Here at Daraja Academy, we don’t even start interviewing prospective students until several weeks after most schools are back in session; by the time we send acceptance letters, students in other schools are approaching their mid-term break. This delay encourages girls who do have the means to enroll in other schools to do so, allowing Daraja to accept only the students who truly have no others options.
On February 19th, the day is finally here. The Class of 2021 is arriving on campus, and (after all this waiting), current students are absolutely giddy to meet their new sisters. By the time the first matatus arrive, current students have made up the new students’ beds and are hanging on the fence by the gate, screaming and cheering as the first arrivals hesitantly get out of the cars.
The new students have also been waiting, but they stand back, overwhelmed by the excitement of the Daraja girls. The names and photos of the new students have been posted on the bulletin board, and the current students call out to the new students by name before rushing towards them and engulfing them in a tsunami of hugs, cheers, and welcome.
Many of the new students simply freeze. It’s an intense moment — they’ve been waiting for this for months, and it’s hard to process that it’s actually happening. Most have never seen the campus before, and it’s hard to register that they live here now, that this is a place that they can call home. One student starts crying, alternating between wiping her tears and laughing as the Daraja students hug her over and over. Groups of students escort the new arrivals to register, and to pick up their uniforms and supplies.
In a sense, this is nothing more than the first day of school. But for these students, who have been fighting so hard to reach this day, it is so much more. Passing through the Daraja gate is like opening a million doors — options that these students might not have known even existed will now be open to them. For students who previously struggled to find enough food to eat, who walked to primary school through dangerous conditions, who lived in unsafe homes, who studied without light — today is the day that their obstacles are lifted. From today onwards, everything is different, and anything is possible.
Before the new students say goodbye to their parents and guardians, teacher Marylene (a Daraja alumnus herself) has everyone make one last promise: The parents promise their children that they will support their education, and the students promise their parents that they will work as hard as they can.
One mother sits in the back row and cries, beaming with pride. It’s the first day of school and, despite everything, her daughter is enrolled — a million open doors await her.