The outbreak of COVID-19 sent the whole world into lockdown and it continues to cause major challenges for friends around the globe. However, thanks to technology, it has opened up a unique and exciting opportunity to connect with St Jude’s international family of supporters in a whole new way. 

In the spirit of bringing new experiences to all supporters, St Jude’s is introducing a Virtual Visit! International travel is postponed for the foreseeable future, severely reducing the annual number of visitors to the school. Visiting St Jude’s is a highlight on many travellers’ itineraries to Tanzania. The goal of the Virtual Visit is to capture the essence of a visit to St Jude’s (virtually!), providing supporters with a taste of campus culture from the comfort of their couch. 

The Virtual Visit will explore campus life, boarding facilities, lunchtime, class visits and more! 

The visit will also extend to a students’ home; a memorable experience on many visitor’s trips to St Jude’s. A home visit is a special part of the school, where the St Jude’s team and visitor are welcomed into a student’s home, gaining a unique insight into the student’s home life. It is a chance to meet a St Jude’s student and their family, shining a light on the impact of free, quality education. 

“We can’t wait to take all supporters and followers of St Jude’s on this virtual tour. It’s a new experience for many of us; one that allows us to connect, even though parts of the world seem so disconnected,” says Gemma Sisia, Founder of The School of St Jude.

A New Experience: Gemma takes Zoom guests on a virtual tour of St Jude’s Girls’ Secondary School.

St Jude’s has also been able to continue sharing all the wonderful news and stories from the school with supporters thanks to the ‘boom in Zoom’.The school introduced Zoom sessions in early June this year with the aim to network, share updates, answer questions and communicate with new and existing sponsors and donors. 

“2020 has been such a tough year for many of us, but, there’s always a silver lining. By adapting to the corona-crisis, we have created entirely new experiences for the school and myself. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see everyone in Australia this year so ‘Zooming’ was the perfect opportunity to reach out!” says Gemma. 

The reception of the Zoom sessions exceeded expectations, proving to be intimate and engaging for both the school and Zoom guests. With extremely positive feedback and encouragement from supporters, the school aims to continue connecting in this way.

Virtual Connections: Gemma engages with a primary school student during lunch time

“Technology is truly amazing… I’m able to be in the living rooms of our supporters and on the ground here in Tanzania all at once!” Gemma exclaims. 

“This is awesome! So wonderful to make this sort of connection with everyone that ordinarily wouldn't be able to see what is happening at St Jude’s. I have so enjoyed this walk around!” writes Donald in a Zoom chat. 

“Thank you sincerely for this Zoom. It was very much appreciated. St Jude's work for the children of Africa has been simply amazing,” Lyn comments, a Zoom guest.

Class in Session: A live experience of a secondary school class.

Whilst previous Zoom sessions involved Q&A’s and brief snippets of the school, the Virtual Visit will provide a full 360 view of St Jude’s, making the experience as real as possible. The Virtual Visit will take place on Wednesday 23 September, and places will be limited. 

St Jude’s Girls’ Secondary School has a total of nine clubs. Each club is unique and provides a different experience to students.

Irene and Faith, charming and bubbly secondary students took the time to list all the clubs. “We have nine clubs namely Scouts, Journalism, Roots & Shoots, Entrepreneurship, Tembo, Fema, Computer, Youth of Tanzania Association (YOTA) and Art Club,” says Irene. She is the school’s Head Girl and also a leader of Scouts Club.

These clubs allow students to reach beyond academics and participate in activities outside the classroom; promoting character building, developing life skills and expanding students’ interests and passions. With mentorship and guidance from teachers in each club, students receive help in assessing their performance with club projects and acquiring skills they can use after they graduate.

Journalism Club: Students from the Journalism Club working on ideas for their school newsletter.

“My favourite club is journalism because I feel like I am myself when I’m in this club. I enjoy it, and it’s so much fun. We have our newsletter that we are still writing. We haven’t posted it, but we will be publishing it soon,” says Faith, who belongs in the Journalism Club. She’s also a chairperson of the Entrepreneurship Club.

Ever since Irene joined her club, she feels like her personality and character has developed. Irene is more confident with herself than she was before.

“Scouts Club is everything to me. 90% of everything I do is all about that. I love it! The club gives me new experiences, more lessons and more skills. For example, before joining the club, I used to be scared of public speaking, but now I can lead the assembly without any stage fright,” says Irene with a bright, confident smile.

Scouting: Faith, a Scouts Club leader, being saluted by her fellow students.

Irene and Faith believe that these school clubs can help students achieve more in their lives.

“After I graduate, I wish to become both a chef and a journalist. With the skills I’m learning from the Entrepreneurship and Journalism Club, I know I can work as a chef, open my own business while practising broadcast journalism,” Faith ambitiously says.

