A Week at the Academy

A perspective from Lydia!

During our stay at the Academy, each member of ARCC was placed with a buddy to spend time with. My (Lydia’s) buddy was Maggie, a 14-year-old from a small village outside of Nanyuki, Kenya. At first shy and withdrawn, Maggie soon began to open up to me about her past, her family, and her experience at the Academy.

The people that live in Maggie’s village are extremely poor; most nights she eats only a mixture of flour and water (“Ugali”) for dinner. Maggie told me that when she arrived at the academy, she brought with her only the clothes on her body. She said that Daraja has given her everything.

Maggie has two younger sisters and one older sister who is mentally ill. Her family left her father when she was a young girl, and her mother is now remarried to a man whom Maggie believes does not care about the women in the family. This sentiment is largely echoed in society in the village; for example, if a woman dares to ask a man for help with cooking or cleaning, she is usually beaten. Men perform FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) on women, and girls are typically forced to marry before the age of 18.

Coming to Daraja this past year, Maggie said, was an incredible change from her daily routine at home of housework and schoolwork. She loves all of her classes, especially business and agriculture. She has made many close friends and lives with seven other girls in a dorm room. She loves running on campus and races against runners from other schools. Most importantly, she has gained confidence and self-empowerment through a class called W.I.S.H (Women of Integrity, Strength, and Hope). This class has helped Maggie and all of the other girls of the academy realize the importance of their voice and opinions. Maggie now applies the concepts learned in W.I.S.H. when back home in her village.

I feel very fortunate to have met Maggie at Daraja, and I know that everyone in our program has felt the same way about meeting the girls here. We’ve had a really amazing week! -Lydia

And now a profile from Melanie!

Christine is the eldest of 5 children. Her favorite subject is physics which she dreams to one day build her career as a civil engineer. Aside from academics, she is a confident athlete in volleyball, soccer, and rugby. And she tells me with a sparkle in her eye that she is ranked one of the top 5 runners at school. Her interests alone distinguish her from a girl attending a co-ed school; from our observations over the past weeks, the boys typically dominate the academic and extracurricular settings. Their overpowering presence often seems to restrict the girls from fully expressing themselves.

But I did not spend a week with Christine only to relay information you could find stored in a file cabinet–this is not a standard student profile. Instead I want to share the true depth of her heart that I encountered as we spent more time together. Rather than identify her as a mere student, to me Christine is also a teacher.

Several instances came up these past few days when my fear of inadequacy almost stopped me from participating in everyday fun. Not 30 minutes into our one-on-one campus tour, we reached the field where a team was practicing soccer and she asked me if I liked the game. My reply: “Yes it’s a blast, but I’m not very good so I don’t play that much”. Christine looked at me with a furrowed brow and stopped walking. “Melanie when you don’t have faith in yourself you are your biggest obstacle to success”. My disclaimer made her genuinely angry.

From that point on every time I made a negative comment about myself, like when I apologized for poorly mopping the floors, she did not listen. Instead she empowered me to give it my all because, in her words, “when you tell yourself you can do something, you can.”

Christine emanates the true school spirit: she is dignified and hard-working and confident in her abilities, and she inspires others to be have these same qualities. Her motivation is as contagious as her smile and what’s more is she is in Form 1, the youngest in the school. This academy has a unique environment of empowerment, unlike any other institution, which produces strong young women with bold dreams. Christine is a product of an enriching curriculum that prioritized both quality education and quality character–

On our final day Christine asked me to write a letter in her journal, so I had the opportunity to skim through its pages. Inside I found an overwhelming amount of wisdom in the form of notes from her W.I.S.H class (Women of Integrity, Strength, Honor); lectures on everything from personal hygiene to the power of encouragement for your peers. These girls are not only learning how to compose argumentative essays and perform chemistry practicals, they are learning to have a voice in a culture that is historically dominated by men.