So I don’t think I have ever gotten as many hugs as I do each day at Daraja Academy.
These girls are absolutely incredible. I have fallen in love with them already, which is hardly fair to me or them, since I leave in only two months. They have overcome so much to get here that it gives me shivers when I hear about it. Many of them would be married, and only one or two of them could even be in secondary school if they weren’t here. Yet they are the happiest, most engaged students I have ever met (and after going to MA and Mountain School, that is saying a lot). All hands shoot up whenever the teacher asks someone to demonstrate a problem on the blackboard, and they all pay rapt attention in each class. They KNOW how lucky they are to be at Daraja, which is pretty special. Jason and Jenni, the couple that started the school, are parents to them. They are vivacious and compassionate, often practicing their dancing or laughing in the dining hall. They have been so welcoming and loving towards me, which must be hard to do since they have seen so many volunteers come and go. And they give hugs ALL the time. I arrived at breakfast once a line had already formed, which meant I had to walk down the entire line to give each girl a good morning hug. Did I mention how much I love them already?
I spent my first week getting to know the campus a little more, spending a little bit of time for myself, and preparing to dive into my projects (which are turning out to be even more exciting than anticipated). I’ve worked out a deal with the kitchen staff where they teach me swahili if I spend some of my free time cutting up tomatoes (nya nya), onions (kitungo), and other vegetables in the morning. I’m also learning to make chapati, mandazi (fried dough, basically), and lots of bean and rice dishes… so plan on eating all of that along with the dal bhat when I get home, too. I have also been recruited as a math tutor, so I spend two hours a day in the library answering any questions that the girls might have. I have had quite a bit of free time in my first week, since I haven’t really gotten into any of my projects yet, so I spend it practicing mandolin, doing little bits of meditation, going through swahili flashcards, reading Ayn Rand, or hiking around campus. I’m not complaining.
My initial project was just to teach environmental science to the girls – one class and one project session a week. I started that this weekend, and they were all so excited to be spending their Saturday afternoon learning about the Greenhouse Effect. A lot of them went up to Jason afterwords to tell him about the class. For our project this week, we did a Daraja Campus Survey and made posters about how Daraja interacts with the environment. Next week, we are learning about natural building… which leads into a bunch of other projects that have (fortuitously) fallen into my lap. I will be building a greenhouse and a shed on campus, which I hopefully will do using natural building techniques. My current plan is to build at least the shed out of adobe, and to celebrate 10/10/10 (global climate change work party day!) with an enormous adobe festival involving all of the students. My first self-designed natural building! After all the permaculture I’ve learned about, it’s a pretty exciting prospect. Daraja also has a huge garden, so part of my project is to make it more productive… maybe add some raised beds and drip irrigation in there. And the final aspect is creating a tree nursery with a bunch of native seeds that got donated so we can plant them around campus. I had no idea I would have so much to do, and I’m doing some sleuthing this week about materials etc. so the building can start next week!
One final anecdote, one of my favorite moments so far: each Sunday, the girls have spiritual time, so I joined the Catholic Church room yesterday. We started by just closing our eyes and praying, and I sort of wondered how I would be able to sit through so much religion, having never been very religious. However, after about two minutes, the girls started moving around the room. A bunch of them lined up outside, and one sat down at the teacher’s desk. She started drumming a strong beat on the desk with her hands, and the rest danced in. They all knew all of the songs and dance moves to go along with them, and laughed, clapped, and sang loudly. There were three short readings from the bible, and then one of the girls analyzed them so specifically and beautifully, explaining how they pertained to life at Daraja. Then, they reverted to more singing and dancing to close out the church time.
That’s all for now. I hope to be able to update at least once a week, when I go into town. I’ll update on the shed and greenhouse designing soon!