Daraja Photography Project 2019

Preface, March 2019:

In 2009 my wife, Joanne, and son, Jono, came home from an after-school meeting and announced that “Jono may go to Kenya next summer.” My infamous response was, “the hell he will.”

What follows here is the story of Daraja Academy and the project that my friend Pat Garvey and I set out to do for three weeks in February 2019....

... My reaction to the news of Jono's proposed trip was based on what I’d heard about the recent election violence and subsequent relocation of a million people, which was about the extent of my knowledge of east Africa. But they insisted that I meet Jason and Jenni Doherty, the founders of the newly established Daraja Academy and, after meeting Jenni a few nights later, I was immediately interested.

Daraja’s core belief in educating women resonated with me. And Jono’s belief that we could introduce computers to this remote school was a tangible need that we could fill. So with Joanne leading the way, we raised enough money to bring a computer-lab full of netbooks and cameras (because you can teach practical computer skills using photography) and developed a curriculum to teach beginning computing.

Kenya 2010
On this first trip in the summer of 2010, we taught students and teachers for three weeks and I, somewhat unexpectedly, developed a case of what we now call “Daraja Fever.” I returned home feeling as though I had 52 new daughters. On this trip, we also met Teddy Nyakado, the first student our family chose to sponsor for her four years at the school.

A year later I hooked up with a teacher at Marin Academy and we returned to Kenya as a group of 18 students and teachers on a two-way cultural exchange.

And in 2013, with Jono now in college, I returned alone to teach business and advanced computing skills in the school’s first-ever “Transition Program,” a gap-year learning and internship program for graduated seniors waiting for college entrance.

Around the same time, I joined the Daraja Education Fund Board, which is the U.S. fundraising arm of Daraja. Which is what led me to the project we embarked on last month.

Nairobi, February 2nd, 2019

End of day two and I’m picking this up on the fly. Two amazing and incredibly busy days in Nairobi. My friend Pat and I caught the last two days of student selection for the Daraja Academy class of 2022. And we visited Kibera, the largest slum in Africa on both days. Neither experience was what we might have imagined. Tomorrow we begin the longest phase of our project as we travel north to Nanyuki and the Daraja campus.

This started almost a year ago, when Jenni Doherty and I were talking about the photographic needs of the school and my personal feeling that it was long past time for me to get back to Kenya. The Daraja board was planning a big fundraiser in the fall and I volunteered to go through the 16,000 photos the school had collected to put together graphics and a slideshow. What was clear was that our photo library needed updating and that many of the photos that we had were either dated or low-quality.

At home, my children, Jono and Katherine, had both now graduated college and were settling into their adult selves; I’d been busily retired for a few years, our latest home renovation was nearing completion and the next wouldn’t begin until the spring. After years of other commitments, there was a window where a trip to Kenya was again feasible.  

As Jenni and I talked, a project to document photographically the story of the school began to take shape. As we looked at timing, it seemed appropriate to join the student selection team in early February at the end of their month long search for new students and then stay through Reporting Day for the new students, which comes less than two weeks after the end of the student selection process.

One thing that was clear to me as I reflected on my 2013 solo trip was that I did not want to do this alone again. At first, two board members expressed interest, but one backed out and the other chose another time to come.

So I talked to my good friend Pat Garvey about the project and mentioned (hopefully) that I wanted company. Pat’s eyes lit up and he said he was interested. Soon that became the plan. After refining details with Jenni, Jason and the staff, Pat and I secured round-trip tickets for three weeks beginning at the end of January.

Pat’s background is marketing. He’s an independent consultant with an impressive resume, including several years as the head of one of Disney’s marketing divisions. As we talked, Pat stressed that sponsors and donors react to storytelling and felt strongly we needed to tell the story of some of our alumni. This made perfect sense to me.

To that end, we asked the Daraja staff to find 6-10 alumni or teachers to interview so that we could tell their stories. What were they doing before Daraja, what was their experience there, and what are they doing now? By telling those stories, we’d be able to share the success of the school with potential donors and sponsors.

As time grew closer, I had conflicting emotions. I was excited about the trip and realized that I missed the feel of Kenya. I had a visceral memory of the unique smell of the red soil mixed with dust and wood smoke; the sense of the exotic differences between life in California and Africa; and the recollection of so many welcoming friends at Daraja. With excitement, I packed my suitcase weeks ahead of the trip and I, almost daily, thought and rethought, and packed and repacked, the photographic and personal items to bring. I made constant use of Amazon Prime to deliver travel laundry soap, extra batteries, a sweatshirt and other sundries.

On the other hand, I remembered the cruelly long flights from here to Nairobi. I don’t sleep on planes, so the memories of my previous 40+ hour trips through Dubai were depressing. Another bad memory was having fallen ill on both trips due to contaminated water. In fact, in 2013, sitting on the Marin Airporter waiting to set off on that trip, I recall wondering if I could just get off right there and then and go home.

This time, Pat convinced me to go through Europe. This meant only a 21 hour trip via Amsterdam on the way there, with only a very short layover between flights to worry about. The way home would be through Paris, with a 20-hour, overnight layover, which was something to actually look forward to. I also stocked a medicine chest full of antibiotics and water purification supplies.

The best news was I’d have a traveling companion and someone who’d be just as invested in the photography as me.

So, last Wednesday I met Pat at SFO and we embarked on the very long trip from there to Amsterdam and then onto Nairobi. Sure enough, we had to sweat a delay getting into Amsterdam, but after a long jog through the airport, made our connection – as, thankfully, did our bags.

Stephen Stems "Stems"
Daraja's volunteer coordinator, Stephen Stems, met us at the airport late Thursday night and we settled in to Nairobi’s Best Western Meridian Plus for three nights.

On previous trips, I’d had a day or two to acclimate before diving into work. This time we had only a brief night’s sleep, then met the student selection team at 9:00 the next morning. But having some sleep and enjoying the wonderful breakfast buffet at the hotel and the excitement of the project served to get us fully ready for the day.

We fortuitously discovered that our hotel was just a short walk across a local park to the hotel where the selection interviews were being held and arrived just as the selection team was getting organized for the day.

Student Selection
We spent the morning listening to the stories of these young teenagers and finding the best light and angles to photograph and video. I found the process fascinating and insightful. Questions included how the girls found out about the school, what steps they had taken to try and find their own funding – such as asking their chief for help – what they wanted to be when they grew up? 

And, pointedly since Daraja looks for potential leaders, they were asked the hypothetical, “if you are elected MP for your district, what would you want to do to help your community?” Answers from these 13-14 year olds reflected the realities of their circumstances. End child marriage. Find new sources of water for the village. Make high school free and accessible to all boys and girls.

Finally, they were asked what they would do if they were not offered one of the few scholarships that we are able to provide? The team was looking for those girls who are both motivated and future leaders of their communities and Kenya. It was looking for that girl who answered, "if you don't take me, I WILL find a way to go to school."

The team was composed of Jason (co-founder), Victoria (head of school), Charles, (principal), Helen (bookkeeper), and Stephanie (long-time friend of Daraja and regular member of the selection team). Former Daraja Education Fund (US) Board Chair Lee Ann Patterson also overlapped on our first day before she headed home.

For many of the dozen or so 13’ish-year-old girls interviewed each day, Jason, Stephanie, Pat and I were the first white muzungu they’d ever met. And for many, this may have been the first time that they've been asked to speak to a group of adults, not an easy thing at any time for an east African girl, most of whom are culturally expected to be quiet. So there was that level of stress added to an interview that was the single most life-changing hour of their lives.

Mary (not her real name - and for privacy's sake, not the girl in this picture) was almost the stereotypical example. She had just turned 13. Her father has many mouths to feed, but no money to send her to secondary school. So a few months ago, when she was 12, he offered her to be the wife an older man in return for a dowry of a cow and two goats. She said she cried and cried and the “wedding” was delayed, during which time she learned about Daraja and applied. Mary wowed the selection team and was offered one of the last spots in the new class of students.

