This is the idea behind the founding of Daraja Academy. When Jason and Jenni Doherty – educators from the Bay Area – visited Kenya in 2006, they were struck by the degree that gender determined opportunity. For families living in deep poverty, access to education was already limited, but sons were still far more likely to attend secondary school than daughters.
Girls were left behind.
Without secondary education, girls in Kenya are often condemned to early marriages and pregnancies, and are unlikely to find any professional opportunities that enable economic self-sufficiency. Education is the fastest bridge out of poverty, and so many girls have no hope of crossing it.
The Dohertys realized they could contribute to the solution, and resolved to establish a school for exceptional girls who had no other means of continuing their education. They found partners Victoria Gichuhi and Charles Mbuto, Kenyan educators, who today serve as Principal and Dean of Academics, respectively. Together, they conceptualized a boarding school that would see to a girl’s physical needs (including food, housing and medical care), provide her with a rigorous academic curriculum, and empower her as a woman and leader.
They named the school Daraja, which means bridge, and sought to fill it with girls from all over Kenya whose potential would otherwise be lost. The Dohertys took this vision back to California, where they found hundreds of generous people willing to give the gift of education.
These intercontinental efforts were realized in 2009, when Daraja Academy welcomed its first class of 26 students.
Eight years later: Daraja Academy has celebrated the graduation of 115 students and is in the process of educating another 114. A full 80% of its graduates have qualified for higher education – the pioneer class of 2012 is rapidly approaching their University graduations! Today, the Kenya Ministry of Education currently ranks Daraja Academy in the top 10% of private secondary schools in the country.
Over the years, Daraja has expanded its scope as it reaches for new goals. In addition to its strong four-year secondary program, Daraja has established a groundbreaking “Transition Program,” offering business and life skills training to recent Daraja graduates. This model curriculum, which fills the “gap year” between high school and college matriculation, includes campus instruction, community service, and internships at schools, clinics and businesses. With this success, the Transition Program this year opened its doors to high school graduates from the local community.
A relationship between the Daraja girls and international students has thrived over the years. Many student groups from the United States and other countries have visited campus, and several Daraja graduates have – and are – studying on college campuses throughout the United States.
Most heartening, an initial survey of graduates reported that the majority were involved in community organizations and service, and many had assumed leadership positions. We look forward to watching the incredible lives the Daraja women will lead, and the incredible ways they will shape the lives of others.