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The School St Jude has, instead, given hope to many since its foundation in 2002.

Regional audiences will be able to hear the inspiring story of how the school is transforming one of the world's poorest countries next week.

Tanzania is the sixth fastest growing country in the world (a population more than twice the size of Australia's in an area seven times smaller), but more than 90 per cent of adults lack secondary education, and most live below the World Bank poverty line.

Gemma will speak at NEGS Armidale on Thursday, March 21, accompanied by 2018 graduate student Godwin, who topped science and math.

While teaching in Uganda, Gemma came up with the idea of building a good quality private school, free of charge, in Africa.

Her father-in-law, chairman of Moshono village in Arusha, Tanzania, gave her two acres of land to build the school.

New Englanders then helped her build the first classrooms. The first donation ($10) came from Agnes Hanna, while NEGS and The Armidale School, Rotary clubs and parishes in Armidale, Walcha, Guyra, and Inverell all rallied round.

"If I didn't have the community behind me," Gemma said, "there's no way the school would exist."

The School St Jude opened its doors in 2002, with three students. Today, there are 1800, including 1400 boarders. All are academically bright, from poor families, and on scholarships. 

"It has actually been like a paradise to me," Godwin said. "I had so many things there: three meals a day, enough teachers, and then English sources. I even had my own bed and boarding! It was like a privilege for me to have them."

He comes from a single-parent family; his father left when he was little, leaving his mother to bring him and his sister up. When he did very well in the primary school exams, the School St Jude invited him and 1000 other young high performers to compete for 25 scholarships.

FAMILY: Godwin with sister and mama. Photo: Marketing TSOSJ

 FAMILY: Godwin with sister and mama. Photo: Marketing TSOSJ

Thousands of students apply to the school every year; they have to pass entrance exams and a poverty test. Competition is intense; Tanzania has more than 16,000 primary schools, but only 500 high schools.

Australians fund 90 per cent of the students ("Nobody can tell me that Australians are not philanthropic!" Gemma said); the other 10 per cent by average families in the USA, UK, Ireland, Canada, and New Zealand. There is no government support, so the school has full control over enrollments and employment.

Three hundred Tanzanians are on the payroll; and farmers grow thousands of tons of food for the 1.2 million hot meals the school provides each year.

The school has three campuses, with 60 per cent girls and 40 per cent boys. Gemma also plans to open a girls' secondary school with 600 boarders next year. In Tanzania, girls are second-class citizens, even though both the school's vice-president and a long-serving minister of education are women.

"Women do have chances to be good leaders in the country; they just don't have access to education," Gemma explained.

After finishing Year 12, students work as teachers in the government system for a year (the Beyond St Jude's community service). 

Godwin teaches science in the local school he would have attended had he not gone to St Jude's.

"I feel very blessed because I'm giving back to my community, and I teach the students who I know," he said.

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Godwin teaching at Mringa Secondary. Photo: Marketing TSOSJ

 COMMUNITY SERVICE: Godwin teaching at Mringa Secondary. Photo: Marketing TSOSJ

Government schools are desperate for teachers, especially math / science and teaching resources. The Year 12 students who finished last year now teach more than 10,000 kids between them, in classes of up to 80 students. Where Godwin teaches, for instance, there are only two physics teachers for 1500 students.

He started six years ago with no English; this year, he will go to America on a scholarship to study electrical engineering.

"I come from a family where we had no electricity," he said. "I really suffered when I was studying in government school; I had to use the kerosene lamp for so many years. When I went to St Jude, I found out that electricity was very simple; you can even extend your studies at night without having any trouble, but at our own place we are still suffering.

STUDENT: Godwin with books. Photo: Marketing TSOSJ

 STUDENT: Godwin with books. Photo: Marketing TSOSJ

"I thought what can I do to help my community? The only thing I came up with is to gain more knowledge and skills on the electrical energy power sector, so that's how my passion developed.

"I'm also very curious what I can do to my country, which is dreaming of becoming industrialized; without electricity, that dream won't be reached."

This November, 17 years after the school was founded, the first 23 students will graduate from university. That's peanuts, though; in four years' time, more than 700 will graduate - in a country where less than 3.2 per cent finish high school.

BRIGHT: Secondary students during science class. Photo: Marketing TSOSJ

 BRIGHT: Secondary students during science class. Photo: Marketing TSOSJ

These young Tanzanians - studying medicine, engineering, business, education, law, and technology - will make a big difference to the East African nation's future.

"Our kids will really have an impact," Gemma said. "To have students who are well educated, but have a sense of using their skills to create change in their country is a very powerful combination."

Gemma Sisia will talk at NEGS Armidale Chapel on Thursday, March 21, at 1.45pm. Afterwards join Gemma for afternoon tea in the gardens at NEGS. All profits raised will go directly to the School of St Jude. Book online: https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=478282 

Nicholas Fuller, The Armidale Express (read original article here).


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