Daraja club helps to bridge the female education gap in Kenya

Sarah Young

The word “daraja” means bridge in Swahili, a language spoken in Kenya, where the Daraja Academy for girls is located. According to their website, the school’s mission is to “educate and empower girls from poverty to become community leaders.” With the assistance  of the Redwood Daraja club, the Daraja Academy has gained support and attention this year.

The women in the village next to Daraja make a living by selling bracelets and other homemade goods. Photo courtesy of Cleo Norris.

Senior and co-president Claire Fogarty was one of the co-founders of the Redwood Daraja club in 2016, and she believes it has grown naturally since it was started.

“It’s a pretty easy sell because most girls want to help girls…They’re more motivated to help girls around the world,” Fogarty said.

The club participates in multiple bake sales and various fundraisers throughout the year, bringing the members closer to each other and to the girls they are supporting in Kenya. Freshman Kelly Chuang joined Daraja this year and is looking forward to raising money for the club and the cause.

“We will be doing lots of fundraisers and bake sales, and we are going on the Bay to Breakers walk in San Francisco. I like doing [Daraja] to help other people, because it’s what I can contribute back,” Chuang said. 

Redwood’s Daraja club is looking to raise lots of money through fundraisers such as this one for the International Day of the Girl in early October.

Bay to Breakers is an annual tradition for the Redwood Daraja club. Fogarty believes it is one of the best fundraisers the club participates in because of the connections they create with the girls they are supporting.

“One thing that’s really cool about the Bay to Breakers fundraiser is that every girl from Redwood is paired with a girl from Daraja [Academy]. When you run Bay to Breakers, you have a picture of her on your back,” Fogarty said. “I remember I ran for [a girl named] Esther one year. It’s really cool because you have a specific girl you’re raising money for and it’s a more personal connection.”

The club also stresses this personal connection to the girls they are supporting through donating money for their scholarships, having pen pals and face-to-face skyping in school. They also stay in contact with the founders of the organization, who are based in San Rafael. 

“Last year, Jason, one of the leaders of the organization, came in right after [the Daraja] girls got their acceptances to school. Every girl who is going gets a scholarship. He showed us voicemails of the girls when they found out they got in and people were crying. It was very emotional,” Fogarty said.

The club’s dedication goes as far as journeying to Kenya, where four members of the Redwood club got the opportunity to travel to the Daraja Academy for 10 days this past summer. Catie Duys, Redwood class of 2019 and a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley this year, was one of the co-founders of the Daraja club at Redwood and was able to go on the trip.

Redwood Daraja members at Daraja Academy (from left to right): Catie Duys, Lexi Santas, Sarah Dougherty, and Cleo Norris. Photo Courtesy of Cleo Norris.

“The trip was definitely the quintessential experience. It was the culmination of all of our years working in the club. Being able to go there and actually meet the girls in person and talk to them was a life-changing experience that completely changed my viewpoint,” Duys said.

The Redwood girls who went on the trip were joined by girls from Drake’s Daraja club and were able to bond with each other and the girls at Daraja Academy while visiting. Duys was able to experience the true Kenyan culture and the unique culture at the school while also helping the girls with daily tasks. 

“[The girls] would have buckets of beans and lentils that they would sort through. All the girls would be there and we would all sing songs together. There would be traditional songs that were in Swahili that we wouldn’t know the words to, but we would also sing One Direction,” Duys said. 

Going to Kenya, Duys was also able to see similarities between Redwood and Daraja Academy in student opinions and future plans.

“It was similar [to Redwood] because at both schools everyone is generally very focused and driven and thinking about the future,” Duys said. “But there is a definite difference in the attitude towards school; at Redwood, a lot of kids don’t appreciate [education] as much or they really don’t like going to school.”

Daraja’s first Redwood meeting this year happened on Tuesday, September 31st

The Redwood Daraja club is still continuing strongly despite the loss of three seniors from last year: Duys, Lexi Santas and Sarah Dougherty, who all went on the trip.

“I’m so excited that Cleo Norris and Claire Fogarty came in the club and they will hopefully go back to Kenya,” Duys said. 

This year, Fogarty has big plans, as she wants to continue the legacy left for her.

I think what’s different about our club is that we have really good organization and whenever we have done something, we’ve done it full scale,” Fogarty said, “If we can get a group of girls this year that are really excited about raising money, we know that we’ll be able to raise a lot through bake sales and other fundraisers.”

The Redwood Daraja club welcomes all new members and meets every other Tuesday in room 126.