21 06 2012

So, a pretty cool posting today. A few days ago I was able to join a group of Mpala researchers on an evening trip to Daraja Academy, a local girls’ secondary school. Daraja, which means “bridge” in Kiswahili, is entering its fourth year and, to say the least, I was utterly blown away by what I saw.

One of the Daraja classroom buildings

After the forty-minute drive down the dirt “road,” we arrived at Daraja around 6 PM. Within a minute of our van parking, a large group of high school-aged girls appeared and greeted us with huge smiles. The founders of the school Jenni and Jason were not far behind and were incredibly welcoming. After a slew of handshakes and “hellos” each girl grabbed a pair of visiting researchers and led us on a tour of the school. The school has around 100 students and every girl boards on site. My host’s name was Alice and she took my lab mate Sara and me around to each of the ten classrooms. Each classroom was described in detail and Alice gave a quick summary on the current lessons. Alice radiated pure joy in describing her lessons and telling me about her school. She showed some serious insight and intelligence! Within five minutes of meeting her, I knew she had incredible potential.

Alice and I

The classrooms were very impressive, with solid wooden desks, blackboards and posters covering the walls with inspirational quotes or informative facts. I could have been at a school in the US were it not for the view of the Rift Valley out the window. Of course, I was the most excited when we arrived in the science classroom. Lab benches were scattered about and biology terms and equations were scribbled all over the board. Alice burst into a description of the most current lab lesson: separating NaCl. Apparently, Alice’s favorite class is math… awesome.

Alice in the lab

After visiting all the of classrooms, where we ran into a number of girls trying to squeeze in some last minute studying, Alice took us out to the shamba, or field for growing crops. Wow. Wow. Wow. There were long lines of vibrant green cabbage, kale, spinach and herbs. Sweet potatoes, red potatoes, tomatoes, onions, large mango trees and papaya dressed the landscape with polychromatic splotches. Not only was it one of the most beautiful gardens I had ever seen, but Alice identified every single plant and told us how best to care for and harvest it. Unreal. The students have chores when not in class or studying including laundry and cleaning rooms. Alice, beaming, told us her chore was to work in the shamba.

Entry to the shamba

Papaya tree!

After the tour, the school provided us with a delicious dinner of chapati and bean stew. Yum. I really do need to learn how to make chapati. We were then directed into a larger room where a Mpala researcher Corinna gave a talk about her work on land restoration and conservation. The Daraja girls were quite engaged and you could just see the mental wheels turning. The talk and discussion lasted until about 8 PM and we headed back to Mpala after the girls said goodbye and headed off to do more studying. Personally, I was ready for bed.

Daraja Academy was founded by Jenni and Jason about four years ago and is, for the most part, privately funded. It was quite inspiring to hear about their dream of creating a school in East Africa and how they went about doing it. Like most things in life, running a school requires a large sum of money… if you’re interested in learning more about Daraja Academy, check out their website: http://daraja-academy.org/ and if possible, donate what you can to support these incredible young ladies.

These girls are going to be making big changes to Kenya.




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