Daraja Blog


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.
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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.

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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.