Program Officer Karla Alvarez Reports from Kenya

Alvarez is program officer for the IPJ’s WorldLink Program.


Karibu! Hello, my name is Mercy. Welcome to Daraja.”


Then came Faith, Joan, Molly, Everlyn, Hadija … until 77 warm hugs and bright smiles greeted me and the delegation of USD students and staff to the Daraja Academy in Nanyuki, Kenya. In partnership with USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES), the IPJ’s WorldLink Program was invited to lead a series of workshops on leadership, gender, school success and global education at the secondary school.


Daraja, Swahili for “bridge,” was founded by educator and USD and WorldLink alum Jason Doherty, who wanted to provide an education for girls with limited means in Kenya. Three years ago, he and his wife Jenni selected the first 26 academically accomplished girls from across Kenya to comprise Form 1, the equivalent of freshman level in high school. Now, the campus thrives with 77 girls and 11 dedicated teachers.


It takes only a few hours to understand why these young women are referred to as WISH – Women of Integrity, Strength and Hope. Many of the Daraja students come from broken homes and extreme poverty. Were it not for Daraja’s free high school education – including meals, school supplies and room and board – they would likely remain in their hometowns not attending school and forced to work.


“There is a real hunger for education here,” shares one of the teachers. And it is visible everywhere on campus. A highly structured schedule means the girls begin with daily chores at 6 a.m., followed by breakfast at 7 and school for eight hours. An hour is provided for physical activity, followed by dinner and three hours of study hall. By 10 p.m., lights are turned off and the students return to their dorms.


Despite the long days, the girls are genuinely appreciative of a Daraja education. They enthusiastically wash clothes by hand, sort beans and clean the dining halls. They do not complain, or yearn for leisure time. Their limited spare time is usually spent studying.


Given Daraja’s goal to support young women’s pursuit of an education, the school provided a platform to continue building on WorldLink’s programmatic expansion. During the month of February, three M.A. students from SOLES worked with me to develop a documentary questionnaire and workshop. We then interviewed 15 Daraja students, learning about their families, values and goals for improving Kenya.


All 77 students then participated in a WorldLink workshop which explored their concerns on various social justice issues. The discussions highlighted frustration and concern over the lack of access to education, especially for young women, and limited job prospects in Kenya. However, the students are also acutely aware of their potential as youth and the role they play in the future of their country. They see education as the most vital step in improving their society and are committed to expanding opportunities for other young people’s education in order to create a wiser, stronger generation of youth to lead Kenya.


In the coming months, the WorldLink Interns will review the footage taken during my time in Kenya to create a documentary highlighting these young women’s stories and dedication to make a difference in their communities. Check the WorldLink page this summer for the video!



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