Wednesday, November 29, 2006


When you take up life with someone from another culture, you take on some of their traditions. I live in an Australian-American cultural mix and, though the gap is quite narrow, nevertheless it gives us plenty of scope for enrichment and tolerance. My husband Hal interprets American movies for me. Happy in my ignorance, I didn’t realise I had so many gaps in my understanding. In return, I interpret Australian culture and idiom for him – he has started a list of new phrases. Neither of us realised that Australian language is so idiosyncratic and idiomatic.

How much greater is the gap that Gemma and her team of volunteers have taken on. Although Tanzania is Gemma's adopted country, (see the distinctive African dress she wore on a fundraising trip to USA earlier this year) she acknowledges that she will never be African. She says the School of St Jude could not come about without the partnership of her Tanzanian husband Richard.

Gemma Sisia and Mr Yap at Rotary meeting in USA

The volunteers at School of St Jude report their wonder at encounters with African culture as well as the ceremonies that emerge from the cultural mix in the volunteer accommodation.

It was with great pleasure that I read on Jacky’s blog (see links) about the Thanksgiving Dinner they shared in Arusha.

Thanksgiving chooks for vollies at St Judes

It resonated with my first ever Thanksgiving Dinner, held here in Sydney on our new deck overlooking Australian bushland. Thanksgiving has come into my life through Hal, my American husband. I am sure that he is bemused to celebrate Thanksgiving in summer, with Jacarandas in flower and parrots trilling and singing all around.

I am in awe of those people who seem to be able to reach across wide cultural gaps to give and receive, and to meet the challenges that are involved.

This School of St Jude does more than fight poverty through education, it throws a bridge across a cultural divide and helps us to expand our horizons and live a larger life.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tanzania leads in poverty reduction

Development economists use Tanzania as a measure. If they can haul themselves out of poverty, others can too.

Students at The School of St Jude

According to The Economist, Tanzania is one of east Africa's few good-news stories. The country remains wretchedly poor, inefficient, with little medical care in its remote areas, few roads and with frequent power cuts. But donors, disillusioned by the corruption and/or brutality that goes on elsewhere, are happy to give money to a country that is both peaceful and stable.

The country's GDP growth is expected to be 5.8% this year, rising to 6.7% next year, and inflation has been low for years. Tanzania's relative lack of graft means that some donors now put their money directly into the national budget with few strings attached. Britain has committed to deposit $170m a year into Tanzania's coffers for the next few years—just the kind of predictability of giving that the aid community has called for.

To put this gift of $US170 million into perspective, the NSW Government had a total revenue of $AU41,627million and it budgeted $AU9,667 million for education in 2005-2006.

Seen in this light, the $US170 million from Britain won’t help Tanzania catch up with the developed world, indeed it is barely enough to hold it in its current position at the bottom of the ladder.

Nevertheless, Tanzania has made great strides in education improvement in recent years.

The World Bank reports –

Increased Access : the Net Enrolment Rate (NER) in Tanzania has improved considerably over the past six years, going from 59% in 2000 to 96% in 2006.

Improved Quality: The passrate of students completing primary education, assessed through the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE), has significantly improved. Over the past six years, the Passrate has increased from 22% in 2000 to 62% in 2006. This was achieved thanks to reforms in curriculum content and teaching; increased teacher training, development and deployment; better school support systems; improved ability of schools to purchase textbooks and teaching materials by using grants; and greater community participation in managing school affairs to enhance learning.

These achievements are a massive effort in a country where many village schools have up to four teachers sharing a single classroom – teaching a class in each corner.

Private citizens need to supplement the funding available to the Tanzanian government by supporting good projects. The School of St Jude is a great project that is worthy of your support.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What to give?

Living entirely within our own culture, we live by its standards of 'have' and 'have not'. In Australia, poverty is defined in relative terms. The bottom 10% of Australians are poor in relation to the other 90%. In relation to Africans, they live a life of plenty.

I am not in that bottom 10% and my children are grown so my expenses have dropped dramatically. Yet, even so, I have to remind myself that my surplus can be given away, it does not have to be accummulated or stored in case of bad times.

The children at St Jude's love to get stickers.

Charities ask for our help at every corner. Every day there is an approach from someone seeking donations for a very worthy cause. Door knock appeals, ribbon days, bear days, jeans days – all the gimmicks of modern marketing are used to catch our attention and appeal for our donation.

