The world was a building site in 2002. When terrorists hijacked planes on September 11, 2001, more than steel towers came down crashing; so too did humanity’s collective innocence and sense of hope.
However, a cluster of people planted seeds of anticipation in the soil of a Tanzanian maize field and, brick by brick, brought a shared vision to life.
The School of St Jude, so named after the patron saint of hopeless causes by its Australian Founder, Gemma Sisia, threw open its doors at a point in history when beacons of optimism were dimmed by uncertainty, division and fear.
Sisia’s vision was simple, yet profound: to provide quality education for economically disadvantaged Tanzanian children with demonstrated academic potential, free of charge.
Building a dream: Angela Bailey, Kim Saville and Gemma Sisia built St Jude’s from scratch with help from Rotary International.
Dozens of Rotarians and volunteer teams helped Gemma build, “the little school,” which would one day house the dreams of thousands of gifted children.
Angela Bailey, a 19-year-old high school graduate from Sydney, was the School’s first volunteer teacher and headmistress.
Instead of joining her friends at post-school celebrations, Angela decided to join Gemma and eight others in Tanzania for a five-week tour, learning about how education is crucial in the fight against poverty.
At the time, The School of St Jude was nothing more than a dream in the mind of its Founder and her confidants.
“I first met Gemma when she presented an inspiring speech at my school, St Vincent’s College. Gemma had graduated a decade earlier. Gemma went onto volunteer as a teacher in Uganda when she finished uni, and set up her own charity, the East African Fund, so she could provide further support to students at school there,” Angela said.
“I remember one day on the tour, standing with Gemma and looking over a maize field in Moshono. She said, ‘Ange I’m going to build a school here.’ I didn’t need convincing; I told her straight away that I’d be back to help.”
“It took me two years to get back — 18 months to receive a diploma in Early Childhood Education, and the following six months, working seven days a week to save up enough money to come and volunteer.”
The School opened on January 29 2002 with only a handful of students, sponsored by Rotarians and Sisia’s loved ones.
“In the early days, all the students’ houses were nearby. I knew where they lived and who their families were. They welcomed me into their community,” Angela recalled.
The School was led by ‘Miss Angela’ as teacher and then Head Teacher for three years, after which time, she moved back to Australia to continue her studies. Angela worked in children’s services and taught English in Vietnam for six months, but her bond with Tanzania never waned.
In 2015, Angela returned to the not-so, “little school,” to launch and manage Beyond St Jude’s; one of the most progressive educational programs in East Africa.
“We realised we had helped almost 2000 students through our fundraising efforts and with help from people around the world who sponsor them. Gemma was trying to think of what to do once the first class graduated in 2015. How could we continue supporting them while expanding our community reach? There are thousands of students in government schools who’ll never have the same opportunities as our students, yet who are equally as deserving. That’s where the idea for Beyond St Jude’s stems from.”
Beyond St Jude’s is an optional extension to students’ academic scholarships, post-graduation from the School. To qualify, graduates undertake a voluntary internship as teachers in under-resourced government schools, or in various departments at the School, including fundraising and hospitality teams, facilities and boarding.
After completing their Community Service Year, participants who qualify for tertiary education are financially supported to attend university.
“To date, more than 30,000 government school students have been helped by our interns. These students otherwise wouldn’t have a teacher for that subject. The Tanzanian government has expressed interest in replicating the program with high-achieving government school graduates,” Angela confirmed.
“Another exciting milestone was when our first Community Service Year interns went into [Beyond St Jude’s] Tertiary program and started university. St Jude’s graduates are studying at some of the best institutions in Tanzania in fields such as Medicine, Law, Business, Education and Agriculture. However, without a Beyond St Jude’s scholarship, they likely wouldn’t have the means to attend university. Only 30% of high school graduates nationwide who applied for a tertiary loan from the government in 2016, received one, and most loans aren’t complete. For example, the loan may cover meals and allowances, but not tuition or textbooks. There’s still a huge gap.”
Beyond St Jude’s closes the gap and ensures St Jude’s graduates can make the most of the opportunities they received in their foundational schooling years.
A community service intern in St Jude’s Marketing team, fondly remembers ‘Miss Angela’ from his first days at the School in 2003. He has access to opportunities he’d otherwise have missed by attending The School of St Jude.
“The program simplifies the university application process for St Jude’s graduates and we are mentored very well. Before starting my Community Service Year, I didn’t know I was good at photography, but I have realised my passion and skill for it. Many interns in the program have been helped to think deeply about their life, the opportunities they have access to because of The School of St Jude, and the impact they can have on their own community. The program is changing lives,” he said.
Beautifully, The School of St Jude’s story has come full circle: the community-minded high school graduate who helped educate some of Arusha’s poorest children, has built the bridge across which they walk from high school into university, strengthening their community along the way.
When a handful of volunteers took to a village maize field with shovels and bricks, they couldn’t have imagined the impact their school would have on generations of Tanzanians to come. Similarly, the ripple effect of Beyond St Jude’s is already flowing fast and far. From the rubble of a dark time in global history, and plucked from African soil, has arisen a great cause for hope.
If you’d like more information about Beyond St Jude’s and to support the cause, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.schoolofstjude.org/about-us/Beyond-St-Judes.
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