History

The story of how it all began

At 22 years old Gemma Sisia travelled to Uganda to volunteer as a teacher, where she taught girls science and sewing. This experience led to a fervent belief that a free, high-quality education should be the right of all children in the world and that education is the strongest weapon in the fight against poverty, corruption and political instability.

Upon returning to her native Australia, Gemma fundraised to help underprivileged children in East Africa complete their schooling. She would raise enough money to start an official fund to invest in the education of East Africa’s poorest children. Along with the gift of a small plot of land in Arusha, Tanzania, Gemma began to build The School of St Jude with the help of friends, family and Rotary groups.
Q & A with Gemma

St Jude's: The book

A girl from Guyra, a school in Africa and the patron saint of hopeless causes
St Jude’s is Gemma’s own story about her life as a country girl in New South Wales, Australia. Find out how she founded The School of St Jude in Tanzania based on the belief that education should be a right, not a privilege. This book is a remarkable insight into Gemma’s life and philosophy that has positively affected thousands of lives in Tanzania.

Originally published 2007 with additional afterword added 2016.
Download the ebook

The St Jude's story: A timeline

2021
St Jude’s Doctors
Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we have one of our most successful appeals yet.
International travel remains limited, and Gemma’s annual fundraising tour is brought online.
In December, we have eight of our very first St Jude’s Doctors graduate from university in a group of 86 tertiary graduates through the Beyond St Jude’s program.
60 St Jude’s delegates are invited to the Tanzanian Parliament and meet the Prime Minister.
Our first St Jude's Doctors
2020
Overcoming Challenges
St Jude’s Girls’ Secondary school officially opens on 10 January 2020 with the capacity to educate and provide boarding for 600 girls. The Attorney General of Tanzania and Archbishop of Arusha officiate the opening.
First St Jude’s alumni are employed at St Jude’s, working as teachers and throughout the Head Office.
COVID-19 hits the school and the world hard. The school closes from March to June but with St Jude’s spirit we pivot and adapt to the crisis:
We provide 3,000 care packages to students, staff, Alumni and the surrounding community with food, educational resources, COVID-19 information and hygiene supplies.
Staff willingly accept a significant salary sacrifice during the shutdown.
We continue to connect with our international family of supporters through the use of Zoom and other online communication channels.
People and Culture department is formed, helping to establish a more robust school culture and build a high-performing, productive and sustainable organisation.
Over 100 alumni donate to the school through the Alumni Spirit program.
A new secondary school board is formed to oversee the new girls’ school.
Organising Covid-19 packages
2019
Big Achievements
The first 24 Beyond St Jude’s tertiary scholars graduate from higher education.
Fifth and largest Form 6 graduation celebrated by 169 graduates, bringing the total number of Form 6 graduates to 565.
St Jude’s Form 6 graduating class of 2019 ranks first in Tanzania for Advanced Mathematics and in the top 10% of schools nationally for all science and humanities subjects.
St Jude’s student Samson places first of all Form 2 males in Tanzania. His fellow Form 2 student Edwin places 10th of all males in Tanzania in the national examination results. 100% of St Jude’s Form 2s receive a Division I in their national examination results.
St Jude’s students make up a third of the Tanzania National Junior Football Team, representing Tanzania.
St Jude’s is featured on an episode of Australia’s ‘Behind The News’.
A few of the first 24 university graduates supported by the Beyond St Jude’s program
2018
Winning Ways
Fourth Form 6 graduation celebrated by 70 graduates, making a total of 396.
Community Service Year interns reach over 30,000 students in government schools with volunteer teaching in core subjects.
St Jude’s students win three trophies at the annual Fransalian Interschools Cultural Competition.
St Jude’s hosts Strathmore University Mathematics Competition – Form 6 student Godwin comes first in his division.
Successful students in the Fransilian Interschools Cultural Competition
2017
Golden Moments
St Jude’s hosts the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Queen’s Baton Relay.
The Commonwealth Games Queen’s Relay Baton arrives at St Jude's
2016
A household name
131 graduates celebrate Form 6 Graduation with hundreds of local and international St Jude’s community members.
St Jude’s features on 60 Minutes, viewed by over 800,000 Australian households.
Our first Beyond St Jude’s scholars start university, with over a third enrolled in medicine.
Form 6 graduate, Dorice, is the first St Jude’s graduate to travel to Australia with Gemma.
St Jude’s establishes a Future Fund to underwrite the long term future of the school.
Our first Beyond St Jude's scholars start university
2015
Beyond St Jude's
We educate 1,899 students with 1,389 in boarding.
93% of our 339 staff are Tanzanian.
Bus fleet reaches 27.
On 30th May we celebrate our inaugural Form 6 graduation with 61 graduates and over 1,000 family, community members, students, staff, and international visitors.
