Student selections in Makindu
Daraja administrators have just completed Student Selection for our new Form 1 (first year) class. Here Daraja founder, Jenni Doherty, gives a view into what Student Selection trips are like:
We have 2 more days to go on Student Selection and we are spending the night in Makindu (a small truck stop town on the Mombasa Highway). There are no hotels worth mentioning, but the Sikh temple has dormitories so we are staying there.
We’ve had incredible interviews that showcase a Daraja Girl to perfection. And then…there are interviews that change your life. There is a familiar pattern we get into when we do an interview. You sit in a circle around a table; we each have our pen at the ready to record poignant comments. Charles, our Head of School begins by introducing the Daraja Admin. He has the kindest and most smiley face. He tells the girls that we are writing down the things they say because we want to remember them, and not to worry. We are only writing good things. Then, he kindly asks the girl to introduce herself to us.
Many girls start with their names, age, parents names or names of their primary school. Some stand to attention while doing it, others are prompted to speak louder so that we can hear them. The first part of the interview is to ascertain their financial need, often asking questions about older siblings who had gone to school, occupation of the parents, and learning about some of their challenges regarding education. The second part of the interview is to see if they are a Daraja girl. We ask 4 basic questions. In the past 3 weeks, we’ve talked a lot about how we would have answered them at their age and what we might answer now.
I could go on and on about our process, how we “grade” them, what we look for. But suffice it to say, we know a Daraja Girl when we meet her.
And we met a Daraja Girl today.
We have a policy that we don’t tell girls if they have been accepted to Daraja until we have finished the 3 weeks of interviews. We have broken our rule 4 times this year. And today marks number 5.
Her name is Mbinya (Bean-Yah). She comes from Makindu. Her mother and father passed away from AIDS in 2011, leaving her and 4 younger siblings orphans. They are sent to live with an Uncle, whose wife dies in the first year leaving behind a 1.5 year old child. The uncle finds work 25 miles away as a watchman who makes about $50/month. He no longer lives in the home. Mbinya is the Mom in the household. She is 16 and takes care of her 5 younger ”siblings”.
I wasn’t sure about her upon first meeting her. She didn’t volunteer to go first in the interviews; she was actually the last. But she did look me in the eye when we shook hands. And when she went to introduce herself she spoke loudly and clearly, more so than any other girl in the past 3 weeks. After her introduction, we were all speechless. I’ve never been so lost for words. This girl was the Mom, the caretaker of her whole family. AND she got a 325 on her KCPE. That is SO high for the circumstances. When we went to do our 4 questions, she shut down. She wouldn’t answer at all. We stopped and asked Sara and Diane to leave the room. We breathed in deeply together, twice. We reiterated our instructions. And then she started talking.
Women should be educated because they have mercy and help other people. If she could change her area, she would bring in HIV testing centers, build a mortuary, bring ARVs to the hospitals, and make sure that zero percent die of HIV. She, at first, claimed she wasn’t a leader. When we prompted her about her home life she said, yes, she teaches her family about cleanliness, how to organize, how to live in a clean compound, and teaches the importance of education. We told her that was being a leader.
We asked her what she’d feed the children tonight, and she looked incredibly forlorn. She said, she’d go to her neighbors and ask for 1kg of Maize. For those of you who have been here, Maize is about the size of hominy and I swear you burn more calories chewing it! We asked what she ate for Christmas, and she said her uncle bought wheat flour so they could make chapati.
I wish I could pass to you the feeling from the interview. It is rare that at the end of one, we weep. And both Victoria, Daraja’s Principal, and I wept, we could barely pull ourselves together. We all hugged each other at the end of the interview just for comfort because we know what a scholarship like ours will mean to this amazing girl. We asked if she could take us home. One the way, we stopped for some basics–oil, beans, ugali flour, and wheat flour. She told us shyly that she cuts her neighbors’ bushes for firewood for cooking.
And we went to her home. At night the primary school’s watchman stops by to make sure they are okay. The community health worker stops in a few times per month. Words can’t describe the condition of the home they are ”squatting” in.
But the best moment was when we were standing around, and Victoria said, ”Mbinya, because you have been so amazing to your family, we want to give you a present. We want to give you a 4-year scholarship to Secondary school.” The Community health worker bursts into tears, the social worker bursts into tears, and Mbinya? She breaks into a smile that splits her face, just as her 2 youngest siblings run up to the house from school. It was one of the most poignant moments of my life.
The community has pledged to take on the family while we take Mbinya to school. It feels like a happy ending. And in a way, it is. But really, it is only just the beginning of a long road for Mbinya. I’m just so glad that Daraja gets to be her bridge to a better future. Mbinya is the reason we started Daraja. And she is the reason we don’t tell the first 26 girls we meet that they have been accepted to the school. But today, we broke that rule, again. And tonight as I snuggle into bed, I rest a little bit easier because I’ve helped change the life of a girl.
Girls awaiting interviews at Student Selection
Applicants awaiting interviews.