Here at Daraja, our mission is specific: we provide an education to girls who have no other means of continuing school. Therefore, we consider the stories and backgrounds of the girls applying to become Daraja students. If a student can go to high school without Daraja, she isn’t quite a Daraja girl.
However, we don’t accept girls based on how difficult their circumstances are. We accept girls because they are extraordinary individuals, and we can’t bear to accept that their circumstances could end their education. We are looking for change-makers, people who are going to turn this world upside down, people who will lead us to better things. We are looking for individuals with sparks, and we can’t let those sparks go out.
With all of this in mind, we’d like to tell you a story we heard recently in an interview.
Alice (not her real name), having already been circumcised, found herself facing marriage at age fifteen. She resisted, but even her mother couldn’t find a way to stop it. “This man is going to marry you,” she was told. “You are not going to school again. They are planning the wedding to be tomorrow.”
But, this wasn’t the end of her story. Alice was indeed married, but on the night of her wedding, she ran away. “If nobody was going to take me to school, I would take myself,” she decided.
In town, she looked for students in uniforms, and asked them for directions to their school. She described her story to the head teacher, who took her in, providing housing, a uniform, and books. Yet, he couldn’t offer her any more support, and she started working in the evenings to earn money. “I was washing clothes,” she recounted. “I got 500 shillings (about five US dollars) per week, which is very big money.”
“When I ran,” she described, “my father also chased my mother and even my small siblings from the home.” So, Alice made efforts to even send money to her mother. Her father was a drunkard, and would come to beat Alice’s mother, even throwing a torch at her. Alice took it upon herself to bring her mother to the hospital for care, and to call the police about her father’s actions.
In every situation, Alice took initiative, coming up with resourceful solutions to every problem that crossed her path. For example, the family Alice lived with didn’t provide her with water to drink or use for bathing. Instead of giving up, Alice found a five-liter jug and used it to bring her own water home from school. When the family left her alone without electricity or food, she borrowed a torch (flashlight) from the neighbors, and kept on studying.
Despite not having food or electricity during the week of her exams, she completed her exams. She walked six kilometers to get to school, without even a sweater to protect her through the heavy rains, and yet she still passed with good marks. Alice’s determination to be successful paid off, and she came to Daraja’s interview with a passion and excitement, dreaming of entering high school.
Looking back on these challenges, Alice is focused on the future. “I’m not a leader,” she said. “But I’m hoping to be one. One day, one time.”
This is her story so far. Alice will soon be a student at Daraja, where she can live, eat, study, and grow without worry and fear. We’re proud to count her amongst the Daraja girls, and can’t wait to hear her next chapter.