So, there I was, wanting to adjust the balance between my 'have' and others' 'have not'. I was drawn in the direction of supporting a single project. When I heard about the School of St Jude on 'Australian Story', there was no reason to hold back.

Hal, my husband, raised with me the subject of tithing – giving one-tenth of one's income. We decided that we would tithe to the School of St Jude. So, we send a donation each month (income permitting). This is not an automatic transfer, we have to decide to do it each month. That keeps our sense of purpose fresh.

I have to say that our lifestyle is not suffering though our retirement fund won't be as big as it would otherwise have been.

As well as giving a lump of money, we see things for the school all around us and we sometimes buy little things to send in the post. Like the stickers you see at the top of this post.

The school website lists some things that supporters can send for the children at the school.

For boys and girls:

Pens, lead pencils, colour pencils, markers, erasers, rulers and sharpeners always go well. A pencil-case, a dictionary, e.g. Nicholas Awde: Swahili-English, English-Swahili Practical Dictionary (Hippocrene). A school backpack or a library bag. Clothing? Families can get second hand clothing cheaply in the markets in town, but spare dark blue socks or something new is always a treat. Maybe a hat or a cap, a comb, a doll or stuffed animal, action figures or lego. The children absolutely love receiving stickers! If you send something to several children, please make sure the gift is divisible so as to not have arguments about who takes the present home.

For girls:

A skipping rope, inexpensive jewellery (e.g. from a $2-shop) or nail polish. If you send skirts or dresses, be aware that in this culture mini-skirts are not appropriate.

For boys:

A football, a pump for the football, juggling balls, frisbee.

Do not send DVDs, computer games or things that require electricity or batteries. Even though batteries are available here, we do not want the children to then have to ask their parents for batteries.


We encourage you to send a little of your surplus to the School of St Jude. Even an envelope of stickers in the mail will surprise and delight.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rotary Clubs make the difference!

Rotary Clubs have given huge support to the School of St Jude from the very beginning. This support comes in all sorts of ways.
  • Donations – Rotary Clubs in several countries have supported a variety of fund-raising activities.
  • Administration – Rotarians set up the East Africa Fund which allows contributions by Australians to be tax-free. That means that the Australian government is subsidising the school in a major way!
  • Shipping – container loads of goods are shipped from Brisbane thanks to the work and money donated by local Rotary clubs.
  • Physical work – the very first building work on the school site was done by a team of Rotary volunteers. Each year several groups of Rotary volunteers visit the school to contribute their labour and go on safari in the magnificent National Parks nearby.
Rotary visitors on safari

Gemma reports on ‘Operation Desks and Chairs’ for 17 Rotarians in September this year.

Measure twice, cut once!

We just pointed them in the direction of a wood pile, thrust tools into their hands and they churned out the components of 200 desks and chairs for the sponsored students who will start school next year.
Considering they had to deal with the glitches of third world living, such as intermittent electricity, it was a massive effort and they really worked hard to earn their 6-day safari.

Smiling satisfaction in a job well done!

And this is what will be made from the cut timber. Of course all the piece will fit together.

The great thing about a successful project like the School of St Jude is that people tell each other about it. Word spreads and support grows. And a few thousand children get a great education.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Patchwork and quilting

I got bitten by the 'patchwork and quilting' bug a couple of years ago and now I usually have a few projects on the go at any time. I don't have enough time for all the lovely things I want to make, so I have to exert some discipline and not start new things until I finish some others.

'Dragon Princess' 2005

This is shaping up to be a happy week because I will put the binding on two quilts! That means that I can begin to think about my next project. In fact, my next project is all lined up because Blanche and I will go looking for fabric this morning! She would like a cosy lap quilt for her new home. I wonder what she will choose? There are so many things I'd like to try. I enjoy the learning curve of trying new things.

You can check out some of my quilts here at Flickr.

Tanzania has some wonderful fabrics. Women in traditional dress look magnificent in their distinctively patterned cottons. I often wonder about the different patchwork creations that could result from using these fabrics.

Here is a wonderful story about a group of women from the Weavers Mennonite Church in Virginia, USA, who made a quilt using African fabrics as a fund-raiser for a church in Arusha. Here is the quilt as a work in progress. The quilt sold for $US4,100 in a fund raising auction.

Mennonite traditional quilt patterns and tiny stitches emerge from Arusha traditional batik designs and bright dyes. American women from Weavers Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Va., join African women from Arusha Mennonite Church in Arusha, Tanzania, in a vision of sacrificial giving. On both continents, experience and energy sit side by side, visions mingle, and dreams stretch across an ocean. Strangers become sisters, sharing one faith, creating one quilt, contributing one gift.