Teachers are also heavily involved in these clubs by supervising and assessing the students’ performance. Ms Judith, a librarian at the girls’ secondary school, explains more about the club activities, “We normally have club sessions as extra-curricular activities once a week after school hours. The main objective of introducing club activities in our school is to promote students discovering and experiencing their talents and passion in line with the school values.”

Club Mentor: Ms Judith, a secondary librarian, mentors and nurtures students’ talents within their clubs

She adds, “Clubs have a huge impact on our girl's education, as it allows them to explore and learn more about their talents. The capability to go beyond academics helps them in their social life and especially to adjust to life after graduation.”

“Some of the skills developed in these clubs are self-reliance, volunteerism, and entrepreneurship, which will help them become responsible people in their communities and good ambassadors for the school.”

At St Jude’s, clubs not only give students the chance to sharpen their interests, hobbies and talents but also develop their leadership and social skills; in turn, creating community-focused leaders who will fight poverty through education.

Due to COVID-19, schools in Tanzania were closed from March to June this year. Since reopening, the Tanzanian Ministry of Education recently announced a new schedule for all national examinations in both primary and secondary schools. The newly introduced academic calendar will see Standard 7 students sit their exams early October, Form 2 in November and Form 4 towards the end of November.

National examinations are taken annually with strict supervision from the Tanzania National Board of Examinations under the Ministry of Education. The board is responsible for all national exams, many of which determine whether a student will be eligible to proceed to their next level of education; students sit these exams in Standard 4, Standard 7, Form 2, Form 4 and Form 6.

Salma and Benson are in Standard 7 at St Jude’s, the last year of primary school. Sitting the Standard 7 National Examinations in October is a new experience for both, as they didn't expect the exams to be so late in the year. But, both students say they’ve been studying hard, preparing and focusing on ensuring they get the best results possible.

“Our teachers are giving us weekly tests so we can get used to as many questions as possible,” says Salma.

Benson also adds that “I ask teachers many questions and request for extra work.” He continues, “In preparing for my national exams, I also like studying in groups with my friends. I find that asking hard questions, and discussing past papers allows me to understand the subjects better.”

Ready and Prepared: Benson, a Standard 7 student, ready and focused to achieve excellent results in the national examination.

At St Jude's, students are motivated to study hard to reach their dreams and become community-focused leaders. Students know very well that the way to achieve their goals and help lift their families and communities out of poverty is through a commitment to their education. And it’s the support of the dedicated and inspiring teachers that help students to do this.

Mr Deo, a mathematics teacher at St Jude’s Primary School, says, as teachers, they use many tactics to make sure that students will perform well in the national exams. “One of the tactics we use is giving the students a lot of questions from the past national examination papers weekly as well as monthly tests.”

“Also, to compensate for the time that students had stayed home due to the shutdown caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, we also have extra classes on Saturdays. We believe this will cover for the lost time, and our students will be able to do well in the national examinations.”

During the school shut down from March to June, students also received four rounds of study packs to help them continue their education while at home. The packs included worksheets, lesson notes, mock exams, an exercise book, and even marking guides. These study packs ensured students were not left behind in their studies upon their return to school.

Smile of Certainty: Mr Deo, sharing tactics that will assist students in achieving excellent results in the upcoming exams.

Last year, St Jude’s ranked in the top 1% in the country for the Standard 7 National Examinations, and 100% of the students achieved A’s and B’s. Thanks to teachers like Mr Deo who are dedicated and passionate about teaching, the school was also the top-performing school in all of Tanzania last year in advanced mathematics.

Although the academic calendar has been adjusted for the rest of the year, students are passionate about their studies, and teachers are highly motivated to ensure students do the best in their exams.

Science subjects are deemed to be too difficult by female students. However, Mr Nzinyangwa Mcharo disputes this notion.

Mr Mcharo is the Academic Manager here at The School of St Jude. He begins the conversation by confirming that the overall number of girls enrolled at St Jude’s is over 60% as of July 2020.

“The enrolment is based on merits and not because of gender selection,” said Mr Mcharo.

Currently, most schools in Tanzania lack science teachers, particularly women, making science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education predominantly dominated by men.

One of Mr Mcharo’s initiatives as Academic Manager is to encourage more female students to opt for science subjects.

“Most of the time, it’s a social stigma that math and physics are hard subjects. However, I can tell you about my own experience; I think history is more difficult than mathematics. I believe that anyone can pass mathematics when they focus.”

“I believe that science is very easy, and it’s also about your life. When you study biology, you study about health. You study physics, you study about machines. You study chemistry, you study about chemicals, some of them used in our daily life like in the kitchen. So it really depends on how those subjects get taught and the student’s passions.”

Championing Girls’ Education: Mr Mcharo proudly sharing the news that over 60% of students enrolled at St Jude’s are girls, as of July 2020.

Mr Mcharo also emphasised on the best way these science subjects are taught. “If you teach science only to get grades, students will get upset because they don’t see any relevance of the subject. However, if you link science with every-day life, there will be no reason why a student won’t opt for science subjects.”

