HOW THE HECK did I end up volunteering for this particular organization in Africa and what am I doing here?
What is Sega?
The Sega (Secondary Education for Girls’ Advancement) School is a residential secondary school for bright, motivated Tanzanian girls who otherwise would not have access to secondary education due to extreme poverty.
Founded in 2008 and located in Mkundi near Morogoro in central Tanzania, there are currently 150 students boarding at the school, 90 in Forms 1,2 & 3 (Grades 8-10), and 60 students in two transitional remedial classes. Sega aims to be educating 200 girls at the school by 2015.
Founder Polly Dolan, originally from Pennsylvania, has lived in Africa since 1996. Based in Morogoro with her husband and 6-year-old daughter, she directs the school along with a Tanzanian headmistress. Before starting Sega, Polly worked for CARE for several years. Anxious to move from project management and consulting work to something more hands-on, she concluded she could make a difference educating girls and Sega was born.
Two primary sources of funding for Sega are Nurturing Minds, the US based organization started by Polly’s sister Tracey, that raises funds from US donors, and USAID, the US government agency that makes development grants overseas.
Who are Sega girls?
The girls at Sega are a lively bunch. They come from the Morogoro and Iringa areas, many are orphans who are cared for by grandparents or relatives, and most have been out of school for at least a year, frequently because their guardians cannot pay school fees. A few are already mothers. They range in age from 13 to 19. Each day, I’m greeted by girls saying “Good morning Madam April, how are you?”
How I found Sega
It’s a classic networking story! I attended a conference at Stanford on Global Development and Connection Technologies where, standing in line for lunch, I mentioned to a woman from the State Department that I was looking for a way to teach negotiations to girls or women in a developing country. She suggested I speak to the Office of Global Women’s Issues at the State Department.
After some emailing, a person in that office referred me to the chairman of the board at Nurturing Minds. He felt my experience fit perfectly with what Sega needs right now given its stage of development and plan to start several local businesses to help the girls learn about business and entrepreneurship and to support the operating expenses of the school. Sega hopes to be self-sustaining, both financially and environmentally, within 7 years and is implementing a “sustainable schools model” spearheaded by a non-governmental organization, Fundacion Paraguaya.
What am I doing here?
There is lots to do so I’m already busy after only a week. My first assignment is documenting the Lifeskills program put in place over the past year in case other schools want to emulate it. It’s an impressive counseling and mentoring based program designed to increase the confidence, decision making and communication skills of the girls. The goal is that each gain leadership qualities that will encourage them to become leaders in their own communities and country. From what I’ve seen so far, it certainly surpasses anything I’ve seen in U.S. schools.
Soon, I’ll start interviewing staff for an organizational assessment of management and personnel issues the school is facing right now.
I am also chairing the poultry business committee and, in so doing, am learning all about egg marketing and inventory. Also, we are discussing how to integrate the business into the curriculum to make it real for the girls.
Once I’ve made some headway on the above, I’ll start doing market research to enhance business plans for other businesses the school is considering including a small hotel on site and an adult education business in town.
Accomplishments and Challenges
Sega has not yet graduated its first class of girls from Form 4. That will happen in December of 2013. However, national test results so far show Sega students far surpassing students from other schools.
Granted, the public schools in Tanzania are in poor shape with an out-of-date curriculum and teaching style, inadequate facilities and materials, and teachers who frequently don’t bother to show up for class, so the bar is not high.
Sega, however, is a class act with dedicated teachers, attractive facilities, and significant supplemental programs while still following the uninspired national curriculum so the girls can sit for their national exams (O levels for all followed by A levels for some).
Despite the many challenges of educating girls who have little to no support from
home and no history of education in their families, Sega will ensure that most of its students have a far superior start in life to what they would have had without this opportunity.
Do you know of other organizations with similar missions or people that I should know about? I’d like to network with anyone who might have insight or knowledge relevant to my work here or to the school in general. Let me know of any organization or person I should know. Or post a comment or send me an email just to say hi!