Written by Jason Doherty, Principal & Founder of Daraja Academy in Kenya DarajaLogo

During the first week of actual classes, Daraja Academy was lucky enough to host Marin based artist/conservationist Brenda Sherburn. On campus for 5 days, Brenda taught the students about composition, art theory and how to use several types of media. She also opened many of the girls’ eyes to the immense value and natural beauty of the surrounding countryside and the role they can personally play protecting it.

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But, the highlight of her visit for the students and myself as headmaster, had to be the three-hour nature walk at the El Karama Wildlife Conservancy. Brenda provided the girls with art materials so the could stop and make sketches of the animals they encountered while on the evening walk… and they did encounter animals. The vehicles returned just after sunset and poured out 20 plus giggling, chattering, excited Kenyan teenagers, each with a series of sketches and many more stories about their excursion into “the bush.”

After herding them straight into the dining hall for dinner, the roar began. “Teacher, teacher…” “Jenni, Jenni…” “Mr. D, let me tell you!” Finally, Jenni and I gave in, realizing that controlling that degree of excited energy was a kin to turning the tide. We heard broken stories of zebras and impala, ostriches and a bull elephant that had been spotted in a glade just below the ridge the Daraja students were walking on. They encountered and sketched a huge tawny eagle, saw the leftovers of a gazelle a leopard had eaten the night before in the branches of an acacia 20 feet above their path, and much, much more. “Mr. Doherty, did you know that a giraffe has her baby, while she is standing up?” “We saw a herd of zebra up close, their black stripes hold heat in and their white ones push it away, that causes a breeze like the air conditioning in a matatu (mini-van bus)!”

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Aside from the pure joy that bubbled from each student upon her return, the most exciting and rewarding part of the expedition for me as head master was how well it integrated into Daraja’s curriculum. That day the students had been prepped in geography class to watch for and identify different types of formations they were to encounter. The girls incorporated information learned during their biology lesson into the five-paragraph essay they wrote about the nature walk in English class the next day. It was incredible because they learned a lot and loved every second of it. In fact one of the girls asked me after dinner, “Can we do that every week?”

Those of us in the US figure that growing up in Kenya, mast of our students see wild animals all the time. This just isn’t so. Many of our girls, especially those coming from Nairobi have never seen a wild animal. Cats and dogs, goats, donkeys and cows are the sum total of exotic fauna that the average Daraja Academy student has seen. This is what makes the location of our campus on the Laikipia plateau and our commitment to educate our students about the beauty and value of their environment. Driving only 20 miles north the students are able to observe and relate to thousands of species of plant, bird and animal.The day after the nature walk, Brenda and the students completed their art projects, which were spectacular. Each one unique, they really provide a look into the different personalities of the girls. What makes this even more incredible is the fact that upon return to the US, Brenda will be creating cards with the girl’s art on them, which will really be a treat for our students, however, that’s not all. The proceeds collected from the cards will be donated back to Daraja Academy where it will benefit our students all over again.
From the bottom of my heart, my wife’s and that of our staff here at Daraja Academy and the board of directors in the US:
Thank you Brenda!!!
The Highlight of Week I