By Olivia Capra
Two years after my first visit to Daraja, the opportunity came for me to return to the most wonderful group of girls and continue building the school’s WISH program. We describe WISH as a life skills and women’s empowerment class that all students partake in once a week. From my viewpoint, and that of the girls, WISH class is the soul of the education at Daraja.
Why is this? At some point in our lives we forget why volcanoes erupt, what cells are made of, and how an ancient civilization evolved. There is more to education than what one can read in a textbook. It is the mentorship at Daraja that protects the strength and hope in these girls and molds them to become powerful leaders. They come from a society that fosters closed emotions and doesn’t always provide positive messages. But in WISH, they are encouraged to ask open questions for the first time:
“What is safe sex?”
“What is HIV/AIDS?”
“How can I speak confidently to my father when he is always drunk?”
“How can I make peace with a mother who has sent me away?”
“What can I do to instill justice and fairness when my community leaders are corrupt?”
Each school break they go back to their communities and visit women’s groups, churches, and schools, and for a day or a week they become teachers. They teach about community garbage and sewage systems, HIV/AIDS, and how to strengthen women’s voices in the community. They spread their education not just geographically, but across generations and genders. They come back to Daraja and share how excited and curious these groups were to hear new facts and ideas.
There is no stronger testament to the wealth of WISH than meeting Daraja girls in their first year and coming back to visit when they’re in their third. They are completely transformed.
As freshmen, they were guarded and closed up. Being empowered young women, in their minds, meant being stoic, emotionless – and no wonder when examples of leadership or success always portray men. They were shy and all too conscious of their place as young, uneducated women from poor communities. They didn’t know of careers outside of house help, cooks, and child bearers – they didn’t understand even the beginning of their potential. It took almost five weeks for them to speak about home to me, of their friends and family, to share with me who they really were.
When I came back at the end of their third year, these (very grown up) women ran up to me and talked all at once about what they have been up to. Now they know what goes on in their communities, but they aren’t scared to talk about it. A large group started the Grassroots club, where they meet women leaders from East Africa, attend conferences, and plan proposals and volunteering in their own towns. They created an amazing performance – a variety of tribal dances and songs (reducing a few of us to tears!) – that raised money for the completion of a chicken coop in a local town.
These women have been given a safe place to talk and reflect – and they have utilized it. The many Kenyan teachers involved in WISH have become role models and mentors. Professionals and leaders from around Kenya are coming to Daraja to share their experiences and break down the walls of silence. The students are excited about their futures – there are aspiring nurses, journalists, community business owners, politicians, magistrates, UN workers, doctors, lawyers, researchers, teachers. They aren’t naïve to the challenges – they have back-up plans and they are ready – ready to graduate and start a life they hadn’t dreamed of when they first arrived to Daraja.