Daraja Academy exists! Though the “opening ceremony” took place midway through the third and final term of the school year, it did take place. We exist. We are legitimate and man it was FUN.
A lot of planning and preparation went into the October 23rd Opening Ceremony. The campus looked incredible with three large tents set up to protect the students and guests from the midday sun facing a “stage” which was nestled in the shade of an enormous, light orange bougainvillea.
Some of the parents and friends of Daraja Academy left their homes in the cold, dark morning hours, journeying from locations across the country. They began trickling into campus on the back of motorbikes, in packed matatus and by foot around 11am… and we were ready to begin.
The students lead group tours around campus, showing off their classrooms and projects they had worked on this year. These groups visited the Daraja Academy library, science lab and each of the teacher’s classrooms – which are an oddity in Kenya. In nearly every school in the country it is the teachers who switch rooms at the end of the class period. For the most part the students sit in the same desk, in the same classroom all day long, (which in Kenya is from 8am to 5pm in most schools.)
After touring the classrooms, the different groups were lead to the Daraja Academy Nature Trail. Mr. Charles and his science classes created a beautiful, meandering walk that shows off the different biozones of the campus. Benches have been strategically placed in three areas of particular interest – under a large medicinal tree, next to a tall termite mound and on a particularly striking vista that grants a beautiful view of the Laikipia Plateau. Many of the guests had never seen anything like it at a school – essentially, an outdoor classroom that the girls continue to use after the school day ends, reading books and doing homework in the peaceful setting.
After an hour of touring campus, the actual ceremony commenced and it was wonderful. Several of the students spoke very honestly about growing without any hope of attending high school. Benedictor described what it was like growing up in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum. Catherine, who was raised less than 500 yards from the school’s back fence shared about the powerful feelings she felt when she found out she would be joining the school she’d grown up admiring from afar.
During the days leading up to the opening I was nervous about the guest speakers. I totally understand the need for protocols; I just didn’t understand these specific protocols and my ignorance caused anxiety. I had heard that each of the six potential speeches could run on for 30 or 40 minutes. I shouldn’t have worried.
Two local officials ended up speaking; an area chief and the District Educational Officer, and they were great. The chief addressed the crowed in Swahili and made a stirring case for the need of girl’s education, how these young ladies of Daraja will be the leaders of Kenya, and how fortunate the area is to have a school like this.
Susan Ngure, the District educational officer gave an inspirational speech in English. She told how she was fortunate to receive a scholarship to attend a very prestigious girls school and road her education far. Though she was talented and held the proper credentials she tried not to advance too rapidly and thus outshine her husband. Only after rigorous soul searching she determined that she owed it to herself, to her son and frankly to her husband and the world to be the best “her” that she could be. The message REALLY resonated with the Daraja girls who cheered her as she concluded.
After the girls performed two traditional tribal dances and sang the D