Hi! My name is Nicole Parisi-Smith. I arrived on Daraja’s campus just over a week ago from San Francisco. I will be volunteering on campus until June 15, researching higher education opportunities for Daraja’s first class of graduates – the Class of 2013! I have felt at home here since my first full day, when we participated in the hundredth running of San Francisco’s 12K running race, Bay to Breakers. Not only did Daraja’s Lap-A-Thon remind me of San Francisco, but it also brought out the very things – athletic shoes – that brought me to Daraja.
Last summer I helped two-time volunteer, friend-of-a-friend, and fellow runner, Caitie Ireland collect athletic shoes for the Daraja students. I knew the sixty pairs of shoes Caitie shipped from California had definitely arrived when I saw a familiar pair of Saucony Omni 6′s lying in the sun outside a dorm! A quick glance at the size confirmed that the pair had once run the Bay to Breakers route with me in San Francisco. Finding my shoes on campus made me think of someone who inspired me to come to Daraja, Jacqueline Novogratz, and her book The Blue Sweater. She writes about how as a teenager, she donated a once-favorite sweater to charity; as an adult, she saw her sweater on a young boy in Rwanda. Checking the boy’s tag, she confirmed it was her old sweater. From the moment that I positively identified my former pair of shoes, the grooves now filled in with red Kenyan dirt, I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be.
After a moderate rainfall, Daraja’s students, staff, and volunteers headed up to the course that Daraja’s volunteer coordinator, Andy Harley, had traced in the red dirt with white chalk. We gathered near the start line where Andy reminded the students about Lineth Chepkurui and fellow Daraja supporters who were fundraising and running with them in the Bay to Breakers race. After participating in an entertaining warm up to a dance mix that board member Tara Scarioni had made for the students, the ladies lined up on the start line. Then they were off!
I watched Form 1 student Irene W. fly around her first of 28 laps with a big smile on her face. I was touched to see other students running the course with hands joined. I assumed the role of water distributor and cheerleader. Someone had brought containers of filtered water and the school’s reusable plastic mugs to the start line. I loved that we were using reusable cups, as opposed to the paper cups that litter U.S. streets during marathons. I ran two laps – one alongside the students, the other against the students. Some of the girls indulged my desire to see their smiles – we exchanged waves and hand slaps each time we passed.
When there was just one girl left on the course, eight students volunteered to run another lap each to count towards her total. In that way, each student ran at least 28 laps! At the conclusion of the race, we learned that the students had helped raise more than four million shillings for their education. We all cheered, thankful for this financial support. I also cheered just because I am here, and got to be a part of the Daraja Lap-A-Thon. Thank you to everyone who makes all of this possible, every day!