When we reach out to help others, the pathway of giving and receiving enables us to be touched by higher levels of human potential. Perhaps it is God's work in the world.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Bushfires aren't the only sign of summer in Australia. The other big indicator is the start of the cricket season.

Justin Langer opens for Australia in the first test match at the Gabba

Like any seasonal event, cricket sometimes dominates the horizon and sometimes ticks along in the background . This is a BIG year. England is touring and we are determined to win back the Ashes.

England's team are all under 30 years, while Australia is fielding a team of old hands all of whom are over 30, except Michael Clarke, aka 'Puppy'.

I love cricket. The most strategic and complicated game of all sports, it has a grand history of spectacular performances, passions and gaffs as well as a whole rainbow of personalities including players, umpires and commentators.

What are the national sporting passions of Tanzania, I wonder? Perhaps the struggle for a basic existence leaves little energy for formal sport. But then, Ethiopia has cornered the market on long distance running. Maybe the German influence in East Africa planted the seed of soccer in the country.

The kids at the School of St Jude are getting a great education that gives them a world-class foundation in literacy, knowledge and critical thinking, as well as a strong ethical perspective.

Along recruiting and training all the staff, working through many issues, not to mention fundraising and putting up a new building each year, the school is establishing a sports program.
Gemma included the following picture in a recent newsletter.

School of St Jude Football Team

She wrote:
I realised our soccer (or ‘football’ to you non-Aussies!) and netball clubs were training successfully when the leaders asked if they could invite a local school, St Thomas, for some friendly games one afternoon. The whole school enjoyed the spirited performances of all our teams and exerted as much energy off the field as there was on it with singing and barracking for the St Jude’s players! Luckily the scores were pretty even so the St Thomas team should be happy to join us for another great afternoon of exciting soccer and netball later in the year.

There's plenty to celebrate when kids who suffer all the disadvantages of extreme poverty can eat, learn, and play games, thanks to the School of St Jude.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Bushfire season

Yesterday we had temperatures around 40 degrees Celsius along with windy conditions. After the driest five years in recorded history, there is plenty of dry material to burn.

Pyrocumulus Cloud: Source: Sydney Morning Herald

There are massive fires burning in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. We can smell it in the air and the sunsets are spectacular. 20 kilometers of back burning is underway to save Blue Mountain towns like Blackheath.

Across the State 2,000 fire fighters are trying to manage 44 fires. Temperatures have dropped back to the mid-20s, so that may help a bit.

This seems to have been the common story most summers in recent years. We are getting MUCH better at learning how to protect life and property. NSW has come to have total faith in our Fire Commissioner, Phil Koperberg, happily known by some as 'Saint Phil'. He has announced that he will stand for State Parliament next year. We certainly could do with some competence there!

Meanwhile, in Tanzania!
  • A French development agency, Proparco, will invest $US5mill in "small and medium enterprises that promote a stable and efficient economy, invest in health and education, and protect the environment". It seems very little on a national scale, but every little helps. This is how very poor countries make progress – inch by inch.
  • BBC video diary on the Ituja family in Tanzania and thoughts on their life, the world and contemporary culture.
  • Each year more than one million babies in sub-Saharan Africa die before they are a month old because of a lack of essential health care, a U.N. report said on Wednesday (22 Nov).
    "Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most dangerous region in the world for a baby to be born -- with 1.16 million babies dying each year in the first 28 days of life," said the report.
    The document, drafted by nine agencies including the World Health Organisation, said Tanzania is one of six countries in the region to make progress in improving care – reducing neonatal deaths by about 30 percent in the past decade, thanks to increased government spending on basic health care.

The School of St Jude is open for business as usual. People who work there often comment on the joy and willingness of the children. From an early age they have a deep appreciation of the opportunity to learn. Maria Montessori, the great Italian educator, based her teaching system on the observation that children don't need to be forced to learn – they have a natural curiosity. "Follow the child", was her motto. At the School of St Jude, the joy and willingness of the children is an inspiration to all who visit or volunteer.

P.S. Fabulous new word: pyrocumulus....

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Taking risks

Sydney is hazy today from fires in the Blue Mountains – 15,000 hectares of natural bushland has burnt already. It is 38 degrees Celsius, 100 Farenheit, and the winds are gusting. This will be a bad year for fires.

I wonder if they have bushfires in Tanzania? It must be dry enough for it!