Unfortunately, Daraja can only accept about one of every 15 applicants. Pat and I quickly realized that perhaps the most emotionally difficult part of the selection team’s job was not merely to find the best candidates, but in having to say no to so many otherwise worthy girls. And to know what the dismal prospects were for those who are not afforded admission to Daraja.

Pat and I moved quietly around the small interview space taking photos and videos and, recognizing the importance of these interviews, tried not to disturb the process. Without exception, the girls were never distracted – they were totally focused on the questions and answers. On the first day, one girl, Mercy, was accepted on the spot (since these are the last few days of the month-long selection process and it was becoming clear how many spaces were left). Mary had her offer on the second day and, in the two days in Nairobi, one other girl was offered a scholarship. Copious tears all around from student, family and interviewers.

Jason asks Mercy one last question


After that first morning of interviews, Pat and I grabbed a quick bite of pizza, then joined Stems and Daraja's Communications Intern, Daisy Feter, for a trip to the Kibera slum. With 1 million people crammed into an extraordinarily poor and small area of southwestern Nairobi, this is the largest slum in Africa. Dirt streets, shanty buildings.Water and electrical lines strung haphazardly everywhere, and the infamous fetid streams throughout.

Kibera is teeming with people. The main streets are a plethora of stands and shops, selling every kind of necessity. Goods are all second/third hand. Produce, meats and dairy are all very local. Back streets are warrens of homes and other side-street businesses.

Back alleys of Kibera
That being said, Kibera is almost certainly the most alive place that I have ever visited. And as Pat and I agreed, it was not very different from any other community in that it was simply people living, going to school, making money for their families through entrepreneurship, and spending time with friends and family.

Accompanied by Stems, Daisy, and an alumnus, Irene Asuza, at no time did we feel unsafe. Interestingly, I felt marginally less safe walking around the area of our downtown hotel where we were the only Muzungu that we saw outside the hotel lobby and where “security” precautions seemed ever-present.

Brandon at Harambee Arts

On this first day, Stems introduced us to a friend, Brandon Okoth, an 18-year-old going-on-30 strapping young man who works for a program called Harambee Arts.

Brandon told us that twice a month on Saturdays, 200 neighborhood children cram into a small building where well-trained staff provide them with paint and brushes and encourage them to create art. He invited us back the next day to document the program. We were delighted to accept the invitation.

Feb 2

Harambee Arts
Harambee Arts is located in a large building in a courtyard in Kibera. We walked in to find it full of small children sitting on the floor, painting with brushes and communal plates of various colors. Harambee's staff handed out supplies and hung finished works along the wall. After a while, Brandon called the children out to the yard for recess. He and the other staff members were bundles of energy who had the children laughing and running, playing such universal games as a Swahili version of duck-duck-goose. Pat and I were thoroughly enjoying the moment – and photographing and videoing.

Harambee Arts
Harambee is one of three arts programs founded by one of Daraja’s original board members, Gloria Simoneaux. And like Daraja, Harambee's programs are now run by Kenyans. As we came to learn, Daraja’s community branches are many and are a natural outgrowth of how openly Jason and Jenni were welcomed and supported a decade ago by another NGO called Turning Point.

Harambee Arts serves a variety of populations in Kenya and Nepal. In addition to the Kibera program, Harambee's Kenya work includes women in Langata Women's Prison and autistic children in the Mathare Special Training Center (www.harambeearts.org). Later that day Gloria contacted me and I sent her some photos for a marketing project she was working on.

Recess at Harambee Arts

On our way out of Kibera, we stopped for a lunch of fried fish and ugali in a local restaurant. This is not a place for muzungu – it was fully local. No utensils. We each had a whole fried fish and bowl of ugali placed in front of us which we ate with our fingers. Pat had his first Tuskers and – being early in the day and safely avoiding the untreated water – I instead had a Coke (my first real Coke in probably 30 years). Our guides, Stems and Daisy, laughed at our efforts, but the food was good and the first of many very Kenyan experiences.

Feb 13

Monday "Flag"
It has been well over a week since I last wrote. Our days have been so full that all I have had energy to  do is put my feet up and read after what I have been usually 12+ hours of photography. From the first morning's weekly Flag Ceremony to now, we've been fully engaged.

We came to Kenya with a five page shot list, which included all facets of the Daraja program, plus visits to Matt Orcutt’s Simama Project and Jess Danforth’s Leo Project. Ambitious to say the least.

But Stems and Daraja also wanted us to reach out to the many other Daraja connections in the community. These included community schools where our alumni were working and their original primary schools, so that we could understand where they came from.

Stems is one of those people who keeps a dozen balls in the air. He’s arranged a wealth of experiences for us, making connections, handling transportation, juggling itinerary changes and making sure we can focus on our work.

Masai camel herder

Last Thursday, he arranged for us to have a dawn visit to a small group of Masai pastoralists who had their camel herd just off campus.

We watched as the camels were milked and, yes, sampled the milk right out of the camel. As we chatted with them, with Stems translating, they showed us the medicinal, root-based drink they prepare every day.
Pat, the Juan Valdez of camel milk

After warning us that it would “probably kill us” if we drank it, they mixed a bit with camel milk and, yes, we sampled that too. Bitter! But we lived.

Along with Stems, our two main companions and colleagues on this trip have been Teddy Nyakado and Daisy Feter.

Teddy is the student our family sponsored from 2010 – 2013 and helped when needed during her university years. Teddy graduated in December from Kisumu's Malinde Maliru University of Science and Technology with a degree in Agricultural Economics, but isn't yet working.

Like all Daraja students, she's demonstrated her commitment to getting an education and being a leader. Overcoming the same familial circumstances as many of our students, she'd scored high on her eighth grade exams, impressed the Daraja student selection team and, at the end of her time at Daraja, scored high enough on her KCSE college entrance exam to qualify for government loans. But typically, the government is late with its loans, so Teddy scrambled to self-pay by working and through her own entrepreneurship. She raised money by buying cheap clothes while home on term breaks and reselling them to students on the university campus. Through all this - and the several university teaching strikes that disrupted students' education - she also volunteered in the community and served on the student government as an election proctor. True Daraja spirit.

I’d arranged for her to travel from her home in western Kenya to work as our project assistant and she arrived shortly after we did.

Jono and Teddy 2010
I lent her my backup camera to use and she has been filling in some of the gaps in our photography, such as in the dorms where we can’t go. She's also helped with scheduling interviews and photo shoots for us and served as a translator off campus when needed. While she was supposed to head home last Sunday after our first week, we worked it out with the administration for her to stay until we leave this coming Sunday. She’s been a pleasure to work with. Teddy's sense of responsibility and leadership clearly reflect her Daraja experience.

Daisy is here on a three-month contract as Daraja’s communications intern, creating content and working with Bethany Hardy in the U.S. office. She's a city girl from Nairobi and, when I say “city girl,” she’d seem right at home in either Nairobi or New York. Fashionable clothes and hairstyle, and a steady stream of selfies on social media.

She was easy to work with and all-too-easy to have fun with. Pat and I enjoyed – and she enjoyed – our regular jibes at her city-ness and our self-jibes at being freakin' old.

But she was dedicated to making sure Bethany’s requests were met, while also working with us when she could.

Road Trip

Olive Baboon congressmen
On Friday, Stems, Pat, Teddy, Daraja graduate/teacher Christine Pessi ("Tina"), current student Amina and I headed off before dark in the school van with our driver, Moses. After an hour’s bumpy ride north, we met a Masai woman guide and her armed ranger escort and disembarked at the baboon sanctuary in Il Polei I’d visited years ago. We drove to the top of the congress’ hill (yes, a group of baboons is amusingly and very appropriately called “a congress”) and spent the next hour happily photographing.

