“I did not do very well on this exam.”
Mary shook her head, staring at the first page of the Biology exam she had taken on Friday.
It was Saturday night and I could hear the weekly Daraja dining hall dance party had started. In the darkness, I stumbled across a group of Form 2’s (sophmores) on the academic courtyard passing out graded copies of yesterday’s Biology exam.
The classmates hovered under the light comparing their scores and answers. I looked over their shoulders. The test wasn’t multiple choice. It contained diagrams and essay questions. There were terms I did not recognize.
I would not have scored well.
While I could see the test score in red ink on the top of the front page, I didn’t know how grading worked. I stayed quiet, and just listened to the girls.
“I really want to go home next weekend. Now I might not go home.”
This is the second week of exams at Daraja. The tests continue into the first part of this week. Each student’s final scores are tabulated across all subjects. The scores are then compared to each student’s test score when entering Daraja. If their scores compare well, they will go home for holiday break; if not, they stay on campus for extra study.
I imagine there are some girls that would rather stay at Daraja than go back to a difficult home environment. Mary was not one of them.
“Mary, you know what we have to do?” She looked up, as if I might have some divine answer.
“We need to go dance.”
Only Mary and one classmate remained. The girls kept looking through their tests and debating answers. I thought they’d never leave.
Finally, a look of “what’s done is done” came over Mary’s face. She folded up the test. She grabbed my arm.
“Let’s go dance.”
For the last Sunday morning Spiritual Time before students’ holiday break, Catholic and Protestant worshippers host a joint celebration. At double the size, it’s held on the patio. I wondered if it would be twice as loud, and twice as long.
This was also the last Spiritual Time of my Daraja visit. That alone made it special.
But the tone of this one was more serious.
Mary (different from the Mary above, it’s the most common name on campus) was the worship leader and did her best to get her classmates to adhere to time limits. In presentations and testimonials mostly done in song, they had a lot to say.
Irene delivered the sermon. Linking to last week’s Protestant theme of patience and persistence, she spoke on determination.
Irene speaks like the daughter of a preacher. During her sermon, she shared that is exactly what she is.
After two weeks of exams, the girls are tired. But they have to go that extra mile. Irene pushed them to do that.
She spoke of their upcoming holiday break. She reminded them to go to church– it doesn’t have to be in a physical building, but in each of their souls.
Irene warned each of them to not turn back to their former lives. Each has been given the gift of education. It will change their future, and they are women that will change others’ futures. Irene told the story of the day four years ago where the phone rang and she was told that she was accepted to Daraja. It changed her life.
I can’t imagine how conflicted it must feel for a girl to go home. Home brings the comfort of the familiar. Hopefully it is a positive familiar, but it would be all to easy to slip into a less-than-positive familiar when outside of the safe and supportive walls of Daraja.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that these girls are teenagers. I, too, was a good teenager. But we can all do stupid things.
I pray that each girl feels shielded in Daraja strength on her journey–on this holiday break and beyond.