by Grant Moser

What started out as a service project writing pen pal letters to girls in Tanzania for their 8th grade class has turned into more of a personal mission for Julia Reeves, Betsy Sheppard, Haley Gelberg and Elsa Rall. These four Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH) students are trying to change lives in East Africa.

These four Springside Chestnut Hill Academy eighth graders are trying to change lives in East Africa. They are, from left, Haley Gelberg
, Betsy Sheppard
, Julia Reeves and 
Elsa Rall. (Photo by Saburah A. Posner)

Their goal is to raise $10,000 to fund a four-year education at the SEGA School for one girl. The SEGA (Secondary Education for Girls Advancement) School for Girls in Tanzania provides education for orphaned and other vulnerable girls to attend secondary school.

“Coming from an all girls’ school, we saw the importance in providing a good education for girls, so we decided to take the initiative,” said Reeves. “This is a big project for four 8th graders, but we want to prove that it isn’t impossible. Providing an education for one girl for even one year is a big deal. It opens more opportunities for young women in Africa and makes it easier for a lot for these girls to find a way out of poverty.”

To reach their $10,000 goal, the four Springside students have placed donation jars at businesses all along Germantown Avenue. They are planning other fundraising efforts, such as having an online auction and a school dance. “This year we hope to raise $10,000, but it is not our main focus,” said Gelberg.

“We are trying to create a scholarship program at SCH where we can continue to raise money and provide an education for multiple girls. Whether we make the money this year or not, we hope to take this project through our years at SCH, eventually reaching our goal and hopefully more.”

“Many girls at the SEGA School in Tanzania have education taken away from them for reasons they can’t control,” added Reeves. “In many cases, their home environment is not safe or healthy, so a boarding school, with a healthy environment, that provides a good education is crucial to these girls’ futures. Without a school like SEGA, these girls have no way out of their towns and into an education.”

Providing opportunities to girls who had none was a main goal when the school in Tanzania was founded in 2007 by a Villanova native named Polly Dolan who has been living and working in Eastern and Southern Africa since 1996. (“We have several relatives who live in Chestnut Hill,” said Polly last week.) It was her sister Tracey’s job to start the nonprofit Nurturing Minds, based in Valley Forge, to raise funds to help support the education of Tanzanian girls at the school.

“Polly had been living in Tanzania for six years prior to starting the school,” explained Tracey, president of Nurturing Minds, “and working in international development, primarily with CARE. She could really see the plight of girls, particularly sexual exploitation and the horrendous burden that they carry and lack of opportunity. She realized that she could do her own school and that it would certainly be helpful.”

“When we approached Springside about working with our organization, they decided to make it their 8th grade service project,” said Sherley Young, a Nurturing Minds board member and former Springside student who has led over 10 building trips for Habitat for Humanity International, many of which have been to Africa. “This is the second year. It’s been great watching these students grasp the commonality they have with young women all over the world. American students are going to be global citizens, so this gives them a way of experiencing that at a young age that will impact them way down the road.”

“What’s exciting to see is U.S. students connect with what these girls in Tanzania have gone through and their plight,” said Tracey Dolan. “It was a real eye-opener for them. We’re not only helping the girls in Tanzania, but really changing some of these women here in the U.S. in their life choices.”

The SEGA School is a secondary school that focuses on helping girls who have dropped out of other schools, mainly due to poverty. They have 92 students currently and will bring in another 60 in June. Their goal is to have 200 students by 2015. They have a caring staff and receive three meals a day.

This new lease on life is not lost on the Springside students. According to Elsa Rall, “Watching the poverty and the struggles that are going on around the world makes us realize how lucky we really are to have food to eat, beds to sleep in, schools to educate us and so much more. What little we are doing has a lot of impact on one girl’s dreams in Tanzania, and the joy that it gives you is indescribable.”

For more information about the fundraising efforts, email For more information on Nurturing Minds, visit