The first of 25 interviews
After tea at the nearby Twala Cultural Center, we then drove another hour north to Dol Dol, where we interviewed Amina and her mom, and visited Kuri Kuri, her primary school way, way out in the bush. We learned that Amina walked an hour and forty minutes to and from school each day, along a forest road that was also the home of a herd of elephants. Picture a young primary school girl having to navigate through these, yes, dangerous, animals daily to get to school.

At the school, we were welcomed by the administration and gradually, and at first cautiously, surrounded by more than a hundred young students. The principal explained that the majority of the students have never seen a white person before, "not since the last white priests left years ago."

Pat making new friends
At first, only a few of the braver children approached us. But we elicited smiles and laughter by taking their photographs and turning our cameras around to show them. Soon more and more children crowded around and soon the two of us were surrounded by happy and curious children. Several reached out to touch the mysterious hair on our arms. Pat was having all too much fun. Realizing that children were creeping up behind him, he'd quickly turn around and pretend to scare them. Laughter all around.

We introduced ourselves to the eighth grade class, then Amina gave an impromptu encouraging talk about the importance of working hard and doing well on their upcoming KCPE exam (effectively the national high school entrance exam).

After retracing our steps to Dol Dol, we visited Tina's old primary school, Ol Kinyei.

Irene and Christine "Tina"
I hadn’t realized until we arrived at Tina’s school that she’s an identical twin. Their lives converged, diverged and have converged again.

Her sister Irene is now a teacher at Ol Kinyei and we interviewed both of them. I knew from years ago that Tina had been offered in marriage before Daraja because the family hadn’t been able to afford school for her. What I didn’t realize was that they had money
Tina leading a community outreach class
for one daughter but not both. So Irene was able to attend public high school. It was only through Daraja that Tina could also get a secondary education.

And now, she’s a college graduate, teaching Daraja’s community outreach classes to teenagers from the local area. In fact, on the day Pat and I photographed her class, I was astonished and amused to find her teaching in English and Swahili the same Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that I studied in my undergrad and graduate sociology courses.

But we weren’t done yet. After Ol Kinyei, we looped around back to Il Polei and Twala. Twala is a Masai demonstration village run by, and in support of, local women. I’d visited there in both 2010 and 2011 and, aside from Stems arranging lunch this time, the experience was familiar. The women gathered and danced and sung with us, then led us to a demonstration of Masai fire-starting (rubbing two sticks together, just like in the Boy Scouts) and the making of a gourd flask.

Twala Women's Cultural Center
Twala 2010
I’ve kept photos on my phone of my previous Twala visits and astonished one of the moms and her friends with one of my favorite photos of her son with two men playing a version of mancala, then a young pre-teen and now probably well into secondary school.

Stems arranged all of this and managed to move a few things around as our day progressed. At the same time, he was juggling other events for other guests and staff on campus.

Stems has also been kind enough to meet us other days for early morning hikes. Once to the top of Daraja’s hill for sunrise and another day across the river to the neighboring town of Naibor, where we stopped in another local restaurant for a delicious snack of chapatti. This used to be a favorite weekly dish on campus, but not anymore with so many students on campus, so having fresh chapatti was a treat.
Pat and Teddy waiting for chapatti

We wandered the streets of Naibor, taking a few photographs and exploring the town. Naibor and Daraja have many ties, including Naibor students at the school and Naibor residents who take advantage of shopping at the campus store.

On this particular hike we came across a couple of the few examples where people objected to our picture taking. One was a storekeeper who Pat had approached. He made it clear, ‘no pictures,’ and we of course respected that. The other was an older Masai shepherd whose herd was fording the river as we approached from the other side. He was initially angry that we were taking his picture without permission, but with Stems translating, we came to an understanding, exchanged greetings and left on better terms.
At the river crossing

For the most part, our street photography has been quite like that in the U.S. You can usually tell who will object to photography and who won’t. So we simply follow our intuition and experience. At the planned places we’ve visited, photography has been fully expected, so we’ve had no issues.

Global Platform

Daraja lets out part of its campus to Action Aid/Global Platform, a Danish NGO that trains volunteers for work throughout Africa.

One of the primary facilitators for Action Aid is Monicah Kamandau, an energetic and confident Daraja graduate, who orientates the Danish volunteers to both the Daraja campus and African life and culture. Jason told us that in order for Monicah to afford to come to school on her first day, they had to send her $3.00 for the transportation her family couldn't afford. Now Monicah flies all over Africa for Action Aid. How about that! We joined her for an orientation session and she and her colleague, James, also became the first of what will be our many video interview subjects.

We are currently finishing a number of small projects while waiting for Reporting Day tomorrow. That should be a whirlwind of activity and emotion as the new students arrive. Meanwhile, the last 10 days have been amazing. On most of them, Pat and I would look at each other, almost giggle, and remark on how each day brought more incredible experiences than the incredible experiences of the day before.

You Can Go Home Again

The campus is very much as I left it six years ago, but with some very noticeable improvements. There is of course the new science building, built with the help of Chevron last year. And there are now signs all around campus pointing to the various bandas and quotations of encouragement for the students painted on buildings and walls throughout.

Families gather for lunch
Campus life is also structured differently, with an emphasis on "families." As has always been done, new students are roomed with students from different tribes and each group of four has a student from each of the four grades. To this, each family now has a Transition student and a faculty member. This serves to provide support, responsibility and a focus on diversity. Now different from my past visits, families eat meals together and at least once or twice a month, the faculty member joins them.

The Farm
The farm is several times larger than before, with an additional greenhouse to the one erected on our 2011 trip. Most of the greens eaten on campus now come from Daraja's own produce. Farm animals include the milk cow herd, rabbits and 250 egg-laying chickens for fresh eggs. In fact, the school produces so many eggs that  in addition to having fresh eggs regularly on the menu, surplus eggs are sold in town. Students often include work on the farm as part of their weekly chores. And to my surprise, the campus dogs Rasta and Ajax are both still around and seemingly dedicated to keeping me company.

Campus Store
The campus store that was being built in 2013 is used daily by villagers and visitors and is staffed by Fatuma, another Daraja graduate that I've known from my previous visits. The store carries a variety of staples and, with Nanyuki a half-hour's drive away, is a huge convenience for Daraja's local neighbors. It's like a 7/11, but without the convenience store surcharge.

The most disconcerting difference on campus is that, while the site looks the same, the 120 students are all different. Although, as Teddy also pointed out, some of the girls look very much like the girls we knew from years ago, making it all the more confusing. However, what is clearly the same is that the motivation, friendliness, and values of the girls now are identical to those we knew before.

The “feel” of Kenya is also as I remembered. That smell of the land and the wood smoke, the intensely bright light on the equator, softened with the smoky haze of smoke and dust; and the amazing warmth of the people we meet. Although we of course stand out in our whiteness, it’s hard to not feel at home.

Pat and I of course have been photographing everything on campus, but also mixing in video interviews with the several alumni that are working here on campus and nearby. Those interviews have been quite powerful and the quality is so good that we hope they can be each and collectively woven into videos that the school can use and post.         

More Community Connections

Children walking to Giri Giri Primary School
We’ve also traveled to the primary schools of several of our alumni and where alumni are working in Daraja’s outreach programs. Without exception, just as at Dol Dol, our welcome has been something out of the movies. Even in the schools closer to Nanyuki, white visitors are rare and contact between whites and children rarer still. What we experienced at Dol Dol became familiar. A few brave children coming close enough to photograph; the shy ones holding back. Then after seeing their faces on our camera monitors, more and more children would gather the courage to approach and have their photographs made. And since Pat and I both love kids, it was just fun for everyone.

As we visited the classrooms and observed the lessons and came to understand the work going on, what was clear in each of these schools was the commitment to education by both the students and the staff. 

