“We love visitors!” It’s impossible to miss the blue words emblazoned on the back of the bright yellow school buses belonging to The School of St Jude in Arusha, Tanzania.
It’s also impossible not to feel welcome from the moment you set foot on the Sisia Campus in Moshono. We arrived at St Jude’s halfway through our daughter Kate’s two-year tenure there in the Marketing team.
Our guide for our four-day visit is Frank, a fresh St Jude’s graduate undertaking a year-long internship with the Visitor Team as part of his Community Service Year, before commencing university. His first-hand experience makes him an authentic and invested host.
On day one, Frank gives us a tour of the primary campus, situated below stunning Mount Meru, Tanzania’s second highest mountain. It’s jacaranda time and in the morning, the students grab brooms and willingly help to sweep up the purple-carpet playground. Australian students would never embrace a task with such enthusiasm.
On entering a grade four music class, we are greeted with a loud, unified chorus of, “we love visitors” and I find myself learning some drumming alongside a couple of eager 11 year-olds. With more than 1,000 visitors per year, we’re not a novelty; yet we are received with warmth and grace.
One afternoon, we take the school bus to visit the home of Justina, a Standard 5 student who lives with her older sister and father. We enter a single windowed room inside a basic brick compound, furnished with one double bed, a sofa, a coffee table and assorted possessions in stacked boxes against the wall. I foolishly think this is just one room of a larger house. Not so. This room is the sum total of their existence. There is no power, no running water and a kerosene burner for cooking.
“How has being at St Jude’s changed Justina?” I ask her father, a cobbler.
“Justina is doing so well, she really wants to learn and now she wants to be a teacher,” he responds, his eyes shining with pride.
I am overwhelmed by this home visit. It reiterates the work St Jude’s is doing: taking the poorest children with the brightest minds and educating them free of charge in order to fight poverty and create the leaders of tomorrow.
We leave the family with a customary St Jude’s care package, to assist with some basic living needs including laundry soap, rice, flour, sugar, tea and a solar powered lamp. It is the least we can do. The best we can do though, is to sponsor Justina’s scholarship for her remaining school years.
On our second day, we travel the 25km on the yellow bus out to the secondary school at Usa River, known as Smith Campus. Reminiscent of an American college campus, Smith is seriously impressive. It boasts a large library, computer labs, art room, well-kept sports fields and a farm, which supplies some of the vegetables for the 3,400 meals served daily across both of the campuses.
Importantly, our visitor experience is not confined to within the school gates. Frank takes us to visit a nearby government school where we meet another St Jude’s intern who is volunteer teaching English as part of his Community Service Year. The contrast is confronting: blackboards with peeling paint, 40 plus children in each class, and a library with tattered World Book encyclopedias from the 1970s. It highlighted the real life situation for the majority of Tanzanian students. A Tanzanian adult averages only 5.8 years of schooling.
St Jude’s was named after the patron saint of hopeless causes. Our visitor experience left us believing that this cause could not be any more hopeful.
P.S. On arriving home, we formalised our sponsorship arrangement and are looking forward to hearing about Justina’s progress as she continues her education.
We love visitors! You too can have the experience of a life-time by visiting St Jude’s. Visit our website for more information.
Rickson has always enjoyed putting himself in other people’s shoes.
When he was a little boy, he and his brother Reuben would escape to a room in their house which housed their father’s tools and, mimicking their Dad, they’d pretend to fix household objects.
Now, the 21-year-old gets to fulfil his passion for learning about others as an intern with the St Jude’s Visitor Team as part of his Community Service Year. Every day he meets different people from different parts of the world who visit St Jude’s.
“I love to know what’s in people’s heads. Hearing other peoples’ experiences helps me to understand more than what I have seen or done myself,” he says.
For 12 years, Rickson attended St Jude’s and graduated in May 2019. When Rickson first started school, his mother, Neema, put together a ‘wish box’. Every morning before school, she would ask Rickson and Reuben to write down a wish they had for the day.
“I would always put down that I wanted to be top of my class in academics,” says Rickson.
After the family had finished dinner and watched the news, Neema would sit down with her sons and read out their wishes.
“Give me some examples of how you achieved your wish,” she would say. His mother always wanted to know how they were planning to achieve their dreams.
When Rickson began at St Jude’s, he recalls winning the Citizen Award for being a good class member. When his mother found out, she asked him, “What will you do next?” She did the same when he scooped the maths, science awards and even a music award.
When Rickson was finishing Standard 7, the end of primary school, his mother fell ill. He spent many hours conversing with her, trying to keep her spirits up. When he was 14, one of their morning conversations ended up being their last as his mother passed away that night. Overcome with disbelief and grief, it was Rickson’s Bibi (grandmother), Anifiambazi, who got him through that traumatic time.
“My grandma became the person I could trust over anyone,” he says, adding that his grandmother only recently passed away unexpectedly.
