Yesterday was my last day telling stories in English to the students of the primary school that my aunt Monica heads, a bilingual school outside of Buenos Aires called Sworn College. The school is a private school where many of the students come from barrios cerrados, or closed neighborhoods where the residents are generally wealthy. I had visited the first through fifth graders, so only the sixth graders were left. Each grade has a value that they work on each month, and the fifth graders were working on “we can make a difference when we work together.” So, to try to give them a taste of what life might be like in a different part of the world, and to inspire a possible project for their value, I decided to read them the story of Anastacia, one of the Daraja girls.
We started with the general interview of questions about the United States and my life that most of the classes had done. Do you have pets? What’s your favorite sport? Have you been to Disney? Then, we changed the tone. “I’m going to tell you a story, that’s not a happy story, but it does have a happy ending,” I told them. We talked about what they knew about Kenya, and I told them that going to school isn’t such a given there. Then, I read Anastacia’s story, a story of becoming an orphan, being abused by guardians, walking long distances to school, running away, and eventually discovering Daraja Academy. “I will live to be remembered,” the story finishes. Throughout the story, I had the rapt attention of all thirty ten-year-olds, whose mouths dropped open when I read that Anastacia walked 20 kilometers to school each day. By the end, I had shivers, even though I have read the story numerous times before.
“What did you guys think of it?” I asked them, “What made you sad about it?”
“That she saw the other girls going to school and she couldn’t,” said one girl. Hands went up, and the students of the Argentinean fifth grade class across the world from Kenya all talked about what they thought of Anastacia’s life. “Did you get to meet her?” one of the students asked. “Yes, I did!” I described enthusiastically the small girl with infinite joy and a beautiful singing voice that I knew from Daraja. I described how all of the students are Daraja have similar enthusiasm, and how you would never know that these things had happened to them without having read their stories. To the surprise of all of the students and especially the teacher, I described how every hand shot up at the opportunity to demonstrate a problem on the blackboard. “Can we write to them?” the students and teacher wanted to know. So I wrote down the website, and all of the students took out a piece of paper and started writing it down. Maybe a different inter-country partnership will develop from it!
Even now, I can’t look at the Daraja website without tearing up. Sometimes, I tear up from sadness at the stories of the lives of the girls before Daraja, and somtimes, it’s out of happiness from seeing pictures of the smiling faces that I know well. I carry my memories and lessons from Daraja everywhere I travel, whether I am outwardly sharing them or not, and I hope to keep spreading the Daraja love everywhere I go.