And the commitment of students' families to education is evident as well. They find the resources for the mandated uniforms and make sure the children are off to school on time. Yet financial and environmental obstacles abound. Amina's journey of 8 km to and from school while dodging elephants is not exceptional.
Rosalia teaching at Reteti Primary School

In virtually all of the primary schools, teachers also travel an hour or more each way to school. Transportation is usually on the back of a motorbike, hitching with a sand truck, or with any other vehicle that would pick them up. Other teachers live in ramshackle houses on campus. But the dedication and motivation to get and/or provide an education is universal.

One of the notable schools we visited was Reteti Primary School 40 minutes north of Daraja. We accompanied Rosalia Waithera, a Daraja graduate, who teaches an after school program for eighth graders at several local schools.

Wind blew down this classroom
At Reteti, the staff and volunteers have turned a classroom into a dormitory for 36 boys and girls who come from families who can’t support them or from circumstances which otherwise prevent them from being in school. To do that, they divided a classroom in half with a temporary wall and squeezed two grades into it. They then had to do the same with another classroom when the wind flattened another building. So four grades share two spaces.

Reteti's unfinished dorm
The Deputy head of school, Tuwei Kibiru, showed us the foundation of what was to be an actual dormitory. He explained that a woman from Nanyuki had started to build it to replace the temporary one in the classroom, but ran out of money. The foundation is there along with a few 2 x 4 wall studs. Pat and I have talked about seeing what we can do to help them finish the job when we get home.

As I walked into the administration building, I noticed a graph of KCPE scores (the national 8th grade achievement exam) chalked on the blackboard. Despite the travails and a testament to the dedication of the staff, Reteti achievement scores have for years consistently been first or second in the entire north Laikipia county.

The Simama and Leo Projects

Simama's main room
On another day we photographed the Leo and Simama Projects. Simama was created by Matt Orcutt, a volunteer we met on our first trip in 2010 and who, I recently learned, is weirdly and coincidentally the grandson of Joanne’s original medical group founder in San Francisco. In 2010, Matt had befriended Alfred, a street boy he helped get back into school. That effort ultimately grew into this project, which now houses a shelter for street boys and girls and provides day programs and counseling for over 100 others. For the first time, two of his girls were just accepted to Daraja and start tomorrow.

The Leo Project was started by another Daraja volunteer, my friend and Stephanie’s daughter, Jess Danforth, and is planned be a community center for children, although I believe the final specifics are still to be defined. It's currently under construction, with the foundation laid and workers just beginning to frame the building. Stephanie tells me that they hope to open sometime in the late spring.

Daraja's Track and Field Team
On the day we stopped by Simama and Leo, we heard Daraja students were taking part in a track and field competition at the local stadium, so of course we stopped by to cheer and photograph.

Athletics is part of the school experience, with soccer, basketball, netball, volleyball, rugby, and track and field teams. There have also been ping-pong teams and students compete in non-athletic competitions such as debate, poetry, dancing and singing.


Over its ten years, Daraja has been blessed with scores of volunteers who have helped in all facets of the school's work. Students and teachers from the United States and elsewhere, college professors, graduate students, artisans and farm workers. Matt Orcutt volunteered in 2010 as a PE teacher. Jess Danforth in 2013 as the volunteer coordinator. And me and other fundraisers working to support the school financially.

It was our pleasure on this project to overlap with Jess' mom, Stephanie Danforth. Stephanie is an artist from Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts and has been involved in Daraja student selection for many years. On this trip, we joined her in Kibera as she visited the young boys she's been supporting in primary school. Then, after student selection, we watched as she worked for days in the hot Laikipia sun repainting the art on the front gate of the school. From a charcoal sketch, it quickly became a welcoming mural for Daraja's visitors.

A Typical Day
This morning has been a typical day. For the first time I did manage to sleep through until 5:30 a.m. as my morning 4 a.m. wake-up rooster apparently slept in. After a hot shower – yes, now with electricity on campus, the showers have an instant hot water device – I did my morning laundry.

Opening the door to hang the laundry on the line, I was as usual greeted by a sleepy Rasta, who seems to camp outside my banda. On this morning, he was quickly joined by Ajax, until he got bored and wandered away to find more exciting people than me.

Pat and Teddy met me at the dining hall where we had tea and a roll and then headed down to the river to find interesting things to photograph. These have included egrets, hornbills and kingfishers, cow and sheep herds, and a steady stream of locals who bring their water jugs to fill. This small river is the primary source of water for everyone in the local community.

An interesting set of photographs from here have been the Masai women who wait with their large water jugs for sand trucks to pass and give them a ride up the road.

This is the same river where Daraja pumps its water for farming, washing and other non-potable uses. The river is shared not only with villagers and herdsmen, but also with a variety of wild and domesticated animals. Sheep, cows, camels, elephants, and all manner of other creatures visit this river. February is typically the end of a long dry season and the river is very low. The "long rains" are due in March, which will both replenish the river and allow Daraja to "roof catch" its drinking water.

On campus, all building gutters flow into water storage containers. One of the student chores is to get water from the lower cistern, after which it is boiled to provide clean drinking water.

But this is sub-Saharan Africa and the rains have been inconsistent. In fact, when we arrived in 2010, a five-year drought had just broken. So everyone is looking forward to the rains beginning.

After returning to campus, I grabbed some porridge left over from breakfast and my daily cup of coffee. After that, we sorted out what the day’s events would be and stopped at the teachers lounge where there is Internet.

My banda is not too far from this lounge and if I stand at my door and raise my phone to a specific place I can get some very slow connectivity. And at night when no one is on the Internet, my phone will sometimes receive messages when it's charging on that side of the room.

I had a crazy experience last night where my phone actually rang for the only time in Kenya and it was someone from home in Marin wanting to remind the photography club that Monday is a holiday and the meeting room key needed to be picked up Friday. I think she was just as surprised that she was calling Africa as I was that my phone was ringing here.

John Kareko
Then the morning has been a mix of taking classroom photos, kitchen pictures, student portraits and photos of our cowherd and cowherder, John, who it turns out is actually a Facebook friend of mine and surprised me by saying he’s been following my daily “Catch of the Day” photographs for the past couple of years. John explained that Jason “rescued” him from Nanyuki not too long after I was here in 2013. We talked about football, hyenas and leopards, and the four cows that are soon to give birth (unfortunately after we leave).

Daraja Academics

The motivation of the students and the commitment of the staff is striking. We saw it in 2010 when the school was in its infancy and it was commented on as one of the strongest takeaways by our California students in 2011. Documenting this ethic via photographs and interviews on this trip has allowed us to bear witness to this commitment on an entirely different level. 

By the time I finish my laundry at 5:30 a.m. the study halls are full. Before 7:00, teachers are in their offices holding office hours. I was particularly struck one morning by the science teacher energetically and with good humor holding the attention of a group of students and another teacher as he explained the atomic charges of an atom.

At night, the classrooms are usually full as well. As has always been the case at Daraja, students study until 10 p.m. And again, they are often joined by teachers volunteering to stay late, especially when exams are on the horizon. There is a universal commitment on campus that these girls will have a future to look forward to!

My job-hunting seminar
On my 2013 trip, I taught a variety of classes for the Transition Program. These were a mix of business subjects such as time and project management and a seminar on job-hunting that I've been teaching several times a year at our local junior college and other venues. I volunteered to lead that one again and very much enjoyed doing it on one of the early days of the project.

Dennis teaches in the computer lab

Also on that trip, I taught some higher level computing classes. But found to my delight this time that my expertise isn't needed. Daraja has its second IT person, Dennis, who is a whiz on both the hardware and software side of things. He teaches advanced Word and Excel and has been coding applications for the staff to use. In addition to the laptops and desktops I'd helped Schwab donate to the school a few years ago, they recently received a shipment of brand new computers courtesy of Rotary International. And, believe it or not, 13 of the 14 Toshiba netbooks that Jono and I brought in 2010 are still operational and in use.

