Nurturing Minds in Africa
Podcast #117 — Aired January 9, 2017

One woman’s dream is changing lives for girls at risk in Tanzania. This week on BetterWorldians Radio, we’re talking with Polly Dolan, founder of Nurturing Minds in Africa, a non-profit with a mission to educate Tanzanian girls who are poor, marginalized and at-risk of becoming involved in exploitative forms of child labor. Dolan will discuss the organization’s SEGA Girls School and how it is educating girls and giving them the tools for successful, happy lives.

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Polly Dolan
Founder, Nurturing Minds in Africa

Polly Dolan holds a Master’s degree in International Administration, and has been living and working in Eastern and Southern Africa since 1996. Polly coordinated community development and environmental conservation projects for CARE in Tanzania for four years; and since that time she has continued to work in health, education and vulnerable children programming areas as an independent consultant. In 2007, Polly began the realization of her dream to create Nurturing Mind’s SEGA Girls School and was able to attain 23 acres of land in Tanzania. With the help of colleagues and friends, Polly was able to raise funds and provide technical expertise for the construction and development of the SEGA Girls School, with a mission to educate Tanzanian girls who are poor, marginalized and at-risk of becoming involved in exploitative forms of child labor.

 

Episode Transcript

Gregory Hansell
Hi, Welcome to Better Worldians Radio. Better Worldians Radio is a weekly broadcast whose mission is to uplift and inspire you to make the world a better place. I am Greg Hansel. Better Worldians Radio is brought to you by Better Worldians Foundation and its co-hosted by the family team that created the popular social game on the Facebook called a Better World. It rewards players for doing deeds while helping to raise money and awareness for charities. Today over 40 million good deeds have been done in Better World by 4 million people in over 100 countries around the world. This week on Better Worldians Radio, We welcome Polly Dolan, founder of Nurturing Minds in Africa, a non-profit with a mission to educate Tanzanian girls who are poor, marginalized and at-risk of becoming involved in exploitative forms of child labor. Polly holds a masters degree in International Administration and has been living and working in Eastern and Southern Africa since 1996. Polly coordinated community development and environmental conservation projects for CARE in Tanzania for four years; and since that time she has continued to work in health, education and vulnerable children programming areas as an independent consultant. In 2007, Polly began the realization of her dream to create Nurturing Minds SEGA Girls School and was able to attain 23 acres of land in Tanzania. With the help of colleagues and friends, Polly was able to raise funds and provide technical expertise for the construction and development of the SEGA Girls School, which we will talk about in detail today. So Polly, Hello! Welcome to Better Worldians Radio. Thank you for coming.

Poly
Hi, Thank you so much Greg. Nice to be here.

Gregory Hansell
Glad to be here and talk about Nurturing Minds and SEGA. I know Poly, you have been working on Poverty alleviation in Africa now for 20 years. What led you initially to this work?

Poly
I think there were 2 main driving forces. The first is, I have really, always had a passion for travelling and I specially was always excited by being in part of the world that are so called developing countries. I found it really exciting and stimulating to be in places where life and the surroundings are very unpredictable. Culture and the daily life is so different than what I am used to, or I had been used to. And the second is as a young, I somewhere down the line, I had identified a life purpose for myself which was to help others reach their soul potential even though I was still trying to figure out how to reach my own soul potential. That was something that I knew, I wanted to do and for me, I had always in vision that to me social work and I studied social work in college initially but then as a college students, my parents gave me a chance to study abroad for a semester and right away, I chose Kenya and went to Kenya and I think to following my desire to be in place like that of Africa, I thought excited me so much and it was there, that I learnt that there was a whole field of work and a possible clear path and international development. So I knew right away that, thats what I wanted to do. So after that later I went on to get my masters degree and at (could not understand) national training in (could not understand) and then that led to a scholarship in the University of Michigan and they offered me a 2 year scholarship in Uganda. So in 1996, I went to Uganda supposedly for 2 years but I have only just returned to live in United States this past year. So I ended up staying there for 20 years.

