Australia’s Rotary community crossed paths with a young woman with a big heart, $10 in her pocket, and a dream to fulfill. What they did next changed the lives of thousands of Northern Tanzanian families forever.
When Gemma Sisia went back to Australia after her life-changing stay in Africa, she knew she would have to pull off a major fundraising feat in order to obtain the money necessary to build the school of her dreams.
It was her dad who had the brilliant idea. On his advice, she contacted Rotary, essentially a network of passionate individuals with a history of pulling together to help others.
Gemma and a family friend, David Steller, worked the phones and in no time engaged members of local Rotary clubs in Australia, who, in turn, brought local schools on board.
Together this group of energetic idealists found an ingenious way of communicating with a large number of people: they put up a table in a shopping mall where volunteers took turns selling $2 paper bricks (made using clip art and a photocopier) representing the building works that needed financing. In a few months, Gemma managed to raise the necessary funds.
Thus began the long-term partnership between The School of St Jude and Rotary.
Gemma’s inspiring story and her reputation as a passionate and engaging speaker led to many invitations to speak at Rotary Clubs. From then on, the number of people, Rotary clubs, schools, institutions, churches and businesses interested in supporting the cause snowballed.
When it was time to actually build the school, Rotarians did not pull back to watch from a distance. Armidale Central Rotary Club organized a group of 13 volunteers to come and build the first block of classrooms in 2000. This was the first of many volunteer teams of Rotarians to come to Arusha, roll up their sleeves, and get personally involved with the school.
Rotarians who remained in Australia never missed a beat. They helped with the collection and transportation of computers, library and school books, teaching aids, classroom equipment, sports equipment, sewing machines, clothes and an endless list of goods.
When the time came to give St Jude’s tax-deductible status, the school was registered as an official Rotary project.
The story of this friendship is still being told. Many Rotarians visit us each year. They are generous sponsors of our students, teachers, buses and boarding rooms. Our partnership with the Rotary community is one of our most treasured assets to this day.
“We couldn’t have made it without the Rotarians,” says Gemma.