Sunday Service

Religion holds a central place in African life. Daraja has students who are Catholic, of several Protestant sects, Muslim and has even had an African Jewish student.

Sunday mornings are devoted to church services, which are led by students. They're typically a mixture of readings, prayer, song and dance. And while Sundays are not the traditional Muslim holy day, those students use that morning to gather and pray also.

This afternoon we have an interview with Marylene Njagi, a graduate that I met in 2010 when she was a student. Over the years, I’ve often talked about Marylene. She was a very quiet young teen in 2010, but when I came back a year later, she’d found her voice and was leading groups. And now, after graduating college with a teaching degree, she’s a teacher at Daraja! How cool is that!

After Marylene, we’ll go to a physics class and interview Mr. Charles, Daraja’s school principal. Following that, we will be photographing a WISH class, Daraja’s notable four-year women’s empowerment program, going out to dinner with Stephanie Danforth, and finishing the day with a planning meeting with our staff in California about tomorrow’s Reporting Day festivities.

Daraja graduate and current Swahili teacher, Marylene

Tomorrow is also Valentine’s Day and I’ve arranged to have flowers delivered to Joanne and have left a card under my pillow for her at home.

Later that same afternoon…

Head of School, Victoria Gichuhi
Principal, Charles Mbuto
Just returned from our interviews with Victoria, the Head of School and the Principal, Mr. Charles. As with their others, these conversations are inspiring and I hope that we can get them edited and online with widespread distribution when we get home.

At this moment I am hearing continuous cheering from the dining hall patio where Mr. Charles is announcing which new Form 1’s will join which “Families” when they arrive at the school for the first time tomorrow. As with last year’s first students from Garissa, this year we have girls from another place in Kenya that is new to us. This year it’s two girls from Wajir, in the far northeast along the Somali border.


Women of Integrity, Strength and Hope is Daraja's four-year women's empowerment program. The curriculum takes a very deep dive into all facets of life, from self-esteem to relationships to ownership of one's body and mind. It's a program that has been crafted and refined over the ten years of the school and one we hope will be used and replicated elsewhere. For the past few years, a slimmed down version of the program is being used by Powerful Beyond Measure, a Bay Area-based program which uses it as the centerpiece of its program with Daraja-type students locally, then arranges to bring them to Kenya for a few weeks each summer. For most of these teens, it's the first time they've been in a place where all of the other students "look like them" and are able to learn from the motivation and self-confidence of the Daraja students. When they come to campus, the WISH classes are led by Daraja students.

Daraja counselor Martha leading a WISH class

Teddy and Marylene talk about WISH

And just because....

...we haven't had enough unique and  amazing opportunities so far, another one of Daraja's graduates, Yvonne Wangeci, dropped by campus and Pat and I also sat down with her for an interview about her experiences as a student here.

Yvonne is the current Miss Tourism Laikipia and the runner-up to the 2018 Miss Tourism Kenya. Her year is full of events as she represents Laikipia County, but we were fortunate enough to catch her as she made a mentoring stop at her alma mater.

It hit me today that we only have a few days left. It is not a cliché to say that I want to bottle this place… the sights, sounds, smells and people of Daraja and Kenya. It has been an unbelievable couple of weeks and Pat and I are ever so aware of the privilege we’ve had to have the access to literally everything. Both as supporters of the school and as photographers, this has been the trip of a lifetime. In the next few days I will try capture on video some of the walks on campus to help me remember.

Reporting Day, Thursday Feb 14

Today is Reporting Day, which aside from Graduation Day, is the best day of the year at the Daraja  Academy. With two girls having left the school during the year, this year‘s class has been expanded to 32 girls. They will have traveled from all over Kenya, some for more than a day and will be arriving starting around 10 AM this morning. On our way back from dinner last night, someone noted that these girls are so hungry for education that they and their families said yes to the offer of the scholarship and are traveling to a town and a school they really know almost nothing about.

Pat, Teddy, Daisy and I have our marching orders and will be photographing and videoing all day. From what I have seen and heard, the welcome new students receive is overwhelming with cheers, smiles and hugs. They will meet their sisters and families, get their new uniforms, find their dormitories, and get a tour of the campus. By the end of the day, we will take a group photo of the new class.

Thanks to Bethany Hardy for editing

Reporting Day Welcome!
There were chills all around as the new students arrived during the day. Teddy had the Daraja students line the road from the campus gate to the parking lot. As each student rode or walked in, the students sang the school’s anthem, then escorted them to an overwhelming greeting of hugs, smiles, and cheers. Many, many hugs!

New Daraja Sister
Each new student was welcomed by her new “family,” then taken by her assigned “sister” to be fitted with a uniform and receive a bucket of supplies. After changing in her new dorm room, she joined the other new students and Daraja families for our Class of 2022 portrait.

In mid-afternoon I joined Victoria and the teaching staff in the dining hall patio as they met with the new students and their parents and Victoria talked about what they can expect at Daraja – and what is expected of them. Although the entire meeting was in Swahili, I found I could generally follow the thread what was being said.

She individually introduced the staff and talked about the commitment to education of the teachers. She joined with the students and parents in their hopes and dreams for the future and reaffirmed the life-changing value of education.

Victoria pulled no punches, She talked to the girls about their personal responsibility to fully commit themselves to take advantage of this opportunity. Perhaps surprising to me at the time, but in retrospect understandable in a high school for teenage girls, she was frank with them with her expectation that they will avoid the temptation of sex during these years. Unfortunately, each year one or two of Daraja's teenage students becomes pregnant while at home on semester break and leaves the program. Fortunately, that percentage for Daraja students is a fraction of what it is for the general population and a testament to the efforts of the school and its "contract" with them.

At the end of the day, Daraja’s student body had grown to 120.

Daraja Class of 2022

Last Days

Golden hour at Giri Giri
We filled our last two days after Reporting Day with a few more typically unique experiences and projects. On Friday morning, Stems led us on yet another dawn hike, this time about a half-hour north to Giri Giri Primary School where we took advantage of the golden light to photograph students as they hiked to school.
As with our other primary school visits, we gradually attracted a crowd of young faces eager to be photographed. Students come from all directions, some of the older ones dragging branches the school can use for firewood. As we were leaving, a sand truck stopped out on the main road and a handful of teachers climbed down off the top and headed to their classrooms. A typical start to another typical primary school day.

Later in the morning I set my camera on my tripod and created formal individual portraits of each of the graduates in the Transition Program. The idea was that they could then use these photos for their LinkedIn profiles and other CVs. For each student, I took a few smiling photos and at least one that was more formal. Frankly, the smiling ones were much better.

On Saturday I indeed walked around the campus taking some short videos which hopefully can be merged into a “tour” for potential donors and/or visitors. Then in the evening, we accepted Moses’ invitation to photograph him harvesting honey from the campus beehives.

Moses is a gem. A certified mechanic, he’s the primary driver for the school. But his value goes way beyond that. A Masai from the town of Narok in the south, he’s an expert on the flora and fauna of Kenya. He knows the name, gestation period, life span and habits of just about every creature. And as he explained, when he arrived on campus in 2013 he discovered four abandoned beehives. Interested, he taught himself how to raise bees, recolonized the hives and grew the operation from four to 12 hives.

Harvesting Honey
He explained that we needed to harvest the honey at night because then only the bees in the hive they were working on would be stirred up. If they tried it in daytime, they’d quickly be surrounded angry bees from all 12. So after dark on our last night, Pat, Daisy, Teddy and I joined Moses and one of the Masai guards. While the four of us carefully navigated the acacia trees and thorns to get close, Moses and the guard set up our tripods and lights to illuminate the work area. Pat and I stood about 15 feet away to watch and photograph.

As we stood there in the eerily lit dark watching Moses smoke the beehive, it started to rain. Bees swirled around. Moses was encased in a makeshift beekeeper’s outfit; the Masai guard had arms and face uncovered. Moses later explained that the guard has been harvesting honey since he was a youth and the bees and occasional stings don’t phase him. Pat was definitely phased by the one bee sting he received on this adventure.
Honey still in the comb!

