The School of St Jude’s motto is ‘Challenge Yourself’. The last 12 months have certainly brought that concept to the fore, as we, like the rest of the world, have adapted to rapid changes.
Incredibly, thanks to you – our loyal supporters – alongside efforts from our passionate staff, diligent students and astute school boards, we rose to the challenge. Despite the tumult of 2020, we continued fulfilling our core mission and vision: fighting poverty through education and nurturing the future moral and intellectual leaders of Tanzania.
This week, that dream officially turns 19 years old. The gates of Sisia Campus opened to its first three students on January 29 2002. For nearly two decades, The School of St Jude has stood as a shining beacon of possibility.
Last year launched on an incredible high, with the opening of St Jude’s Girls’ Secondary School in January 2020. The grounds of Sisia Campus were teeming with excited international visitors and Tanzanian officials who joined us to celebrate the special occasion.
Whispers of a new virus had only just surfaced, and we certainly couldn’t have foreseen the challenges it would bring, just weeks after celebrating such a milestone!
At the same time as opening the new school, our Founding Director, Gemma Sisia, was keenly preparing for her annual promotional tour to Australia.
By mid-March, three weeks into the trip, COVID-19 had been deemed a global pandemic, forcing the promotional tour to reach a sudden (yet necessary) halt.
“It’s incredible how quickly the world changed… during our transit from Australia back to Tanzania, the country declared its first case of COVID-19. Tanzania’s government immediately enforced closure of all schools to prevent the spread of the virus,” Gemma explained.
Many schools around the world transferred their classrooms to the virtual world. Overnight, teachers became tech-experts so that students could continue learning.
St Jude’s students are among the poorest within Northern Tanzania; electricity is unaffordable for many of our families, let alone access to reliable internet. Delivering online learning content was next to impossible.
St Jude’s academic teams vowed to keep students engaged and educated during the school closure, which ended up lasting nearly three months. Four academic packs were distributed to each of our 1,800 students, allowing them to continue learning at home.
We didn’t stop there… Gemma was determined to provide extra support to St Jude’s families.
“It was unsettling to hear that families were going hungry and didn’t have access to supplies such as hand sanitiser and disinfectant. We also really missed seeing our students and wanted to remind them that St Jude’s community cares about them. Again, our brilliant supporters from around the world rallied together and we were able to distribute thousands of COVID-19 Care Packages to students, some graduates and staff, which contained essential household items,” Gemma shared.
“We did what St Jude’s does best: tackle any issue with a tremendous spirit of hope and unity,” she reflected.
Furthermore, in November, we expanded our Form 1 Student Selection intake, with testing centres established in three major regions: Arusha, Kilimanjaro and Manyara. This enabled us to select deserving students from much further afield.
“Student Selection was such a blast! Staff worked extremely hard to make sure we selected the poorest and brightest students from these regions. Out of thousands we tested, 112 received scholarships. These students can start the new year feeling positive about opportunities they’ll enjoy at St Jude’s,” Gemma said.
The challenges of 2020 also delivered an exciting chance to embrace technology. Although phrases such as ‘social distancing’ and ‘isolation’ have recently dominated many conversations, we managed to keep connected with you.
“The boom in Zoom gifted us with amazing opportunities! Although we really miss visitors, we held special online events. Supporters from all over the world met students and key staff who deliver our shared dream of fighting poverty through education.”
“These last 12 months have been tough. We’ve been tested in a range of ways, from the complexities of COVID-19, to the sorts of challenges that make running a large charity school hard anywhere, let alone in Africa. However, I couldn’t be prouder of our resilience and, most of all, the way we’ve come together,” Gemma beamed.
Our classrooms are built of more than brick-and-mortar. They’re built from the goodwill of thousands of people who believe that Tanzanian students, regardless of economic background, deserve high-quality education.
With our 19th birthday upon us, will you give the gift of education? Your donation goes a long way in the fight against poverty.