Ten years ago, on February 26, 2009, the first 26 students entered the gates of Daraja Academy. They sat in new uniforms, but in second-hand desks. They were taught by a tiny teaching faculty of three.
These girls grew into young women with degrees in Microbiology and Geospatial Engineering; they have gone on to become nurses and teachers.
Daraja once loaned Monicah, a girl from that first class, $3 so she could travel by bus to her own student interview. Now she flies internationally across Africa as a Global Youth Facilitator for ActionAid.
When asked what her life would look like if she had never received a Daraja scholarship, Nasibo, now a nurse in Isiolo, responded, “I would probably have three or four children by now and be married—most likely not married for love.”
Over the last 10 years we have interviewed 8th graders in urban slums, remote rural villages and even refugee camps in the wake of the post-election violence. They have shared stories of dodging wild animals to collect water, having older men negotiate their dowries, walking miles to school on empty stomachs, and not having enough money to afford a pencil.
However, these same 8th grade girls spoke of hope. They told us of their dreams and of the work they were willing to do to reach them if only given the chance.
Over 300 girls have walked through the gates of Daraja Academy with 300 different dreams. Now Lisayo and Winrose are on athletic scholarships in America’s heartland. Shamsia has a paid internship with the United Nations.
The girls who attend Daraja may come from different tribes, different parts of the country, Christian girls and Muslim girls; but they are family. They call Daraja Academy home and nearly all of them return home often to mentor their younger sisters. Because no one—not the founders, faculty, or staff—truly understands what it is like to be a Daraja girl in the same way that they do.
As we reflect on the past 10 years, it is clear that Daraja’s empowerment class WISH is the heart of the school, driving girls to grow in confidence during a four-year journey of inward and outward reflection. And by performing over 120 hours of community service, each student begins to see herself as a genuine solution to her community’s problems. Later, the training girls receive in the Transition Program distinguishes Daraja’s graduates from their peers in initiative and job preparation.
Daraja Academy was a dream that became a school and is now a movement. To date, thousands have supported our core belief that everyone deserves a quality education. People around the world generously give their time and support so that the girls of Daraja can turn their dreams into action. Without that support, none of this would exist. You are Daraja. Thank you for the last ten years.
There is an empty seat at Daraja Academy reserved for the students we are unable to admit. That seat will remain vacant until every girl gets the access to the education she needs to better her life, her community, and her world. There is work ahead in next 10 years. But for now, we will bask in the sheer joy that we have made a difference in the lives of the girls of Daraja Academy.
Happy Birthday, Daraja! We love you!
Jason & Jenni Doherty Founders, Daraja Academy and the Daraja Education Fund