The payoff to all of this – besides the photos – was a chance to pull off pieces of the honeycomb and taste fresh honey right out of the hive. Yes, truly delicious and an exciting and fitting end to our time on campus.

On Sunday morning, we said goodbye to our many friends and headed towards Nairobi. Stopping in Nanyuki one last time for milkshakes, we sadly said goodbye to Teddy as she boarded a matatu for the long trip back to Kisumu. Then Stems and Moses pointed the van south and we started our trip home.

Monday, February 18, Air France Departure Lounge, Nairobi

There’s nothing like an airport departure lounge – following security x3 – to feel like one is back in the real world. But the past three weeks were an experience that probably can never be repeated. Both as a photographer and a supporter of educating women, the access we had was unsurpassed. Unlike my other visits which were confined to campus – and selected parts/events on campus, this time we traveled far and wide, and were welcomed on campus into just about every activity. People everywhere were accepting and enthusiastic of our project. This included the local police and even the hotel security yesterday, who seemed all-to-ready to charge us for conducting an interview with Daraja graduate, Shamsia, without permission in their business center until I explained our purpose.

Pat’s friend John arrived this morning and they are setting off on a three day safari to the Mara. But we had our own touch of a safari yesterday. The Sheraton’s rooftop pool overlooks Nairobi National Park and we could see gazelle’s –and what I took to be our first lion – from the deck chairs at the pool. Crazy. We sat there long into the evening, savoring our /my last night in this country.

Everyone should experience what we have over the past weeks.

I can’t begin to overstate Pat’s influence on our work. After my very lonely experience going solo in 2013, I desperately wanted company on this trip. Pat is a good photographer friend and I felt that we’d be complementary and compatible companions.

I couldn’t have been more right. When I mentioned the trip to him, Pat thought about it and pretty quickly decided that this could be amazing. Pat’s volunteered for many years for a youth program in San Francisco and as an independent consultant – and currently single – had the flexibility to carve out a few weeks for the trip.

He turned out to be a great interviewer. For the most part, he would conduct the quiet, confident interviews with our subjects, while I recorded. We quickly realized that what we were taping was gold. The stories our alumni and staff told were powerful and personal. Pat had a good feel for where to take the conversation and how to comfortably draw out our subjects.

As photographers, we were literally pinching ourselves and almost giggly at the images we captured. Every day – from our first to our last – brought something new we hadn’t photographed before.


The People of Daraja

Ruth, the student we currently sponsor
Pat and Daraja student, Mary
In 2010 I returned home feeling as if I’d acquired 52 new daughters. Campus then was small enough – and we were teaching everyone – that we got to know pretty much everyone. With 120 students and dozens of staff, that was not going to happen this time. But because of the nature of the project, we had interactions at many levels with students and staff alike. I was able to connect with many of the students, now graduates, who I knew from my previous trips. There was a sense of both closure, since I now see them in their professional selves, and an easy friendship as we worked on more of a peer level.

The interviews we did - 25 of them - are some of the most powerful pieces I've ever done. The stories of these young women told through their own voices and the commitment of the teachers and staff are compelling. Rosalia talked about being shamed for being so poor she could only bring ugali to school every day. Nasibo spoke of girls who would be in forced marriages just to survive. And all talked about the magical influence Daraja has had in making them the confident, successful women they are today.

Pat and I also made friends with students and others on a more lasting level. We exchanged contact information with a few students, with Brandon at Harambee, Sophie at El Karama, Tuwei Kibiru at Reteti, and Francis, the local antiques merchant who has his wares outside the front gate.

Having observed student selection, interviewed graduates and staff, and had many conversations with students, we both returned with a commitment to do what we can to support the important and invaluable work of the school.


One night we took up Stephanie’s offer to visit Tandala, a nearby restaurant owned by a Dutch and Kenyan couple who sold some land to Stephanie’s daughter, Jess, for her Leo Project. Stephanie had talked about how amazing Marcel is and what he has done with the property. However there was no way for her to exaggerate what he has accomplished. After our tour, Pat looked at Marcel and told him that he has to be an alien from another planet because there’s no way an earth person could have accomplished what he has. Marcel’s response was that other people have made the same comment.

Their land is situated on 500m of river and seems to be about a quarter-mile or more deep. There is a reception building for their lodge that is wonderfully appointed with Kenyan and European antiques and Marcel’s artwork. He’s quite an accomplished nature painter – certainly gallery quality. Behind the reception building is their small and also well appointed restaurant and bar. It’s laid out in a semicircle around open barbecue area with a kitchen behind. The one long and two small dining tables had crystal glassware and beautiful, modern, china plates. The food was amazing and as good as any new upscale restaurant you’ll find in Europe or the US. All of the food is locally sourced.

Before meeting his Kenyan wife, Susan, in Belgium, he was an accountant and worked for the EU as an accountant and an investigator for several decades. He laughed and talked about how he has lived in 32 different places across the globe over the years while working for the EU. He is a gregarious host and loves to sit down with his guests to talk about just about anything. He admitted that he needs the attention, since many of his employees speak only rudimentary English and he craves conversation.

Marcel took us on a tour of the property while Susan worked with the staff to prepare dinner. As we walked through this property that they have owned for only a few years, every turn offered a new wonder. There were two guest bandas that were gorgeous and as well appointed as the main house. Large bedroom and main area, bath, artwork, etc. There were pathways and reservoirs throughout the property; the reservoirs filled from the three boreholes which also serve the vast orchards. 

You name the produce or fruit and it is probably grown on the property. Mangos, oranges, avocados, potatoes, all kinds of greens…. things seem to grow quickly and lush on this land. As we walked along the orchard, Marcel told us that five months ago a herd of elephants completely flattened the entire banana section of the orchard. But they replanted four banana trees and now you can’t tell that anything was once amiss. The fruit trees in that section are lush and more than 10 feet tall.

Marcel is also building a golf course on the property. He has nine holes already constructed and has a long-term lease with his neighbor to construct another nine there.

He and Susan are building a new home for themselves overlooking the river and Mount Kenya; he says they will convert their existing home into the golf course clubhouse. The new home will be two stories and will also have his new painting studio. While Susan manages the restaurant, the kicker to all of this is that Marcel is doing all of this himself; painting, running the lodge, maintaining the farm, the work on the grounds and golf course – and all of the mechanical work. No wonder people mistake him for an alien.

El Karama

Last weekend, Pat and I treated ourselves to a 24-hour mini-safari at El Karama Eco Lodge, a nearby partner of Daraja. Thanks to that relationship, we enjoyed resident rates. El Karama turned out to be a luxurious 4 or 5-star resort. Beautiful bandas, amazing restaurant using locally sourced foods, and yay, a gorgeous pool that I took full advantage of.

We did night, morning and afternoon game drives, which included the traditional "sundowner" stop, complete with a pair of Tuskers.

While the afternoon and night game drives were relatively ho hum – the usual Thompson’s Gazelles, antelope, zebra and birds – the drive in with Stems and the very last hour of the next morning drive supplied us with photos to hang on our walls. On the way in with Stems we came across large herds of elephants and zebras near a watering hole. They were all kind enough to pose for us. Then the morning drive found a large herd of zebras near a watering hole and then after leading us to a hilltop, treated themselves to dirt baths. There’s nothing like a zebra on its back in a cloud of dust to make a good photo!

I’m sure our guides planned the last stop, which was a deep river pool not too far from the lodge, filled with 8-10 female and juvenile hippos. Fantastic.

Pat is the birder of our partnership. While I enjoyed the pool, steps from our banda, he found a variety of birds to stalk, including a pair of hornbills, weavers, and other local species.


