Real Women's Stories: 'I Saw Children in Need and Had to Help'

These four women didn't turn away when they discovered kids who were sick, hungry, craving an education or so poor they didn't have clothes. Instead, they each found a way to give back. 

nurturing minds charity to provide education in tanzania

Polly Dolan, 47, Morogoro, Tanzania
The Charities: Nurturing Minds and the Sega Girls School
Founded: 2007
Mission: Providing a quality education for Tanzanian girls

HER INSPIRATION
When Polly Dolan arrived in Africa in 1996 as a staffer for the humanitarian organization Care (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere), she thought she’d stay for two years, she says. But 18 years later, the continent has become a second home for her, a place where she has found her purpose in life.

“At Care, I did research on child-labor issues and learned of girls who were exchanging sex for lodging and food so they could go to school,” Polly recalls. “I was so moved by the fact that they wanted an education that badly, I decided—with the encouragement of my Tanzanian colleagues—to start a school to help girls, ages 12 to 20, avoid that situation.” But building a school from the ground up was a big job, she says, so she turned to her sister, Tracey Dolan, her childhood friend Ashley Moran and her high school roommate, Ashley Devery.  They became the “stateside team” that launched Nurturing Minds (nurturingmindsinafrica.org), a nonprofit group that raises money for the effort here in the United States. “I was amazed at how many people just came out of the woodwork to support us,” Polly says. “As corny as it sounds, it seemed like the universe was there to help.”

MAKING IT A REALITY
In 2007, Polly used her personal savings to buy land in the Tanzanian village of Morogoro—where she has a connection through Care—on which she would build the Sega Girls School. “By October 2009, with $205,000 we raised in the United States, we’d put up our first building and had our first class of girls,” she says. Since then, the biggest joy for “Madame Polly,” as she is known at Sega, is seeing the students’ transformations. “I can’t even believe these are the same girls sometimes,” she says. “One girl had been kicked out of her house, and her school, for getting pregnant. She thought she would never get her life back on track. But after four years at Sega, she had come so far that we invited her to represent her class at an international workshop, where she stood up and spoke to more than 150 delegates from all over the world, thanking Sega for giving her another chance. She is now applying to nursing school.”

TAKING THINGS TO THE NEXT LEVEL
With the help of $1.4 million in grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development, Sega has been able to complete the campus, including dormitories, classrooms and a library. “We now have 152 girls, in Grades 7 and up,” Polly says. “Our goal is to have at least 200 girls.”

Currently, the Sega School is funded entirely by Nurturing Minds, whose members in the States raise money through foundation grants, grassroots fund-raisers and individual sponsors (yearly sponsorships cost $750 per girl). But Polly says she hopes the school can become self-sustaining. Sega girls now run an on-campus poultry business, with 2,000 chickens laying eggs that are sold in town. The goal is to have that venture, along with other programs, cover the school’s operating costs while also teaching the students entrepreneurship.

“When the American sponsors visit, they’re so energized by these young women,” Polly says. “Likewise, when people from Sega come to the United States, they’re blown away by seeing American kids saving up their baby-sitting money to send a Tanzanian girl to school. Witnessing these deep connections between two different parts of the world has been rewarding.” 

 

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