Gregory Hansell
Wow, thats an amazing 20 year journey. I love that insight to sometimes we find ourself to help other people find themselves. I think thats powerful. So I know that as you worked over these 20 years it became clear to you that educating girls makes a significant impact on the lot of issues. Can you talk about that, how you realized that and why that does make such a difference.

Poly
Yeah, I think, you cant work in a place like Tanzania without noticing the situation the girls and the women are in and also the very strong role that they have in keeping the fabric of their society together. But they are really undervalued as for the most part and very much subjected to the wins and needs of others for much of their lives. Many girls grow up not valuing themselves or realizing that they have the right to lead fulfilling lives and pursue their own dreams. So all through their childhood they are taught how to behave and what to do and a good portion of their time is spent on (could not understand) then if they reach puberty they become subjected to a lot of sexual pleasure. Often with very low understanding or for wanting of what is happening and to often then their childhood ends abruptly with an early pregnancy. I mean, its around 40% of Tanzanian young women have already give birth by the time they are 18 and a quarter of women are giving birth before the age of 17 and then thousands become pregnant while they are still in young adolescence and then they drop out of school. So you have that backdrop but as you said, its important, that education is important, has a huge role to play and helping girls understand their value and their rights and how to avoid early pregnancy and hopefully to lead fulfilling life. (Could not understand) their families and society that all of the global researches has uncovered in recent years, its become very well known. They impacted educating girls has, for example in Tanzania the demographic health survey found that young women with no education are 10 times more likely start bearing children as teenagers than those with secondary education.

Gregory Hansell
Thats amazing. I think obviously the work you are doing to help these women is so powerful and then you are also contributing to the society at large and I think part of that is not just happening, I think they are on ground in Tanzania but also the awareness work. I think its so important for people to hear these facts and understand why the work is so important and how it makes a difference and therefore they can get that sense of wanting to contribute to these people at large.

Poly
Yeah and that was , one of the things that I hadnt really thought about when we started the program was the exchange that will be going on between the US and Tanzania and that has turned out to be a really fulfilling part of the whole experience. We have visitors come over to the school every year. We get local school who has been there 3 times, a Philadelphia school has come 3 times. The girls over there get to exchange to the girls here. They learn about each other and just mutual understanding. Its incredible. The value that people here get from going over there as we kind of tend to think of supporting the school there which nothing would be on the ground, amazing (could not understand) support that weve had. But on the other side of the coin, just the incredible cultural exchange value that people have gotten too.

Gregory Hansell
No, I am sure its amazingly eye opening and world changing. I think anytime people experience their culture, for sure it changes what they think about things but to have experience that they would in Tanzania must be incredible, take them with them for the rest of their lives.

Poly
Yeah, Thats what they tell us.

Gregory Hansell
So, how did you go about forming SEGA girls school?

Poly
Well, I had already been working in Tanzania for about 12 years before starting. So, I went to a Tanzanian colleague who had been working for years and we pretty much had the plan together. He introduced me to a very dynamic woman in Morogoro and we formed a board and an organization there to make sure that whatever we did was grounded in local culture and local realities because although I have been there for a long time, I am still not Tanzanian and so that was instrumental really. And at the same time, on this side I went to my sister here in US and childhood friends and we formed an organization to do the fundraising and that is Nurturing Minds here in the US and we have been very very fortunate to receive the support we have from so many individuals and organizations which has made building and running school possible.

Gregory Hansell
Thats incredible. So what is the criteria for girls to enter the program, what are you looking for?

Poly
Well, to enter our program as a full scholarship student which 95% of the students in the school are there on full scholarship. She should be identified as vulnerable by her community. So vulnerable means (could not understand) or not living with her own family, very poor or at-risk of abuse, or dropping out of school. She should also pass her entry exam and we have home visits for every student to verify their vulnerability. The schools whole purpose is to provide quality education to girls who otherwise would not have a chance. So, its very important that the girls who are admitted with scholarships are actually in need as well as having academic potential.

