“We love visitors!” It’s impossible to miss the blue words emblazoned on the back of the bright yellow school buses belonging to The School of St Jude in Arusha, Tanzania.
It’s also impossible not to feel welcome from the moment you set foot on the Sisia Campus in Moshono. We arrived at St Jude’s halfway through our daughter Kate’s two-year tenure there in the Marketing team.
Our guide for our four-day visit is Frank, a fresh St Jude’s graduate undertaking a year-long internship with the Visitor Team as part of his Community Service Year, before commencing university. His first-hand experience makes him an authentic and invested host.
On day one, Frank gives us a tour of the primary campus, situated below stunning Mount Meru, Tanzania’s second highest mountain. It’s jacaranda time and in the morning, the students grab brooms and willingly help to sweep up the purple-carpet playground. Australian students would never embrace a task with such enthusiasm.
On entering a grade four music class, we are greeted with a loud, unified chorus of, “we love visitors” and I find myself learning some drumming alongside a couple of eager 11 year-olds. With more than 1,000 visitors per year, we’re not a novelty; yet we are received with warmth and grace.
One afternoon, we take the school bus to visit the home of Justina, a Standard 5 student who lives with her older sister and father. We enter a single windowed room inside a basic brick compound, furnished with one double bed, a sofa, a coffee table and assorted possessions in stacked boxes against the wall. I foolishly think this is just one room of a larger house. Not so. This room is the sum total of their existence. There is no power, no running water and a kerosene burner for cooking.
“How has being at St Jude’s changed Justina?” I ask her father, a cobbler.
“Justina is doing so well, she really wants to learn and now she wants to be a teacher,” he responds, his eyes shining with pride.
I am overwhelmed by this home visit. It reiterates the work St Jude’s is doing: taking the poorest children with the brightest minds and educating them free of charge in order to fight poverty and create the leaders of tomorrow.
We leave the family with a customary St Jude’s care package, to assist with some basic living needs including laundry soap, rice, flour, sugar, tea and a solar powered lamp. It is the least we can do. The best we can do though, is to sponsor Justina’s scholarship for her remaining school years.
On our second day, we travel the 25km on the yellow bus out to the secondary school at Usa River, known as Smith Campus. Reminiscent of an American college campus, Smith is seriously impressive. It boasts a large library, computer labs, art room, well-kept sports fields and a farm, which supplies some of the vegetables for the 3,400 meals served daily across both of the campuses.
Importantly, our visitor experience is not confined to within the school gates. Frank takes us to visit a nearby government school where we meet another St Jude’s intern who is volunteer teaching English as part of his Community Service Year. The contrast is confronting: blackboards with peeling paint, 40 plus children in each class, and a library with tattered World Book encyclopedias from the 1970s. It highlighted the real life situation for the majority of Tanzanian students. A Tanzanian adult averages only 5.8 years of schooling.
St Jude’s was named after the patron saint of hopeless causes. Our visitor experience left us believing that this cause could not be any more hopeful.
P.S. On arriving home, we formalised our sponsorship arrangement and are looking forward to hearing about Justina’s progress as she continues her education.
We love visitors! You too can have the experience of a life-time by visiting St Jude’s. Visit our website for more information.