She has transformed thousands of lives by providing education in a society where education is a privilege for most, and along the way, created jobs for over 400 local Tanzanians. In recognition of her selfless contribution to improving the lives of others, the Australian government awarded her the Order of Australia medal in 2007.
Born in the country in Northern NSW, Gemma Sisia, the founder and proprietor of the School of St Jude in Arusha, Tanzania, returns to Australia every year to recharge her batteries, thank the school’s current supporters, and find more support for its ever growing funding needs.
During her latest visit, Gemma was happy to talk to SALT Magazine about her school and the challenges she faces in looking after over 1800 students in a rural region of Tanzania.
“I come back to Australia every year because each year we grow the school by 150 students. The purpose of the trip is twofold – firstly to update the people who are already supporting the school and then to find additional support for the 150 new students that we bring into the school program”.
Last year the school received around 7000 applications for entry to Kindergarten and Year One, but can only accept 150 new student enrolments each year.
“The only thing we expect from the students is hard work, and respect and appreciation of their scholarship which covers everything – food, boarding, stationery, uniforms, excursions and tuition,” she said, “Currently we face the challenge of the first batch of students transitioning to university as their scholarship only covers up to year 12. I meet with the students and their parents about the generosity which has helped them to get to where they are, and encourage them to give back to their community through community service and volunteer work.”
“Before we support them to go to university, they have to do a year of community service, and in northern Tanzania where there is a shortage of about 40, 000 teachers in government schools, especially maths and science subjects, we encourage our students with maths and science skills to help teach in other schools as part of their community service.”
Gemma says that one of her ambitions is to help to increase the numbers of qualified professionals in Tanzania. “My four children were all born in local Tanzanian hospitals, and although the doctors were very capable, there are just not enough of them. As well, it has been difficult over the years to get enough qualified engineers to help me when I was building the school, so I’m hoping that our students will take up those types of professions and remain in Tanzania in the future”
Visitors are welcome, with accommodation facilities available at the school. For more information, visit www.schoolofstjude.org.
We at SALT Magazine commend and congratulate Gemma on her wonderful work and fully support her endeavours to safeguard the future of Africa by improving the lives of so many of its young people.
How will you make your mark?
You can Make Your Mark on the lives of the School of St Jude students by giving them the vital resources they need to become the future leaders of Tanzania. Choose to supply them with textbooks, teacher resources, electricity, food, computers and much more. All of these things are vital in giving students a high quality education so they can change not only the lives of their families, but also the lives of their communities and the whole of Tanzania.
There are a range of sponsorship packages available, you could spend as little as $60 and make a large impact on these children and their communities.