SEGA’s Founder and Director Polly Dolan, reflects on an upcoming milestone for the school.
It’s January 2018 and it’s a new school year at the SEGA Girls School. The afternoon sun is hot and bright. The atmosphere buzzes and hums with energy; and sounds of greetings, laughing and running footsteps permeate all corners of the campus. A cleaner squeegees water from a mopped floor, out the door, flinging it onto the red land. I relish the kaleidoscope of colors and sounds like never before. Having moved from Morogoro to Philadelphia one and a half years ago, I return to SEGA for days or weeks at a time, with an agenda to accomplish within a set period of time. My limited days on campus make me extra appreciative of my time here.
2018! The year is particularly meaningful. In July, SEGA will be 10 years old. It’s a time of assessment, celebration, and remaining steadfast to our mission. We started with a mission to provide quality secondary education to girls who otherwise would not have a chance. Our focus has been on bright, vulnerable girls. We define ‘vulnerable’ as orphaned, very poor, or at risk of dropping out of school and becoming subjected to exploitative labor; and we define ‘bright’ as capable of flourishing in an academic secondary school—and specifically choose the top 30 out of 100 girls in any given geographic area.
Today, we have a thriving, multi-dimensional secondary school that provides a safe haven where vulnerable and at-risk girls can grow and learn; and students of any socio-economic and social background can be stimulated by a rigorous academic program. The school follows the Tanzanian academic curriculum, equipping graduates with nationally recognized credentials, while providing enriching self-development, leadership and entrepreneurial skills so vital for navigating life’s challenges, such as getting along with others and making a living. The school’s impact comes to life in the community as our graduates give back, through mentoring to 200 girls in girls clubs through our “Modern Girl Outreach Program”.
One of our biggest hurdles over the course of the past ten years has been establishing campus businesses that create income to contribute to the school’s running costs. Fortunately we have had excellent support from Fundacion Paraguaya and the Mastercard Foundation to make it possible. Fundacion Paraguaya (FP) has led the way for SEGA to develop its own ‘learning by doing’ entrepreneurship program where students have participated in businesses such as poultry rearing, poultry feed production and marketing, honey processing, workshop/conference hosting, food production, and hospitality. FP showed us the way and gave us confidence to embark on these businesses. Every one of these projects has taught us something valuable and has contributed to student learning. And, it has set us apart from so many other Tanzanian schools.
Our most rewarding business to date is the SEGA Lodge that has steadily increased its profits each year since its development in 2015. Moreover, the Lodge provides for rich interaction between students and visitors from all over the world who come to teach English or visit briefly with students. Our aim has always been to benefit vulnerable Tanzanian girls. We had not dreamed of all of the additional positive impacts the school would some day have on US school groups, sponsors, friends and visitors who now come to experience life at the school. Visitors frequently refer to their time at SEGA as the “highlight of my trip” or even “life-changing”. In fact, the energy radiating from our students is as restorative and nourishing as you might imagine a warm summer sunshiny day could be right now (you, in the center of the frozen vortex ice bomb –the internet’s description of the weather at home ….).
Construction has been a big part of the first ten years of SEGA’s existence. We started with a plot of scrub-covered land with a view of distant beautiful mountains. We now have a full secondary school made up of 24 solid and pretty red and orange buildings accommodating 250 students. It is hard to imagine–where would we be without USAID? Thank you USAID. Thank you for all you have done for us and our students.
The infrastructure development of the school, thanks to financial support from USAID, so much technical and moral support from Nurturing Minds board member Clarke Blynn, and a wonderful local contractor and architect has been challenging at times but mainly straightforward. Development of the programs and the school itself has had plenty of challenges and not always as straightforward! In the beginning, each time a new activity was introduced, or a new staff person joined the team, the school seemed to go through a norming and storming phase all over again. And over the past ten years we have formed, stormed, normed and performed on some level, over and over again, spiraling upwards each time onto a higher level of organization, quality, and strength.
Underpinning it all, within the USA and in Tanzania, there has been one constant–a core of faithful donors, leaders, board members, staff and volunteers–so steadfast and generous with positive encouragement, guidance and financial support.
As I look back and take stock of the journey so far, I feel extreme gratitude for all of these adventures, the love and appreciation of the girls; the great team of teachers, non-teaching staff, volunteers and administration; the growth of the school, from a dream to what now exists; and above all–gratitude to you who have made SEGA School possible.
As SEGA turns 10, this year will be one of great celebration here at SEGA within Morogoro Tanzania; and in Nurturing Minds and our broader community in the USA and beyond. I hope you will be a part of it. Stay tuned in the coming months to find out when, how and where to join in.