Gregory Hansell
So, what are some of the challenges facing these girls that people in United States or elsewhere might not be aware of or know that they have to expect?

Poly
I would say that the biggest and most common challenge our students have faced before they come to SEGA is physical and sexual abuse. There were not actively selecting students who have been victims of sexual violence or other physical abuse. Many many have been subjective to find outer later in the course of counseling once they are at school, but just the very day to day struggles that the girls have to get the school are also very hard and would be more unusual probably of here in the US like walking miles to school not getting food the whole day until school is finished, sitting with the hundred other kids in the classroom often on the floor, a classroom that doesnt have enough books, furniture or even teachers. So, those are the kind of primary schools that our students have been through before coming to SEGA at grade 7.

Gregory Hansell
Wow, so what kind of program does SEGA offer to help these girls.

Poly
We follow the National Educational curriculum which is mandated by law, by Tanzanian law but we also supplement it with very in depth life skills program. We call it education for life. We also have the learning by doing entrepreneurship program to learn business skills and we provide English fluency, which helps the students tremendously because all National exams in Tanzania at higher level are in English. I think our life skills program is one of the most important things, of course they are all important. They have to get those academic qualifications but in life skills is where we teach basic things like their rights and communication thinking about their lives and what they want from it and how to have a goal and pursue it. So all of these things we do in our education for life program.

Gregory Hansell
Lastly focus on female empowerment. Can you talk about that, why is that so important?

Poly
Yeah, well, I think I mentioned some of those hurdles that Tanzanian girls face. Without an awareness their day to day struggles are not necessarily correct on a right point of view, that girls have the same rights as others. Without that awareness, they will never get a perspective on their life that they should be the one that control their lives and their bodies for example. So we do start with helping the girl first of all understand herself, know all of the things that lead to pregnancy, unwanted interactions. All of these things, so we start with that and then we teach them a right framework where they can know what is allowed and not allowed under law. Who they go to in that community if they are suffering from abuse or unwanted (could not understand) and what to do about it.

Gregory Hansell
We will talk more with Poly Dolan, founder of Nurturing Minds in Africa in a moment. Right now, I would like to take brief break and tell our listeners a bit our game on Facebook called a Better world. A better world encourages habits of goodness, positive mindsets and giving to social causes to make a positive difference in the world. Players do things like expressing gratitude, share acts of kindness, send get well notes to real sick children around the world and so many more things. Each month Better Worldian partner with a different non-profit to help raise money in a awareness for this cause. This month we are happy to partnering with Nurturing Minds. When our players complete 150k good deeds in the game this month, we release funds to provide quality education for 200 vulnerable girls in Tanzania. You can find out more at betterworld.com. So, Now lets get back to our conversation with Poly Dolan. So, Poly you talked about the program and the necessity and the need for sort of grounds in Tanzania . What do you hope graduates come away with

Poly
Our aim is for graduates to have as many doors open as possible at the end of form 4 which is the end of ordinary level, secondary schools as they call it in Tanzania. With the 4 first certificate they can go on teaching and nursing degrees or pursue higher academic education or go on to vocational schools if they want and we are giving them business skills, so with those we (could not understand) them to start their own businesses. There are many many graduates even of universities in Tanzania that have trouble finding work. There is lot of joblessness, unemployment; so many graduates will depend on their own small businesses. But at the minimum, the life skills that they are getting at SEGA will help them communicate better, make conscious decisions in their lives, stand up for themselves, help and negotiate with the opposite sex and send for themselves and they reach goal.

Gregory Hansell
I knew the story on your websites speaking of that about a girl who graduated from your program and then faced terrible pressure from a college professor. Can you share that story and how that skills that she learned at SEGA helped after.

