I traveled to Kenya last year. Driving beyond bustling, chaotic Nairobi towards my destination: Nanyuki, the home of Daraja Academy, the sky was an infinite blue expanse overhead and I took in the vibrant landscape and scents of red dust and mangoes mixed with diesel fumes. I was visiting the all-girls high school to meet the students, staff, and observe the programs I support. Daraja provides scholarships to girls unable to attend secondary school because their families cannot afford the $250 US (20387.5261 Kenyan schillings) per year to pay for uniforms and supplies. Africa is a vast continent with diversity in people, politics, economics, and cultures. I have only visited South Africa and Kenya, and my knowledge of Africa is limited to what I read and what I've witnessed firsthand. I fell in love with Daraja Academy because the founders have a passion to provide access to education for girls and this is my mission through my non-profit, Do A Little.
Girleffect.org states that more than 600 million girls live in the developing world. When one of these girls receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. An extra year of primary school boosts girls' eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25 percent.
These are phenomenal statistics, and studies by Mary E. Modupe Kolawole reveal that "when resources are stretched, girls are denied education in many [African] rural places; the ratio of literate adult females to males is 1:5."
In interviews with girls who hope to attend Daraja, the girls are asked, "Why is education important to a Kenyan girl?" One girl answered, "When you go through hardship, you are able to overcome."
My first morning at Daraja, I awakened in my rondoval to roosters crowing in a background chorus of layered birdsong. Enclosed in 60 acres by a fence to keep out wandering giraffes, camels, elephants and lions, I walked to breakfast beside cows, goats, chickens and a feisty bustard who spread his wings and hissed at me. The landscape of rutted red clay roads, with acacia trees dotting the plains, enveloped me in a peaceful rhythm of tribal knowing. In the main building, girls were up washing clothes, helping set tables for the meal, scrubbing floors. Giggling and waving to me, I saw faces I already knew from photos sent to me in California. As I got more acquainted with the girls I learned that in their villages they had studied late into the night by the small flame of paraffin, many had gone hungry at primary school, and they had weathered drought, death and watching their brothers attend secondary school while they worked at home. Yet, here at Daraja, they are strong, vibrant and happy.
One girl wrote:
I am from a forest of flowers in Nyeri
I am from where rain is our daily bread
I am from hard work and a will to succeed in life
I am from love and laughter
I am from a heart that hopes for the best
I am from the beautiful world that I have made
I will return to Kenya this summer. This time I want to know more about my ancestors, more about the tribes from which the girls come, more about who they want to become. I cannot wait to return to the land, the sight of Masai leading their cattle, women selling boxes of potatoes and green bananas alongside the road. Maybe this time I will visit a museum or a yoga studio. Daraja is Swahili for bridge. The girls have become a bridge for me - from my ancient ties in Africa to who I am today.