The birds are the first ones up on campus, their songs waking me and 116 students from our dreams and convincing us to start the day. By 6:00 a.m., the Daraja girls are dressed and completing the morning duties that keep the campus functioning well and looking tidy.
At breakfast, we fuel up for the day with a cup of chai, a bread roll, and, if you’re new like me, countless warm hugs, friendly smiles and introductions.
At 8:00 a.m., the girls rush off to class until tea break at 10:15. Then it’s back to class until lunch, where the girls sit with their Daraja family.
Each girl is a part of a “Family Tree,” which is made up of one or two girls from each form. When a new Form 1 (first year) first arrives on campus, she is placed in an academic family where she’s the “Little Sister.” A Form 2 student becomes her “Big Sister,” a Form 3 student becomes her “Auntie” and a Form 4 student stands in as her Shosh, or grandmother.
Oftentimes, a family will be casually linked to another, creating cousins and sometimes even siblings. By design, these family groups mix students from different tribes and religions and serve as the first layer of support for new students adjusting to life on campus. At lunch, the families eat at the same table and talk and joke while they get to know one another.
After that, it’s back to work until 4:15 p.m., at which time the girls take their last break for recreation. Everyone folds seamlessly into a campus basketball game, the power of sport bringing everyone closer together.
It’s July and in the Central Highlands that means it’s the cold season. But on the first day I spend with the girls at Daraja, the goosebumps I feel have nothing to do with temperature. At dinner, I ask my new family members, “What do you want to be? What are your dreams?” and suddenly there’s an explosion of inspiration as my family shares their ideas and ambitions.
Some plan on returning to their home villages to educate and initiate change, some want to found NGOs and schools, others want to become doctors, pilots and teachers.
One thing is clear as we discuss the future: These Daraja girls, like the ones before them, will follow their words to the end of this earth and accomplish what they set out to do. These young women are holding us all, everyone in the Daraja family, accountable for dreaming big.
I sit stunned, while they gather their notebooks and head off to study hall, laughing.
Welcome to Daraja Academy.
Sarah Cullip is serving as the Communications Intern at Daraja Academy for the remainder of Term 2.