Poly
Sure, it is just that one of our alumni meetings a year or so ago and I was there, and we were asking the girls about their experiences at college because we also support our graduates to go on with scholarships to other program once they reach SEGA. Program they qualify for that helps that next step out. Anyway, she talked about how one of her professors there basically told her that he was going to fail her unless she had sex with him. And she said, I looked him in the eye and I said I have paid to be here, its my right to be here you better leave me alone. And to hear this coming out of this girls mouth was amazing. I was really happy to hear that. And he left her alone. He did. She knew her rights, she expressed it with confidence and she looked him in the eye. And I asked, how did you know to say that. She said from our life skills classes at SEGA.

Gregory Hansell
Amazing! And good for her. Thats incredible. I know SEGA girls school also have an environmentally friendly campus which I think is great. Why did you make that decision and how does that work?

Poly
We made that decision lot to do with practicalities. We want our students to make their world a better place when they reach school and become conscious and aware of their role in helping or harming the environment and also we are off grid , we are located just outside on the periphery of a fairly large town or small city. But the municipal water supply and electricity doesnt reach us. They were off grid, so it was natural from both of those perspective to decide to run on solar and we got great sun shine of course being in East Africa right below the equator and we thanks to kind donations of solar batteries and panels raised from here in the US. We are able to run 100% on solar electricity and we have rain water (could not understand) in all of our buildings and a large underwater tank which is the huge help especially in the dry season and we teach our students organic gardening, we raise the awareness about global issues especially some that are very close to home like (could not understand) and we make sure that we get to visit the national park, see elephants and their habitat and help connected them on some calls on skype sessions with activists, once an activist in China and another in the US and they have written a letter to the (could not understand) Prime minister thanking her for her efforts. So there has been those kind of awareness raising get them to think of their own role in society and how to take actions.

Gregory Hansell
Love that. Its excellent. Do you have a favourite success story of a particular girl or few girls who have gone through your program you would like to share with us.

Poly
Yeah, definitely. One of my favourite stories is about a girl named (could not understand) She was from our first graduating class and when we recruited her to she had dropped out of her school before SEGA, she had been out of school due to early pregnancy. She has been kicked out of her parents home. I think she got pregnant around the age of 15. She is kicked out of her parents home but luckily her grandparents have taken her in. She was pretty much an average student when we took her in terms of her entrance exam, but she worked really really hard, she always studied, she was always at the top of the class while at SEGA and when she graduated, with her scores she could have basically done anything else she wanted, all the doors were open. She could have continued on to university or done anything she wanted because she studied science. So, she chose to go to nursing school, she was drawn to that profession and she was anxious to start working so she could take care of her daughter who was at home. She did a 3 year diploma and she graduated top of her nursing program and then couple of months ago I was in Morgoro and I had to go visit someone in the regional hospital and I ran into the (could not understand) in the hallway in her nurses uniform. So she is now fully qualified nurse. She has a government job which means long term stability. She is basically set for life. So I am very very happy for her.

Gregory Hansell
Thats wonderful. So can you tell our listeners at home, how they can support Nurturing Minds

Poly
Yes, there are many ways to help but the best is by visiting our website and making your donation, you can sponsor a student whereby you get to correspond with the student at her school and follow her progress or you can equally give an unrestricted donation. Our website is www.nurturingmindsinafrica.org and there is all kinds of information.

Gregory Hansell
One last question. Its a question that we ask every week. In this case, how do you hope Nurturing Minds in Africa is helping to make the world a better place.

Poly
Well, we are helping girls get more freedom in their own life by opening doors for them and equipping them with skills and qualifications. So thats the boiling it down in nutshell. I think thats what we are doing.

Gregory Hansell
You can learn more about Poly Dolans work by going to Nurturing mindsinafrica.org. Poly thank you again for joining us today on Better Worldians Radio

Poly
Thank you so much

Gregory Hansell
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