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.