The School of St Jude occupies a 3-acre site at Moshono, on the outskirts of Arusha in Northern Tanzania.

Starting with just three students in 2002, the school has grown phenomenally, due largely to the vision and energy of the founder, Gemma Sisia. In just four years, the school has outgrown its 3 acres. Five new classes will be added each year until the school fills all the years of a Primary School curriculum.

But what will happen to the children when they finish Primary School education at St Jude’s? These children have excelled in national exams, but coming from the poorest families, most will not have the means to attend the local Secondary Schools.

The solution? Buy more land and start a Secondary School.

Usa River campus with the corn still growing

In June this year, the School of St Jude bought 30 acres at Usa River. Work has begun to build a security wall around the land. At the beginning of 2008, half the classes from the Moshono campus will move across to the Usa River campus and then the construction of the secondary school will start in 2008 along with the boarding school.

Foundations for security walls on new Usa River campus

This long-term planning will ensure that the school continues to grow in a responsible way to provide high-quality education to the poorest children of the Arusha region.

The rate of growth is reflected in the financial accounts. In 2004 the expenses of the school totalled $US 367,000. In 2005 the expenses were $696,000. This increase would be really scary if support had not grown to match it, especially in Australia. Sponsorship and donations from Australia nearly doubled in one year, from $US240,000 in 2004 to $US 524,000. A further $US81,000 comes from other countries.

This is the most exciting time to be part of this inspiring and energetic project. It is growing so fast that onlookers almost hold their breath in case a misstep causes the project to falter. So, if you have a tolerance for risk, come aboard and lend your support to this phenomenon.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Drought and electricity

Our news is full of our drought - worst in 100 years / 1000 years. We've had six years of drought. In Sydney our dam levels are 40%, in the Central Coast they are 12%. It seems dire and we're all worried. The politicians are blaming each other in usual fashion.

But we have plenty of electricity. The trouble is that NSW electricity is produced by burning coal and that throws CO2 into the atmosphere - and that is a major greenhouse gas causing global warming. And THAT brings us back to drought. Maybe this isn't a drought - maybe it is the new 'normal' weather.

Pete – more about him later!

Tanzania and the other East African countries are gripped by severe drought too. Some people are living on food aid. Major dams are empty and huge lakes like Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika have low water levels.

Tanzania hasn't been producing electricity by coal and dumping CO2 into the atmosphere, but they are suffering the effects. In fact, they are suffering doubly, because the use hydro electricity powered by water in the dams. Earlier this year, dam water levels fell too low to produce electricity so the country has had power rationing (i.e. blackouts) for 12+ hours a day.

Now THAT will put a dent in the productivity of business! Of course there was a rush on generators and the prices went up.

Can you imagine trying to run a school when suddenly it is announced that there will be no electricity next week! Well School of St Jude struggled for a while with the small generator they had. Then the call went out through the school's support networks. Within months the School had two big generators. One was bought by a generous donor and the other was funded by A group of Rotary Clubs.

The School finds a use for everything that is given. In the same container as the two diesel generators, the head builder, Pete, was delighted to discover a motor driven cement mixer, wheelbarrows, ladders and armfuls of gardening and building tools! That was him at the top of this blog - smiling right at you!

Monday, November 20, 2006

G20 misses opportunity

World Poverty and Climate Change did not get much attention at G20, disappointing many advocates for the issues.

Apparently the best G20 could manage was --

" support for "well-functioning markets" as the best way of giving countries future access to energy sources and new technologies needed to tackle climate change".

Tim Costello, head of World Vision, and Oxfam Australia chief Andrew Hewett, co-chairmen of Make Poverty History, said delegates and the Australian Government had missed an opportunity to increase aid and deliver new policies to help wipe out poverty.

I'm not sure what one can expect from a couple of days of talks amongst the money men of the 20 countries, but I think something can be gained by leveraging the system at the top end.

The Melbourne Age reports a positive side-meeting on Saturday between Tim Costello and with the World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz for 90 minutes. Apparently Costello came away very impressed. "It's funny to be placing my hope in a neo-con who took us into Iraq when I'm against the war, but I came out thinking this man is concerned about the poor," Costello remarked yesterday.

Perhaps that new trust will enable future activity.

Meanwhile, there are the projects on the ground that are making big differences to vulnerable lives. Yes, School of St Jude is right there, in action. It's a place where your help is valued.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The best job in the world!