Our first Beyond St Jude’s (BSJ) interns commence their community service year, teaching over 10,000 children in 21 government schools.
Our inaugural Form 6 graduates
2014
St Jude's becomes a full school
The first class of Form 6 students started in May, giving St Jude’s a class in every grade.
The building program, which spanned more than a decade, was finally completed.
The School Boards (both local and international) approved the St Jude’s Beyond High School Program (subsequently named Beyond St Jude’s), which will see our students continue on to their Community Service Year and further education after successfully completing Form 6.
Picture with the whole school the first time we had students in every year level
2013
Felix visits Australia
Felix Mollel was the first Tanzanian staff member to officially travel overseas to represent St Jude’s and promote the school.
Our Form 4 exam results placed St Jude’s 3rd in the region and 20th in the nation.
In December, the school building program finished with our final two boarding houses completed at Smith Secondary Campus.
Felix presenting to students in Australia.
2012
Ten year anniversary
We celebrate our ten-year anniversary on 29th January.
Moshono Primary Campus is dedicated to the Sisia family, becoming Sisia Primary Campus.
Usa River campus is dedicated to the Smith family, becoming Smith Secondary Campus.
Form 4 national exam results place us first in the Arusha Region and seventh in Tanzania.
Australian Financial Review and Westpac nominate Gemma as one of the ‘100 Women of Influence’.
Happy 10th anniversary!
2011
Over 850,000 meals served
A worldwide appeal for a new sports ground raises over $115,000.
St Jude’s provides over 850,000 meals this year.
Moivaro Boarding Campus get power lines and no longer has to run off a generator.
Students outside boarding
2010
Arusha inter-school sports champs
We educate over 1,300 students (with 900 in boarding), employ over 340 local staff, and serve 772,000 meals.
Supporters save the day and respond to our appeal, 10% salary sacrifice is abandoned.
Our Form 2 students rank third out of 302 schools in the national assessments — North West Zone.
Bus fleet grows to 20.
Our bus fleet grows to 20
2009
Secondary school opens
Gemma is again featured on Australian Story and speaks at Australia’s Parliament House.
Moshono Secondary Campus opens with 51 Form 1 students. It’s the first time selections for Form 1 are held.
150 staff and students attend President Kikwete dinner.
The Global Financial Crisis hits: 47 staff retrenched and 10% salary sacrifice is introduced.
Three Tanzanian headmasters now employed.
Gemma with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
2008
Usa River campus opens
We educate 989 students and employ 330 local staff.
Usa River Primary Campus opens with 500 students, 250 of whom move into new boarding houses.
Our first Standard 7 class sits national exams and all rank in the top 10% of the country. One student is 23rd out of over one million students.
Usa River Campus grand opening
2007
Moivaro boarding campus opens
We educate 850 students and employ 127 local staff.
The first annual international medical check team comes to St Jude’s.
Gemma receives an Order of Australia award.
Australian launch of Gemma’s book, St Jude’s.
First boarding campus land purchased in Moivaro
Medical checks
2006
662 students, 114 staff
We educate 662 students and employ 114 local staff.
The first Culture Day is held at St Jude’s.
30 acres at Usa River is bought for a second campus.
First St Jude’s Day celebration. Now an annual event, it is a day of thanksgiving for students, staff, family and community members.
30 acres at Usa River is bought for a second campus
2005
Standard 4 students ranked 3rd out of 204 schools
Gemma is featured on Australian Story (ABC).
Parents’ Committee reaches 20 members.
First website created – special thanks to Richard Pagliaro.
Dining hall opens at Moshono campus.
Our first Standard 4 students sit national exams and rank third of 204 schools in the region.
Dining hall at Moshono Campus
2004
Hot lunches introduced
We educate 423 students and employ over 80 local staff.
We build a library, football field, and 12 new classrooms. Our bus fleet grows to eight.
Students and staff can now enjoy hot lunches.
St Jude’s connects to the internet.
Students with new school books
2003
120 students, 23 staff
We educate 120 students and employ 23 local staff.
The first volunteer accommodation is built. Volunteers no longer stay in tents.
The first volunteer accommodation is build
2002
First day of school
St Jude’s opens on 29th January with three students and teacher, Angela Bailey.
The School Board and Parents’ Committee are formed.
Rotary Australia offers tax deductibility status – special thanks to Monica Hart and Jack Elliot from ROA.
The School Board is formed.
The Parents’ Committee is formed with five parents.
St Jude's first volunteer, Angela Bailey, with the first students
2001
Gemma moves to Tanzania
Gemma makes Tanzania home.
Gemma and Richard in the library
2000
Rotary volunteers arrive
Rotary Club of Armidale Central builds our first classroom block.
First new block
1998
Land gifted for school
Daniel Sisia gives Gemma and Richard two acres of land for a school. Gemma receives her first donation of $10 from Agnes Hanna to kick start the fundraising.
The original block of land