On Dec. 13, 2014, Nubia Wilson turned 16. But instead of celebrating with a glamorous Sweet 16 birthday party, the California teen dedicated this milestone to improving the lives of orphans in Ethiopia.

Through several summers of volunteer work at an Ethiopian orphanage, Nubia learned firsthand the devastating poverty so many children face, reported ABC News. In an email to The Huffington Post, Nubia said that she was particularly struck by the children’s lack of access to education — their school only went through the fourth grade.

Over the course of her volunteer work, Nubia became particularly invested in one student, Hermela. She writes:

Out of many students in the kindergarten class, Hermela became close and attached to me to a point where it’s becoming difficult for both of us to leave each other behind… She is now in second grade… The thought of Hermela not being able to have her meal and receive education after fourth grade became unimaginable and I knew I had to do something.

That’s when Nubia decided that she didn’t want a traditional Sweet 16. Instead, she wanted to use the money her parents would have spent on a party to establish a fifth grade class for Hermela and her peers.

“The fund could provide a lasting solution that will serve for many years compared to the one-day pleasure of my party,” Nubia wrote to HuffPost. “In short, I want Hermela to continue smiling.”

After telling friends and family her plan, Nubia set up a donation page “Keep Hermela Smiling” on Crowd Rise. Her campaign will raise funds for the Fregenet Foundation, which funds education and community services in Ethiopia.

So far, Nubia has raised $2,781 of her $10,000 goal. She’s also selling Hershey bars for the cause. Nubia says that her parents has been extremely supportive; they’re selling most of their Ethiopian artifacts to help raise funds.

Nubia’s birthday may not have been a party — but it’s truly a celebration.

H/T ABC News

Follow HuffPost Teen on Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Pheed |