Mr Mcharo and St Jude’s academic staff have been at the forefront of promoting female teachers in STEM education to increase the number of female staff and ultimately have role models for girls in science subjects.

“So, the first thing is to have role models, and this can only be done if we create them to influence female students to focus on STEM. In our approach to science, we have made some initiatives such as opening a girls’ school with fully-equipped science labs and providing full university scholarships through the Beyond St Jude’s program in the field of science with education.”

To Mr Mcharo, STEM defines the future for successful female students.

“If we can get our girls into these STEM careers – science, technology, engineering and mathematics, we will get role models. This will remove the bias and improve the wellbeing of our society.”

Role Model in the Making: (Before & After) Herieth, a Class of 2018 alum, is pursuing her Bachelor of Science with Education course at the University Dar es Salaam.

Herieth, a Class of 2018 alum, is a true inspiration to her fellow female students who would like to pursue science studies. Her academic achievements at St Jude’s earned her a full scholarship through the Beyond St Jude’s program to study Bachelor of Science with Education at the University Dar es Salaam - Mkwawa Campus in Iringa, Tanzania. She is the first St Jude’s graduate to be offered this scholarship, and after completion of her degree, there is a possibility that Herieth will be offered a job, here, at St Jude’s.

Since opening the girls’ secondary school, St Jude’s has seen a significant increase in the number of female students interested in studying science.

Aloyce, a Form 3 student at St Jude’s Girls’ Secondary School, is one of the students with a passion for science studies. She says her favourite subject is physics, "When I graduate, I want to become a medical scientist.” She adds that; “Science subjects are not as hard as most people portray them to be. I encourage girls to study science because anyone can do it.”

STEM is the Future: Aloyce studying hard to reach her dreams of becoming a medical scientist.

The bell rings, and the newly elected government leaders meet at the assembly hall, ready to take an oath. The new Head Boy and Head Girl meet their predecessors in the hall to exchange ties. The exchange of ties signifies that the new leaders are now ready to take up their roles. 

“To be identified as one of the leaders, we wear a blue tie instead of the striped ties,” says Daudi T, the former Head Boy.The student government body at St Jude’s is run entirely by students. They represent students’ voices, follow up on students’ welfare and discipline as well as the students’ academic progress. 

Each year, the student government is elected by fellow students, with candidates running campaigns to seek votes from their peers. 

“Candidates who want to contest are asked to collect and fill out a form. Once the forms are returned, the names are sorted and put into different posts that the candidates are contesting for. Thereafter candidates get interviewed by teachers and other reigning government leaders,” says Mary, the former Head Girl.

Former Government: Saying farewell to the former student government body.

Describing how they pick the candidates, Daudi T says, “There are three key points of choosing a leader; discipline, academics and leadership skills. We pick candidates who’ve scored at least a minimum of division two and are well disciplined. Discipline is evaluated by using the discipline form that every student is required to fill, and a candidate should at least have a B mark.” 

The government elections are highly supervised by teachers and other incumbent student leaders. 

“We have a good system of voting. It is normally done in a situated poll station. Students are given forms that they cast in a ballot to vote for their favourite candidates. The votes are later collected from the poll stations and submitted to the administration for counting and announcing the winners,” Daudi T, who was also part of the election committee, explains. 

The student government at Smith Campus serves as a link between students and teachers. 

“We are like mediators, connecting the students and the teachers. If students have problems, they come to us first, and we try and sort out the issue. If the problem is severe, then we escalate it to teachers for further assistance,” Brenda, the former assistant academic prefect stated.

Taking an Oath: The newly elected Head Boy and Head Girl take their oath.

After the swearing-in, Nasra new Head Girl, Daudi S new Head Boy and Jessica, the new General Secretary were all overwhelmed with happiness. 

“First of all, I’m proud. Having people to trust you and elect you in this position makes me feel special,” said Nasra cheerfully. 

“It’s definitely a new experience for me, but I had faith in myself. All of us, as leaders, know our responsibilities, so it’s easy for us to make great leaders,” said Jessica. 

Holding the pledge book, Daudi S said he’s always had a passion for leadership. He believes that all the skills that he’s acquired in school, and everything he’s been studying has prepared him for a leadership position. 

“Challenges are what makes a leader great. As a leader, you are trained not to run from challenges but rather to find solutions to overcome them.” Daudi S says with pride. 

“My promise to the students who voted for me is that, during this government, they’ll enjoy their time at school. This government is all about happiness,” Daudi promises. 

All students in the government body, those before and present, see themselves becoming leaders once they graduate school. The students feel that by being leaders, this will allow them to help fight poverty and alleviate their communities from the struggles they face daily. They also wish to be role models to other youth in their local communities. 

Students at Smith Campus take leadership very seriously and deem being part of the school government as an important role and skill to have.

Happy to Have Served: Former Head Boy and Head Girl handing over the pledge book to the newly elected student government leaders.