Nairobi has been the scene of several terrorist attacks in recent years. Soldiers and police with rifles are common throughout the country. Every hotel and many businesses have "security," but perhaps there’s a bit of profiling that takes place. Our Best Western hotel security included a vehicle barrier and undercarriage mirror scan. Then a joke of a pass through a metal detector, which – except for the airport – was a joke repeated everywhere. We never failed to set off the metal detector, and our bags full of cameras never passed a wand scan. Yet we were always just waved through with a smile.  I guess we don’t look like El Shabaab.

Best Western asked for a review and Pat and I both agreed to give huge props to our dinner server, Elizabeth. From the moment she approached our table on our first night, she took charge of what we should and shouldn’t order and her suggestions were perfect. The two of us thoroughly enjoyed our interactions with her and agreed that her long-term personal plan to open a restaurant would likely be a resounding success. If you’re listening, Best Western, give her a raise!

a typical Daraja band
With not many visitors on campus, Pat and I had separate bandas all to ourselves. His was up on the hill, while mine was near the dining hall and administration building.

My banda was clean and spacious, although one recognizes that things in Kenya are what we at home would consider “broom clean.” In our home, with its Japanese influence, one can safely eat off of most surfaces. Here, there is an ever-present residue of dust, which is only superficially cleaned with the unprocessed river water we pull for washing and laundry.

My banda was also not my own. I shared it with what I charitably called a "mouse," but what was probably a wood rat that lived in the thatched roof and frequently turd-bombed my rug and bed. A regular morning chore was to sweep all of the night’s small turds into a pile in the corner. After a week of noting where the droppings fell, I pushed my bed a couple of feet to the wall and from then on the bed was out of the target zone. Other than the rat, there were a few long-legged spiders and, from time to time, a fly or two. On the whole, the banda was quite comfortable and the hot showers appreciated. I know some visitors are concerned about malaria. But at 6,000+ feet, Daraja is above the malaria zone and, as with my previous trips, we did not see a single mosquito on our trip. I was still taking Malarone as a preventative anyway, but discontinued it as soon as I left Kenya, since the usual 5-day after-visit course was unnecessary.

Another regular chore was laundry. I’d brought laundry soap and on most mornings used the large bucket in the shower to wash out a handful of clothes. It was river water, so not completely clean to start with and the rinse process in the sink never really got out all of the soap. If the long rains had started a bit earlier, my clothes would probably have sudsed up while I wore them. The first thing I will do when I get home is throw everything into the washer and put on some truly clean clothes!

From my very first trip, for me living at Daraja has parallels to summer camp. As a  long-time Boy Scout, I once calculated that I've spent an entire year of my life living in tents. So making the psychological shift to accept that I'll never be California squeaky clean has been easy enough. Whether wearing clothes an extra day or two or recognizing that my clothes aren't sterile-clean has been easy enough to accept.

However, once returning to a clean water environment, it was refreshing to jump into a hot, clean shower. The first thing both Pat and I did after checking into the Nairobi Sheraton was to take the world’s longest (clean) showers. In fact, I washed twice before stepping out.

January and February are apparently the hottest months in Laikipia. After cool mornings in the 40’s, daytime highs were clearly up in the high 90’s and, since it’s the dry season, the air and sky were dusty. Although I did my best to conserve water, after the first couple of fitful nights’ sleep, I took a quick rinse in the shower to wash off the days’ sweat before bed. That made all the difference in sleeping well.


On the morning we left Nairobi for Daraja, Stems arranged for us to visit the “Masai Market,” a local tourist destination. We arrived as most vendors were setting up for the day and consciously allowed ourselves to take in the tourist experience, being sold to at one stand after another. We discovered that there are, apparently illegal, “brokers” who take tourists from stall to stall, then take a cut of the vendors’ profits. We weren’t fully aware of that while we were there but several of the trinkets we did purchase were directly from the vendors, not from the brokers. Pat took advantage of his major multi-trinket transaction to have me film his amusing-to-me negotiation with the vendor.

We had a very different experience on our last full day, when we stopped at the large local Nanyuki market. A flea market that takes up the space the size of several NY city blocks, it’s definitely for locals. Prices were unbelievably cheap. Teddy treated us to slices of watermelon selling for 20 shillings each - that's about $.02 US. In the hour we spent there, I don’t recall seeing another white face. Typical goods included locally made furniture and scores of mounds of second-hand clothing that are likely Goodwill-type clothes that can't be resold in the original first-world countries, so are bundled into a container for sale in places like Africa.

Teddy and Daisy were our escorts for this venture and I’m sure we raised a few eyebrows, being two older men being escorted by a pair of attractive, well-dressed Kenyan women in their early 20’s. That was certainly in my mind. Photographing in the markets didn't feel particularly appropriate, so I pretty much left my small RX-100 in my pocket. The photograph of the salesman above was from my iPhone.

Also on this trip to the Nanyuki markets, Stems took us to Nanyuki Spinners and Weavers. This 40-year-old project supports more than 130 local women through creating a wide variety of woven wool garments and household goods. We were introduced to the elderly founder, Mrs. Annah Warutere, and given a guided tour of the entire process of the craft from cleaning, spinning, dyeing, and weaving. And as with our visits to the Masai Market and Twala, Pat and I supported the local craftsmen and women by adding a few items for our suitcases.


The fare on campus is basic but filling, and for many of Daraja’s students, it’s the first time in their lives they’ve had three squares a day. Breakfast is generally a roll and porridge. There’s a mid-morning tea break with fruit or a hard-boiled egg. Then lunch and dinner are ugali with kale or githeri, which is rice/potatoes with beans or greens and, a few times a week, with meat.

Food was filling enough that, although I’d brought a stash of Cliff Bars with me, I ended up not finishing them. Instead they served as an occasional dessert treat.

Pat and I ate out more than I had on my previous trips. This was
generally a function of our several off-campus projects. In addition to our lunch in Kibera and dinner with Stephanie at Tandala, we had a couple of meals in Nanyuki and a memorable stop at the Trout Farm restaurant.

A true fish farm, it was also a popular and crowded “tourist” stop, filled with safari vehicles and mostly muzungu vacationing families. It’s known for its families of Colobus monkeys, which we of course took advantage of as photographers. And the monkeys reciprocated by hovering over the dining tables and grabbing food when they could.

Last Blog Posts...

February 19th – somewhere over Newfoundland

Total culture shock yesterday and today in Paris. First the switch from Swahili to French; then the switch from third world to very, very first world. My room at the tech-savvy Citizen M hotel had the latest in modern convenience for the traveler. Compact room controlled by an iPad, complete with customizable mood lights. After a long hot shower, I decided to forgo trying to head into Paris and just cocooned in my room and only ventured out to have dinner at the bar. I did have some great conversations with the wait staff, but mostly just caught up on email in my room, watched yet another movie, and stayed up too late enjoying my Manchester United beat Chelsea in, for once, their local time zone.

On the flight, I’ve been alternating movies with writing more in this journal and looking at a random few of the 10,000 images I took. Emotionally, I swing from feelings of awe, incredulity and pleasure at the many experiences these images represent, to feelings of overwhelming sadness at the images of some of the young girls we interviewed and didn’t accept. The voices of Nasibo, Shamsia, Ruth and others echo in my mind as they describe the almost certain fate of a girl who can’t go to high school. Small dowry, then marriage to an older man – not for love – and a handful of children they’ll be lucky to support in years to come.

This has been an amazing adventure, seriously one of the singular high points of my life, and one that I doubt can be surpassed. The access we had and the friendships we developed were a unique mix educationally, culturally and photographically. I said several times in Kenya that, for my heart, has become my “second home.” It was truly hard to say goodbye this time – I very much wanted to stay longer.

March 8th

Two weeks have passed since our return and much of it has been spent processing images from the trip. Of the single-space five page shot list, we completed at least 95%, plus quite a bit of additional content. Between my photography (10,000+ images) and Teddy’s (2,500), I’ve had a lot to work on. To date, I’ve uploaded somewhere north of 500, about a quarter of them Teddy’s. Pat, who took a three day safari after I left Kenya, ended up with over 20,000.

