I’m in Tanzania at the moment, visiting my brother Andrew who has been a missionary here for the past five years. Before that he was in Ethiopia for ten years. He has been working to eradicate birth injuries in young mothers called fistulas. He works for an organisation called Maternity Africa which is based in Arusha.
My brother and his wife Stephanie have two children, William (9) and Christopher (6). When faced with the education of their boys it became apparent that it would cheaper for Andrew and Stephanie to start their own school than send them to one of the local international schools which cost upwards of US$12,000 a year. So three years ago my sister-in-law Stephanie opened Christ Church International School for children of missionaries. I visited the fledgling school earlier in the week.
Today we took the opportunity to visit the renowned School of St Jude established by Gemma Sisia in 2002. Our tour guide was Sule, a tall, articulate, immensely proud young man who has just graduated from the school.
The School of St Jude is a ‘private’ school in that it doesn’t
receive any government assistance. The school has just two selection criteria for enrolling students: every child has to be very bright, and they have to come from families who are poverty stricken. Sisia’s passion is to provide opportunities to children who can make a difference to their country, and who might never have the chance to do so. Every child is sponsored to attend, mainly by Australian families. I spent time listening to Gemma as she shared her story with me, where her vision for the School of St Jude arose and how she achieved her dream.
When enrolments opened for Year 7 in 2010 a sea of children and teir families filled the road outside the school’s gates, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to sit the entrance exam. Sule was one of 2000 children who applied. He was one of the lucky 23 who were offered a place. Today we witnessed the enrolment of 30 extremely excited seven-year-olds. They had just received their uniforms. Lined up in front of their teachers they sang and danced to the school gate and into the arms of their immensely proud and grateful parents. It was a special moment.
Tanzania has a population of some 50million; 85% of the population live on less than $2 a day. The world of a typical Tanzanian couldn’t be further from the world I come from. Where my biggest issue in the morning is whether or not my iPhone has enough charge, my brother’s main concern is whether or not he has any water or electricity. Only 5% of Tanzanian children go onto High School, so limited are the opportunities. Opportunities like the one that came by Sule on that day in 2010 are rare, but less so because of the remarkable commitment and work of Gemma Sisia.
Only one child from a family are offered a place at the school. Sounds odd, but it is ingenious really. The lucky child has access to an excellent education. Each day they can borrow three books from the library. They are required to take these books home and read to the rest of the family. This way Sisia can maximise the impact her school has on the surrounding community.
Sule was one of the first graduating class of the School of St Jude. All of the 61 graduating students are going onto university. Sule wants to study medicine. But before he moves onto university, Sule, and everyone of the class of 2015 are doing a gap year.
As a way of giving thanks for the opportunity they were afforded each graduating student is embarking on 12months of community service. Most of the graduating
class have volunteered to work in local government schools. There they are tutoring students. Because there is a significant lack of teachers in the country many of the St Jude graduating students have found themselves teaching, some are even Heads of Department, such is the quality of education they received.
Tomorrow I am visiting a small school on the foothills of Mount Meru. Should be another eye opening experience.