Community - September 24, 2008

Woodside Priory teacher hits the books in Africa

Traveling to Kenya to start a girls' school called a deeply motivating experience

by Bob Bessin

In my role as physics teacher at Woodside Priory School, I have thought a lot about teaching a universe of children; not only my students at the Priory. I and other teachers across the Bay Area are devoting ourselves to the aim of creating the first free girls' secondary school in Kenya, the Daraja Academy.

Through other Priory teachers, I met Jason Doherty, a teacher in Vallejo and founder of the Daraja Academy. Jason was so passionate about giving African kids the opportunity of a bright future that it was impossible not to get hooked on his cause.

Jason explained to me that less than 50 percent of Kenyan girls go on to secondary school after completion of primary school. It turns out that even one additional year of secondary school makes a huge difference in levels of poverty and future outcomes for the majority of Kenyans. This seemingly small difference has monumental impact not only on the children, but on what kind of country Kenya will be in the future. And the leverage for girls, being the bearers and keepers of children and of the family unit, is the greatest.

I am now part of a group of teachers, started by Jason, from across the Bay Area that organized to create the Daraja Academy. We have already obtained an existing campus in Kenya and are working hard to begin instruction in January.

Daraja means "bridge" in Swahili and this school is about building bridges. As one of the first free (including room and board) secondary schools for girls and boys in East Africa, the Daraja Academy's goal is to not only educate Kenyans, but connect them with other tribes in the country as well as with the rest of the world.

I spent the summer in Kenya with other U.S. teachers, working with charitable and governmental organizations, scoping the needs of the school, as well as experiencing the issues in person. Viewing the slums outside of Nairobi, the capitol of Kenya, dense with poverty-stricken families, cannot help but change your perspective.

In addition to poverty, Africa is rife with conflict between cultures and tribes. I saw the diversity of people in Kenya and how they often do not get to know each other. A school devoted to bringing these groups together, to help students find that they have more similarities than differences, and to appreciate their differences, is one small way to help heal a continent.

To make this vision happen "Daraja Clubs" have sprung up all over the Bay Area — and Woodside Priory started one of the first of these clubs. Students who participate in the clubs will communicate via the Internet with Daraja Academy students and host an exchange program during the summers, as well as help in fundraising and building awareness throughout the community. There has been incredible support from students who see beyond their own neighborhood, to the impact they can make on the world.

My opportunity to experience the challenges of creating progress in Kenya firsthand has motivated me to share this experience with you. I hope as a result that more people will understand the impact we can have for improving our world.


The Daraja Academy has been funded by grass-roots efforts of the Daraja Clubs and individuals. For more information, go to or call Jenni Doherty at (415) 699-8335.


Posted by Bill Shu, a resident of another community
on Sep 24, 2008 at 6:43 pm

It was wonderful for Mr. Bessin from the Woodside Priory School to
spent the summer vacation experiencing another part of the world, and
brought back his experiences to share with us.
One of my relative used to work in a rural part of Nigeria, I can
totally relate to Mr. Bessin's ideas and feelings. My family and I
absolutely agree with Mr. Bessin. Education is the most important factor in bringing hope to a underdeveloped country. From our first
hand experiences, building schools in far to reach parts of China,
enable the children of parents who cannot read and write to have the
opportunities to change the world they live in.
Our salute to all those who are working hard for the underpriviliged

If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields