorrow’s destination.
Friday morning 8 a.m.
As a junior at the University of San Diego I took a class that was taught by an incredibly wise philosophy professor. Early on he warned us to be cautious passing on things we’d learned in class to our peers. He explained to all of us wide eyed, impressionable 20-somethings that attempting to explain to our peers concepts, which had shaken us to our foundations, was similar to explaining what “sweet taste like” to a person who’d never tasted anything sweet in their lives. Words just simply could not convey the tangible sensations, feelings, and emotional connections we’d felt during the moments of realization. Describing a visit to the Nairobi slum of Kibera where one of Daraja Academies’ feeder schools operates is much, much harder.
Continue reading “Hello Bob, hello Kibera” »

Arriving at campus

There have been possibly three soul quaking occurrences that have taken place over the course of my lifetime. Occurrences, which moved me, so deeply that I knew I would not be the same man after its passing. To my recollection those events consist of giving and receiving marriage vows with my wife to-be above the crashing waves of the Big Island’s north shore, standing for the first time after laying supine for 5+ months in early May 1993 after “the crash” – and arriving on campus yesterday.

Calling it a campus is actually a misnomer. The 150 acres that has been known for the past decade as the Laikipia Baraka School, and is now Daraja Academy is a bustling community. Over a half dozen tribes: Kikuyu, Masaii, Turkana, Luya, Kalenjin, Embu and Nandi have lived, eaten and slept together communally, cooperating for the better part of 5 years without permanent employment – a good example to Kenya, if not the world as a whole. Babies toddle past grazing goats as mothers hang their colorful wash on the lines strung between the staff houses.

Two of the Carr Educational Foundation’s (CEF) directors, Songai Mohochi and Mark Lukach, a member of the Advisory Board and CEF’s Volunteer Coordinator, Grey Brooks, the school’s Director of Operation’s Peter Wathitu and myself had been bouncing over nearly 1,000 km of Kenyan “road” leading up to our approach of campus. Many of the “roads” we traversed, especially the stretch from Kisii to Narok, looked to be in the same stage of construction that they were the last time I traveled them… in 1988 – the same piles of gravel, the same bulldozers and backhoes, and the same napping workers and pacing, hands on their hips over-seers.

The route from Kuria land was dusty, it was bumpy and it was LONG. But we made it to campus. The true reason we are here.

Continue reading “Arriving at campus” »

First Message from the Founder, Jason Doherty

There is a story that needs to be told. Though it is a story that has not yet been written and began over 20 years ago, it is quickly gaining momentum. This story began as a dream of Africa and its rugged, amplified beauty, its beautiful wildlife and its proud, noble people. However, the story became more focused as I learned more about the people of Africa, their complex past, precarious future, and also about myself. This story is now about Kenya, education, brave young women and a vision of a more equitable future.

My name is Jason Doherty. My wife Jenni and I founded the Daraja Academy because we recognized a need in the world and simply decided that it was our time to try and make a difference. While on a trip to Kenya and Tanzania in 2006 we visited several schools. I am a high school history teacher here in California and Jenni works in educational research, so visiting schools while on vacation is actually not that strange. What was strange was how driven the students were. Though they were packed into mud walled rooms that lacked electricity with corrugated tin roofs, they ALL seemed to really understand how valuable education was to them and their futures. They showed off their work and recited songs they’d learned, giggling and flashing smiles as they did.

It was only upon leaving that learned of the terrible fate that lay in wait for many of these glowing pupils. Though primary school had been made free to all Kenyans in 2003, tuition and boarding fees were still required in order to attend secondary school. Many of the families of the young girls and boys we had just met clearly had a difficult time purchasing the essentials (uniforms, shoes, food etc.) – additional costs could not be met.

The realization would be devastating for all of the students when they learned that regardless of how hard they worked in the classroom or how high their national test scored were, they would not be attending secondary school (high school in the US) because they were born poor. For the female students it would be a potential death sentence. Without a diploma, in an area where jobs are scarce many young ladies are forced to sell their bodies in order to feed their siblings or children.

Jenni and I knew that this was not a problem we could ignore. Upon returning to the US we began working on the creation of one of the first, totally free, nondenominational, girls secondary schools in Kenya. A group has assembled who share in our beliefs and have adopted our dream as their own. They are heroic individuals who work selflessly for a group of people who are not even aware they exist. But they will soon, because after several years of raising awareness and funds, we are set to open our doors to the first class of Daraja Academy students in January of 2009.

I will be leaving my wife and my home in the Bay Area and moving to the campus in Nanyuki, Kenya on July 7th to begin renovations on the school, hire teachers and find our students. Jenni will be following as soon as the first years funding is in place.

As our momentum builds and this story of Daraja Academy unfolds, I see it as my responsibility to relate it to you as openly and honestly as I know how. This is important because these people are real, their needs are great and anything less is unacceptable.

Jason Doherty named Teacher of the Year

Jason Doherty, the founder of the Daraja Academy, was named the Teacher of the Year for Solano County, California for 2007. He received the honor for his service as a history teacher and football coach at Hogan High School, in Vallejo. The Daraja community is extremely proud of their founder for this wonderful distinction.