“Every day with my grandmother was a lesson,” says Rickson. “I wasn’t sad on the day of her funeral, I was thankful for everything I had learnt.”
Rickson credits his resilience, determination and aspirational outlook on the lessons he learnt from his mother and grandmother. He also knows that, were it not for his place at St Jude’s, he would never have been able to dream of reaching the goals he now sets for himself.
“I’m looking forward to going to university and meeting even more new people. In my future I’d like to travel. I want to do my mum, brother and grandmother proud.”
If you’d like to know more about Rickson and his internship, be sure to listen to the latest episode of our podcast, Inside St Jude’s – Conversations with Gemma Sisia.
Judith stands confidently before two of her trusted peers in the Visitor Centre at The School of St Jude. It’s rehearsal day for St Jude’s 2020 Australian promotional tour and Judith’s been handpicked by ‘Mama Gemma’ Sisia, St Jude’s School Founder, to accompany her on her upcoming trip Down Under.
In front of some of her peers, Judith practices telling her tale of triumph. It’s a tale that’s well-known to those in the room and will soon be shared with people across Australia. It’s the tale of how St Jude’s transforms lives.
Judith is preparing for the journey of a lifetime. This month, she is boarding her very first flight, bound for Australia. There she will meet incredible Australian supporters, who have built the school she loves – the place she calls her home – from scratch.
“When Gemma invited me to join her and help to spread the word about our school, I was so excited! I just couldn’t believe it was me going there!” Judith enthuses.
“The culture in Tanzania is very different from Australian culture. I will try to learn the differences between here and there, and I will love learning about a new part of the world.”
“Of course, I know that we share a great love for St Jude’s, so I know I will love everyone I meet!” she says.
Judith started in Standard 1 at St Jude’s and is now getting ready for university. She has benefitted from 13 years of 100% free, quality education and she believes it’s made the world of difference to her.
“Joining St Jude’s changed my life so much. I’m happy and grateful to meet our supporters. I came from a humble family and the sponsors and donors are the ones who enabled me to go to one of the best schools in Tanzania!” she shares.
“It was this golden chance that opened the door and helped me to realise that poverty could not hinder my success forever.”
While it’s been a challenging year for so many members of our international family, Judith hopes she will bring a story of joy to the people who gifted her with an education.
“I know that so many people in Australia are suffering right now, and it pains my heart. I hope Gemma and I can bring some smiles to their faces, because they really deserve to be happy.”
Would you like to hear more about Judith’s remarkable journey? Be sure to attend a public tour event in a town near you!
St Jude’s Sisia primary campus is always a bustling hub of activity and cheer on Friday afternoons.
Weekly assemblies excite the whole school community, providing students with a platform to showcase exceptional academic and creative talents.
An added air of intrigue infused the auditorium when 18-year-old Russell, a Birpai man from New South Wales, took to the stage in front of a crowd of more than 700 at a recent school assembly.
The deep drone of Russell’s didgeridoo cued the tap of clapsticks, played by Fatima in 5C, as she and 27 classmates approached the stage from the back of the auditorium.
It was an apt primer to a performance that won’t be soon forgotten.
The captivating demonstration gave the audience an insight into important Indigenous traditions. Pamoja, meaning 'togetherness' in Swahili, inspired the experience of two cultures joining in celebration.
Russell is becoming a seasoned expert at performing for the St Jude’s community; he first had the opportunity in April last year, during a visit with his school, St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill.
“I was lucky enough to be selected for the school trip. I remember being told about it by a friend, whose younger brother had visited St Jude’s as a Joey’s student in 2016.”
According to St Joseph's College educator and school trip co-supervisor, Linda Roden, there was no doubt that Russell would prove to be the perfect fit for a visit to St Jude's.
“Russell often guides younger students to strive for better things. He is a special young man who has a positive attitude and makes the most of opportunities presented to him.”
Working in a school, Linda understands that education is vital to ensuring the cycle of poverty is broken, and that young advocates like Russell play a crucial role in supporting St Jude’s.
“Schools can fundraise towards sponsoring a student, a teacher or even a bus. Most importantly, students can spread the word. Let people know about the amazing work being done at St Jude’s. Every dollar raised for the School is important.”
Russell is dedicated to fighting poverty through education and knows a high quality schooling experience can change an individual’s life trajectory.
“I wouldn't have had doors opened for me if it weren't for the education I received. The kids at St Jude's enjoy the greatest gift."
“As a representative of a minority group in Australia, I can really identify with the students. Being here has opened my mind to possibilities for the future. I’d love to explore work in the performing arts, but I’m also considering being a primary school teacher.”
Of all the experiences that touched Russell’s life during his first trip to St Jude’s, it was a visit to the home of Goodluck in Form 1 which affected him most.
“Seeing where St Jude’s students’ come from and the conditions some Tanzanians are living in is challenging. It gave me perspective. It helped me to appreciate what I’ve got.”