Photographically, the trip was an unqualified success. Daraja will have images that it can use with donor campaigns for years. Yet the most powerful images we took were the 25 interviews we did with alumni, parents, teachers, staff and administrators. Listening to a former student speculate on life without Daraja and comparing that to the professional life they have now is compelling. Comparing the actual lives of the 14 out of 15 girls Daraja does not have room for every year with the future they might have had at Daraja is heartbreaking. Visiting the primary schools and seeing the focus on education is inspiring. And being in a Daraja study hall late in the evening or in the morning before daybreak –often with the teachers present – is beyond the imagination of anyone here in the U.S.

Pat’s visceral experience of our trip parallels mine. He’s been writing wonderful blog posts on patgarvey.com and has signed on to write blog posts for the interviews we collected. I’ll be continuing to post my own photos from the trip and will attempt the video editing to accompany Pat’s writing.

We’ve met, and will continue to meet, with the Daraja Education Fund staff to coordinate our work. And I’ll be continuing to find venues to spread the word of the school. Already I have a speaking engagement in June and an article which will be in the local paper later in the spring.

Every year Daraja turns away more girls than it can admit.
Until that changes, this seat will remain vacant.

So Why Daraja?

It's been almost ten years since that day in 2009 that Jono and Joanne came home to introduce me to Daraja Academy.

During the intervening years I've had the opportunity to see the program on the ground and, as a board member, track the outcomes of our students. I've seen the staff and administrators climb the learning curve as the student population increased from the original 26 to 150 students and transition-ers. I've seen six classes of students graduate and many of those graduates subsequently graduate college and university. And had the pleasure of observing more than a few then at work in their careers.

On this trip I've had the unique pleasure of spending time with Daraja graduates and listening to their stories.

What is abundantly clear is that Daraja Academy changes lives. Not only the lives of its students, but the lives of the students' families and their communities. Daraja graduates are teachers and nurses. Monicah, who needed a loan of $3.00 from the school to afford transportation to her Form 1 year, now flies all over Africa for Action Aid. Shamsia works for the U.N.

The results are measurable. Remember Mary, the 13-year-old who was going to married off to an older man for a cow and two goats? Or Rosalia, who had to defend bringing ugali to school every day? I wish I could say they're the exceptions, but they're not. Most of our students share similar origin stories. For many of our students, this is the first time they've had three meals a day. But, and here's the kicker, 82% of Daraja's graduates have qualified for college or university. Most are involved in community organizations and more than a few are in leadership positions. THAT is game changing.

The local and national government have applauded the work of the school. And we've witnessed the local communities of our graduates make demonstrable changes in the positive way they now value educating girls in their communities.

And through its many connections, Daraja has been the incubator for other programs. The Simama and Leo Projects are first generation children of Daraja and would not exist without Daraja. In the U.S., Marin's Powerful Beyond Measure, a program that brings teens of color to Africa, was born at Daraja and leans heavily on Daraja's WISH curriculum.

At 67, I've worked for and/or been a leader of non-profit programs for 51 years. I can honestly say that of all the programs I've ever been involved with, Daraja has the single most positive impact on people's lives.

I'm proud to play a small part in this and believe the work that Pat and I did will contribute in some way to Daraja's continued success.

A Note about Photography

While Pat and I both brought a variety of lenses, we seemed to stick to a handful. Pat’s zoom on his Olympus APS-C seemed to be used for most of his photography. On my full-frame Sony a7Riii, I primarily used my 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. For our nature experiences, I switched to my Sony 100-400 and occasionally added a 1.4 tele-extender. For the portrait shoots, I used my 85mm f/1.8.

Battery life was no problem with two of Sony’s new larger batteries. I made sure they were charged nightly. Because of the importance of the project, I brought and used 14 64Gb cards which I backed up nightly to a WD My Passport backup drive borrowed from my friend Doug Kaye. For the trip I bought a lightweight Oben travel tripod, which worked superbly and will become my regular tripod when I’m not next to my car.

I brought a flash, but never used it. Instead, at Pat’s suggestion, we both brought Lume Cubes, which are tiny, but very powerful, variable light sources. We used them for our interview in Kibera and again with the beehives and I highly recommend them.

I also brought a Sony a6000 as a backup body and this is what I lent to Teddy. It had focusing issues we never fully resolved and which I didn’t realize were an issue until too late. I don’t think it’s a problem with the camera; just a function of how slow the AF really is. That camera burned through batteries like, well like any of the original Sony a7 series. I brought three and always had one in the charger for her.

My Sony RX100v5 is always with me and came in handy on a couple of occasions when I didn’t want my full frame. Ditto with my iPhone SE. Speaking of, Pat had picked up a new iPhone just before the trip and the quality and variety of its images is astounding. Low light, portrait mode and video recording are not just top notch, but a viable alternative for high quality imagery.

All of my equipment was tucked into a small Thinktank Airport roller bag. Along with the photo equipment, I tucked a partial change of clothes for Paris and in case my suitcase didn’t show up in Nairobi. In addition to the carry-on, I had a small camera bag as my “personal item” and wore my Magellan multi-pocket travel jacket, although didn’t have to overfill it on this trip. Everything else went into one 44-pound suitcase.

Nanyuki is on the equator, so the sun is bright and intense. Shooting at base ISO anytime during the day was easy and, when traveling in the van, I found I could shoot at 4000fps at ISO 2500 and stop action at 50 miles per hour. Most of the campus classrooms had adequate natural light during the day if I opened the aperture to f/2.8 – 4.0.

Nighttime on the game drive called for very high ISO, at least 6400. Given that the few animals we saw - hyenas and jackals - really need fine detail, it was probably better to just enjoy the ride rather than attempt to capture any photos.

Somehow over my years of shooting, I've managed to skip exposure bracketing. Pat uses this often and I began incorporating it into my workflow when the lighting conditions were challenging. The results seems to work well and reduce the need for large shadow and highlight adjustments in post-processing. The biggest challenge has been to figure out what shots were bracketed and which weren't, which is especially troublesome with only a small handful of bracketed shots within my many thousands of photos. Fortunately Lightroom can auto-stack images which were taken within as little as a second apart. Of course, this will include stacks of photos shot at 'continuous' shooting, but if I look for just sets of three (my default bracket), I can more easily isolate the sets I'm looking for.

I brought sensor wipes, but fortunately didn't need them on this trip. I made it a point to only changes lenses indoors (or under cover in the van) and never in the dusty outdoors. So some pre-thinking about each shoot was necessary and, mostly, served me well. It was only one of the early morning hikes where I wished I had brought my other lens with me.

I purposely did not bring a laptop on this trip, figuring correctly that we'd be too busy photographing to want to do major editing in Kenya. Instead I had an iPad and my iPhone, which allowed me to use the Sony app to upload images from my cameras into Lightroom mobile. This worked well for the images that I wanted to distribute privately while there. Since I'd promised Joanne that I'd keep the trip off social media until my return home, Lightroom mobile worked just fine for my limited needs.

In retrospect, I would have liked to have had a larger screen to review my images while in Kenya. Small imperfections such as blur and noise were not visible on my camera monitor or iPad, so there was no opportunity to self-correct during the project. Note to self to find a way to do that on future multi-day projects.

Now that I am home, going through almost 13,000 of my and Teddy's images is a project in and of itself that will likely take months to finally complete.

Can You Help?

Of course you can. There are many ways to support Daraja and its students, but of course the most direct way is through a tax-deductible contribution to the Daraja Education Fund, a U.S. 501(c)3 charity. Whether by sponsoring a student like we did and continue to do, contributing to a teacher's salary or just buying a backpack, all contributions support the school.

Visit the Daraja-Academy website and click on the DONATE button.

Asante Sana (THANK YOU!)