March 1, 2010
The Daraja Academy campus sits on 60 acres of savannah land dotted with acacia trees, radiant orange and burgundy bougainvillea, tall cacti, and the most luscious red earth underneath. After bumping along rutted dirt roads from the town of Nanyuki, through Naibor, we reached Dol Dol Road and entered the white painted gate of the campus. A bit delirious from the long flight, it seemed that Jason and Jenni, the directors, glowed as they waved us into their arms. “Karibu! Welcome to Daraja!”
The Forms 2’s, the class of twenty-six girls who began their studies here last year, the first class of the four-year scholarship program for secondary students, were in the dining hall. Navy blue sweaters over gray skirts, white socks and black shoes, their uniforms only made their uniqueness shine, and twenty-six brightly smiling flowers looked at the newest Americans to descend on their school with love.
I felt as if I knew some of the girls from the videos and photos on the Daraja Academy website. I had read some of the letters they had written to apply to the school, but putting names with the clear, intelligent faces as some of the girls put out their hands to shake mine was an emotional moment.
Three girls took us on a quick tour of the dorms and classrooms: this campus had housed the Baraka Boys, a program that brought middle school boys from the Baltimore school system to Kenya to open their minds and eyes to possibilities and opportunities. Although it closed and Daraja moved in four years later, there are reminders of the boys in paintings of animals on the walls and in the workers and teachers who taught the boys who are still here. The girls laughed as they taught me Swahili words: “jambo” — “hello;” “schule” — “school;” and “asantÃ©” — “thank you.”
After a restful sleep, I awakened to the sounds of Africa, hundreds of birds whistling and chirping in multiple pitches and tones — an orchestra of nature. The sky lightened as the sun inched its way up the mountain behind the school, reflecting on Mt. Kenya to the east. A most magical morning. The Form 1’s were arriving today, and each Form 2 girl excitedly awaited her “little sister.” The second year girls remembered how they had felt when they had arrived – aware of the journey they were embarking on to know the world and themselves better. We all waited at the gate as girls arrived on foot from the neighboring villages, or in matatus — vans; others were picked up by volunteers and delivered to the campus. Uniforms were laid out in the lounge, along with keys to lockers, backpacks, and each girl received a can of shoe polish and a brush. I felt as if I was witnessing each new student’s birth — they entered the lounge quiet, their eyes cast down, then left smiling as their big sisters piled everything into their arms, and led them off to see their new domicile. Parents stood watching, mostly silent except for one father who beamed and told us, through a teacher who translated, that his daughter had always loved to read and wanted nothing more to receive a secondary education. Jubilation, anticipation, bits of trepidation, and outright joy swirled across Daraja as every teacher, student and amazed visitor, like me, did their part to make the bridge from home to classroom for these twenty-six new girls.
(… to be continued)
March 1, 2010