Mountain moment: Wendy and Alex said they stopped to wave at St Jude's while climbing Mt Meru.
Alex and Wendy first met school founder Gemma Sisia at a Rotary Conference in Auckland in 2005.
“We thought Gemma was wonderful. She was sitting next to us after the presentation and we got talking. We asked, ‘where are you staying tonight?’
She said she didn’t know, so we said ‘come home with us! We had a marvelous time and drove her to the airport in the morning,” Wendy said.
“After that, we started sponsoring our student, Victor, and made plans, vague plans, to one day come over and see the school for ourselves,” Alex added.
More than 10 years on, after 36 years of marriage and three grown-up kids, Alex and Wendy made it to St Jude’s and have definitely made the most of it!
For the past three months Alex has volunteered with our Maintenance department and Wendy has been mentoring teachers and working with students at our primary campus.
On the weekends, the couple have been on some terrific adventures.
Maasai mates: Alex and Wendy on one of their visits to a Maasai boma.
Here is the enthusiastic visitors’ top five things to do in Arusha:
Staying at St Jude’s
Being woken up by students arriving at school, their room, school lunches, the volunteer kitchen community and the pub outside the gate... they loved it all.
“We didn’t expect to find such a welcoming and warm community of staff, sharing meals, movies and birthday parties, we’ve just loved staying here,” Wendy said.
“It really has been the best experience, working at the school forging friendships with Tanzanian colleagues – when we walked through the gates the first person we met was the teacher we have been sponsoring for years,” Alex said.
Campus life: The couple loved sharing in the Red kitty kitchen, playing pool at the Waterhole and strolling the grounds of our Moshono campus.
Sponsors are welcome to visit their student’s home and meet their family. Victor is in Form 5 and has corresponded with Alex and Wendy for more than a decade. He hosted his sponsors twice so they could meet both his father and mother.
Alex’s Rotary club also sponsors young female student Mwanahawa.
“It’s just humbling, the families were so welcoming they really had so little, but took such pride in hosting us. Victor told us how grateful he was – it’s very humbling,” Alex said.
“Mwanahawa’s family were fasting for Ramadan but for us they put out tea and mandazi (a donut-like snack). Her mother had taken so much care in every detail, in decorating the house and hosting us, it is a real honor to have that opportunity,” Wendy said.
Home sweet home visit: With Mwanahawa's family on one of three home visits.
Safaris: Lake Manyara, Tarangire National Park and Serengeti National Park
“The highlight was actually driving out onto the plain at Lake Manyara and seeing all the zebras, wildebeests and Cape buffalo just there – you feel like you’re in touching distance. The first elephant we saw was way off in the distance and we just stood there staring, amazed. Then we drove up the road about 400 meters and one walked right across in front of the vehicle,” Alex said.
Alex’s boyhood dream of safari wasn’t quite complete without seeing a big cat!
“We didn’t see cats until we went to the Serengeti. Then we saw four leopards, ten lions, two cheetahs and lots of small cats – we even saw lions mating right beside the vehicle,” Alex said.
“Three times!” Wendy added.
Touching distance: The kiwis couldn't get enough of our local wildlife.
Climbing Mountains: Mt Meru and Mt Kilimanjaro
Living in the shadow of Mt Meru, the daring duo decided it was a must climb. They trained on the steps of the St Jude’s water tower and took every opportunity to walk after work.
“On Meru the environment was so varied there were giraffes at the base and beautiful lichen hanging from the trees like a rainforest. Then when you pass through the clouds, you come out in the hot sun and you’re in scrubland." Wendy said.
“It was a beautiful experience almost ethereal. On the second day the view of Mt Kilimanjaro, at sunrise, floating above the clouds,” Wendy said.
Ethereal experience: The view from Mt Meru of Kilimanjaro at sunrise.
Navigating Arusha/Moshi town
The mountain climbers also mastered the main streets of Arusha and Moshi.
Wendy loved Moshi’s markets with its fresh produce, novelties and tiny alleyways rich with fabric, marvelled at the natural history museum and enjoyed attending church ‘for the singing’.
Alex enjoyed exploring both cities, especially after taking a few Swahili classes so he could spar with street hawkers. Now, almost at the end of their journey, the only thing left is the famous ‘goat street’ - a street where all the eateries serve goat!
Their advice to anyone considering a visit:
“Come, just come! The best thing about being involved in St Jude’s is that you can come and see what your donation is doing, appreciate the kids and what’s going on. You can stay in this oasis on campus and then get out and learn so much about Tanzania.” – Alex.
If you want to follow the wise couple's advice, get in touch with our Visitors team and start planning today - We Love Visitors!