“Education is the single most important civil rights issue that we face today” – Michelle Obama. In Swahili, Daraja means bridge. And we are the “bridge” that can connect every deserving girl with an education. Did you know that 20 million high-school aged girls are missing from high-school classrooms? In Kenya, less than half of all high-school aged girls are enrolled in secondary schools. This can’t be ignored. In 2009, I was introduced to Daraja & I’ve been a supporter ever since.
Daraja Academy of Kenya is an all-girls boarding high school. Each year Daraja provides comprehensive scholarships to 30 exceptional girls born into extreme poverty from diverse religions and tribal backgrounds. Without Daraja – these girls would never receive an education. To date 151 girls have graduated. 35 tribes and 4 religions are represented and 45 local community members are employed on campus.
In 2011, I visited the campus for the first time with my boyfriend to welcome the second class of girls who were fortunate enough to be accepted into Daraja. We flew into Naiorbi and drove 3 hours north to the small town of Nanyuki. We drove past giraffes, camels and elephants on the bumpy road leading up to the painted Daraja gates.
As soon as we arrived we were welcomed with hugs and love from faculty, teachers and students alike. I was immediately hooked and inspired by the girls. Studying is taken very seriously; but laughter, dancing and singing fill the classrooms and cafeteria. We arrived on a weekend, which allowed us to help them with their chores (cleaning their rooms and campus, sorting beans and tutoring).
Sunday is a special day on campus as each classroom is transformed into a church where the girls conduct readings, singing, dancing and prayer. Though I was a bit nervous, I was encouraged and welcomed to dance and sing with the girls.
For weeks we were fortunate enough to be a part of the Daraja community, contributing in any way we could. We involved ourselves by participating in classrooms, sports, gardening, cooking, and facilitating a WISH (Women of Integrity, Strength, and Hope) course. Learning about the differences and similarities we shared was an eye-opening experience for both the girls and myself.
For hours, I listened as each girl candidly shared their stories of struggle and survival. Unbroken and undefeated, these girls have taken on a mentality of determination and perseverance. Driven to improve the lives of their families and their own, through their education. My heart broke as I listened to these stories. Some girls traveling miles by foot, with no shoes, in order to get to school. Most studying hours on end with nothing but a flashlight, before the delightful news of being accepted into the Daraja Academy. These countless stories told by such strong-willed, remarkable young women impelled for a better quality of life, regardless of misfortune or circumstance, inspired me to get involved, and prompted my support for the past 9 years.
In 2014, I returned to campus with my family to witness the first class of girls to graduate. It was an emotional and incredible experience to see how confident, poised and eloquent the girls were after their 4 years spent at Daraja. They were ready to go to college and take on the world. My girl I sponsored through her time at Daraja, Kajuju, also known as Moreen, is one of many who received a scholarship in the States.
Daraja has built the bridge that these girls so desperately need in order to secure their future. It has been and continues to be an honor and privilege to have Daraja in my life. I 100% recommend everyone to visit the campus. Your trip will not only change the lives of these eager young ladies, but most likely your trip to Daraja will inspire and change you too. For more details on you can help and volunteer opportunities – visit their website.
Daraja means bridge, join us, be her bridge!