“Gemma Sisia is a shining soul. If she can do what she’s done, then we can do so much to help. I take my hat off to her. Telling the story about St Jude’s and its beginnings is so important.”
“We saw Mount Kilimanjaro as soon as we arrived at the airport in Tanzania, reminding us how far from Australia we’d travelled, but a group of students from Smith secondary campus were there to greet us with a dance. They made us feel welcome. You can’t compare this experience to any other.”
Are you ready for the experience of a lifetime? Do you have a special talent to show our students at school assembly? Email our friendly Visitor team at Visitor@schoolofstjude.co.tz and book your trip to The School of St Jude! Click here for more information.
The greatest gift our new buddy, Chris, brought to St Jude’s was his magnetic presence.
Chris’s passion for fighting poverty through education shone through smiling eyes and a radiant grin.
The family-man from Indiana had never been to Africa, but Chris was right at home from the moment he landed on St Jude’s doorstep. It was a two week trip that changed his life.
“I read a quote about Africa once that said something like, ‘the simplicity and the complexity of the culture, the interactions you have, will draw you in and get inside you, and not let you go. You’ll always want to go back.’
That is absolutely true,” Chris said.
“I looked at the website before getting here and thought, ‘this is a unique school, it’s something I’d like to see, understand and experience.’ It grows on you,” he shared.
“It’s just amazing. This was one person’s dream for kids in Tanzania, funded by people in another country, and now by people around the world — including the Unites States! Unbelievable.”
“You see students here that are extremely happy: drumming in music class, dancing, smiling… being 100% present and confident in themselves. Being able to touch a part of their life is fantastic,” he enthused.
A visit to a student’s home opened Chris’s eyes to reality beyond St Jude's blue-and-gold gates.
“To really understand it, you have to experience it. You only get a snapshot, but what it’s really about is an exchange of ideas and finding common ground,” he said.
“I asked the student’s grandmother how she made the tea she was serving. She showed me some grass the family grows outside. It looked just like prairie grass! It was a really great thing!”
“I kept thinking about going home and growing the same stuff. Then, the whole family started laughing at my friend who didn’t want sugar in his tea! It was awesome,” Chris laughed.
As a teacher, Chris appreciates the role of education in guiding young people towards a future of joy and prosperity.
“St Jude’s has had three graduating classes. I’d say the next 10 years will be really interesting. We’ll be able to see how the graduates progress through college and in their lives. So many will flourish as Tanzania’s leaders!” Chris predicted.
Chris plans to keep his flame of inspiration burning brightly, and share it with students in the States.
“I can’t wait to show them pictures and say, ‘we’ve got a lot to learn from St Jude’s. Don’t look at these students as if they don’t have much. In some ways, they have more than you – they understand so much about life.’”
“St Jude’s students are growing their own food! They wash their own clothes. They are inventive. They take responsibility. To think of where they’ve come from is mind-blowing.”
Although his visit is over, this is the beginning of a long-time friendship between Chris and St Jude’s.
“It’s just like that quote I read; yes, my shoes are dirty. My hair has dust in it.
Tanzania is stuck under my skin. I’d come back here in the snap of a finger. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Our students and staff love welcoming visitors. What are you waiting for? Come and see St Jude’s in action!
It was a misty morning, yet nothing could dampen the mood of our youngest students as they set out for a great adventure — their very first safari.
“We were so excited; we could not sleep the night before!” squealed eight-year-old Jenifa.
Dozens of excited Standard 1s and 2s boarded our iconic animal-themed school buses to Tarangire National Park, a 158km drive away from The School of St Jude.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, the chirpy youngsters hoped to catch a glimpse of wildlife royalty.
Hearts leapt at the speed of frantic wildebeests, as the students saw ‘The Lion King’ try to catch one for lunch!
“It was so surprising! We were afraid of the lion, and everyone was screaming, which was funny,” chuckled Daniel.
“After two minutes, the lion stopped chasing the wildebeest. Then, the wildebeest just continued eating the grass, like nothing had happened!” shared Joshua.
The eagle-eyed youngsters were impressed with everything Tarangire had to offer, from the extraordinary to the mundane. Even observing the creatures’ afternoon nap was enough to keep them entertained.
“The best moment for me was seeing a giraffe sleeping,” said Jenifa.
“It surprised me to see the giraffe sleeping on the ground, and how big it was in real life. The school safari was my first time seeing animals like this.
I did not think I would ever have this chance,” she giggled.
“I also loved the giraffe. It was very beautiful,” Joshua chimed in.
“I enjoyed learning about the elephants. Elephants have very good instincts, but sometimes they get killed. I want elephants to be looked after,” he said.
It was a day of love, laughter and learning.
“It was great to learn how important the animals are for our environment.
They are so smart,” Daniel recounted.
“To see these animals in real life was so good,” Jenifa added.
“Thank you to our teachers and supporters for making the safari possible,” she said.
Arusha is the gateway to some of Africa’s most breathtaking natural wonders. Come and visit us before or after your own safari adventure!