What do you do when you have over 30 volunteers in one month and a former volunteer that the Daraja students ask about at least once a day? You hire Andy Harley. Andy is no rookie. He has been part of Daraja since the days when old cobwebs were the main inhabitants of the campus. A year later, he’s back helping volunteers make the most of their experiences at Daraja.
Read about everything from how he got connected to Daraja to his admission of his love for the Backstreet Boys. Get to know the man, the legend…
Name: Andy Harley
University: Pitzer College in Claremont, California
Major: International Intercultural Studies w/ focus on the third world & semester abroad in Botswana
How did you hear about Daraja Academy?
I heard from Sean Walashek, a current volunteer and former student of Jason’s. I saw him at a bar and he mentioned that Mr. Doherty is starting a school in Africa and I had been looking for a way to get back to Africa ever since my study abroad in Botswana. I eventually found a way of getting in contact with Jason and went to one of their first informational meetings. I asked Jason if I could go out there and volunteer and he said yes. After multiple book drives and fundraising, I was in Kenya 10 months later on October 2008.
How would you describe your initial volunteer experience at Daraja?
First, there were no students. We were out here fixing up the dorm room and classrooms so it was livable and teachable. We did some campus beautification. This place hadn’t been used in so long, it needed a face-lift! We interviewed teachers, which was exciting because we found some amazing teachers. Then, we did student interviews. It was amazing to see the students at interviews then see them on their first day at school. You could see how much they appreciated this. I was only supposed to be here for 6 months, then they asked me to stay on and I absolutely said yes. Any job opportunities back home couldn’t compare to what I was doing here.
What is the biggest surprise most volunteers have?
A few things. One is the pace of life. It’s a little bit slower and so you have to be a self-starter to stay busy. There are things to do but you have to stay on top of it to achieve what you want. We give a lot of free reign. Another thing is how loving these girls are. Some of the volunteers have said to me “I don’t think I’ve ever had that many hugs in one day my entire life.” A lot of volunteers come in thinking they will teach the students and teachers but find the students and teachers end up teaching them even more.
There are volunteers from US, Denmark, South Korea, to name a few. How do volunteers and the students communicate?
English is the language that we use at school. Some of the students have incredible English skills and can converse from the first moment, and are outgoing from the beginning. Others are shyer initially but given enough time the volunteers and students can communicate very well. Although, there is definitely a lot of giggling and laughing over misunderstandings that occur.
How do volunteers incorporate their programs into the school day?
We work with the teachers and find time during specific classes, free time, study hall. The programs are technically optional for the students but they are so excited and interested in what the volunteers are teaching that you essentially get a 100% attendance rate.
Can volunteers travel if they want?
Yes and we have wonderful contacts with certain safari companies and they can organize various trips- day trips, safaris, trips to other countries.
What do you think the students like to see in volunteers? What kind of volunteers do they attract to?
The most successful volunteers are able to interact and communicate with the students in a positive manner where they really encourage the girls to continue their education, pursue sports. The successful volunteers are those that spend a little extra time actually getting to know the girls.
How do the students react to volunteers leaving and going?
Some of the volunteers are able to make lots of deep connections, even in a short period of time. Though the students are sad to see volunteers go, they know they are better for having met that person and knowing that person will always have the student in their heart.
What is the biggest misconception about Kenya?
One, that most of the Kenyans are looking to rip you off. Most people on the street just want to understand who you are, where you are from, what brought you to Kenya. They want to practice their English. Kenyan people are very, very friendly and sometimes that throws Americans off because they aren’t used to that kind of hospitality.
The other one is people think that there is a lot of tribal conflict and that people from certain tribes can’t get a long with each other. But at Daraja, we prove that wrong. We have 19 out of the 42 tribes represented here but you wouldn’t know it because they all treat each other like sisters.
The Fun Stuff:
Favorite movie: Finding Nemo
Favorite book: Harry Potter: The Goblet of Fire
What was your favorite musical group when you were in junior high? Is it embarrassing to admit Backstreet Boys?
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? Besides Kenya, I’ve always wanted to go to Romania and visit the castles.
You’re about to make your way down the green mile, what do you have as your last meal? Oh that is so rough (takes a few minutes) My mom’s spaghetti and meatballs, loaf of garlic bread and a vanilla milkshake.
Who is the person you respect the most and why? My dad because he made a lot of sacrifices in life to make sure his kids had the best opportunities. He worked two jobs. He worked full time during the day and worked at a limo service company at night to pay my and my brother’s tuition.
What do you think the secret to a good life is? Being able to wake up most mornings and be able to be excited about what you’re doing. If work can actually put a smile on your face and you don’t mind staying extra hours because you enjoy it, then you’ve made it.