Whatever your skills, you'll find a way to make use of them in a visit to the School of St Jude. Teams of handy men and women have lent their expertise and muscle to the continuing work of putting up classrooms and other buildings to cater for the 170 additional students every year.

When Helen and Gordon Smith visited the school this year they helped with the Friday selection process for new students. But, best of all, Gemma noted that the Smiths are in the building industry and she found it great to show people around who are actually as excited by concrete columns and cement pours as she is!!

Mandy from Belgium spent time at the school preparing teaching aids. When her daughter Elia visited for three weeks, she looked around for a project that fitted her talents and here is what she came up with.

The sick bay walls will bring cheerful colour to this quiet spot in the school.

What a difference all these many gifts to the school are making. Our financial help, our interest and encouragement, as well as our particular talents and skills add up to one of the most successful projects in Africa. Thanks Gemma for getting it all started, and keeping all the balls in the air!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Best job ads

Have you heard of this famous newspaper advertisement?

"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success."

It is reputed to be the job ad placed by either Scott or Shackleton in their race to be the first at the South Pole. While researchers have not been able to locate the ad in any newspapers of the time, Shackleton's letter to the Times in 1913 along similar lines netted 5,000 responses!

Well the School of St Jude is currently advertising several positions: Teacher Trainer, Art Teacher and Music Teacher. They are much like the apocryphal 'hazardous journey' ad. Here is how they go....

SALARY – approx equivalent to $US 300

We're looking for a volunteer who is a qualified and experienced teacher or head teacher to help set up and run an effective teacher assessment scheme. This will be a continual project, with the aim of helping our Tanzanian staff improve their teaching methods and abilities. You will be required to sit in on teacher’s classes, look at ways to enhance their teaching and then helping them put a pro-active and workable plan in place. The assessment will be ongoing to ensure maximum improvement.

The main qualifications and qualities needed are:-

  • 10 years+ teaching experience (preferable with head teacher or head of department experience)
  • A love of working with children as well as adults
  • Preferably some experience in teaching/training adults
  • A willingness to help in a school that is educating the poorest children in Tanzania, and thereby helping to reverse the downward spiraling poverty cycle in Africa.
  • Patience and Tolerance: The candidate will be living and working at the school with other volunteer staff from various cultures and with a variety of personalities. In Tanzania, we frequently have no power or water. There is dust, dirt and disease everywhere, so it can be very challenging to live here. Hence, the person needs to be able to cope with these conditions in a cheerful way.
  • A sense of humor helps!
  • As a bonus, though it is also very rewarding to be a part of one of the most visionary projects in East Africa today.

** A US$500 payment is required from all volunteers to pay for upkeep of volunteer accommodation, cleaners and admin costs.

With an additional 170 students each year, the school needs extra teachers every year. The teaching staff are a combination of local teachers and volunteers from other countries. As well as teaching the children, the school aims for a high standard of teaching excellence and works hard at capacity building for locally trained teachers.

In 2006, there were around 150 staff at The School of St Jude. Teachers, cooks, bus drivers, cleaners, groundsmen, builders and guards all work together to ensure that as many students as possible are given a chance of a great and free education.

Friday, November 17, 2006

G20 meeting in Melbourne

Today the news is full of the G20 meeting in Melbourne. This is one of the big events on the annual calendar of international political meetings. It brings together finance ministers and central bank governors from the world's 19 richest countries, plus the European Union.

This group keeps an eye on issues relating to international financial stability that go beyond the responsibilities of any one organization. World poverty and climate change are topical issues for this meeting.

The core underlying belief of most participants in this forum is that globalisation and free trade are the best way to combat world poverty.

The importance of trade in lifting poverty is widely held. Kofi Annan has said, "Personally I do not believe that the poor are victims of globalisation. Their problem is not that they are included in the global market but that, in most cases, they are excluded from it".

Economists attribute the recent prosperity of East Asian countries to the economic development delivered by their ‘tiger economies’. This Asian prosperity is so marked that Ross Gittins, Sydney Morning Herald economist, refers to the Africanisation of poverty.

When extreme poverty affects every continent, the problem seems massive. Somehow when there is only one continent as the focus, i.e. Africa, the problem seems more solvable. Suddenly, the impossible can become probable. Like the fall of the Berlin Wall, world poverty really could end in my lifetime.


There is a whole counter-culture that sees free trade as part of the problem, not part of the solution to world poverty.

Make Poverty History, a coalition of development, social justice and faith-based groups, calls for more aid, debt relief and fair trade for developing nations, and regards these three principles as key to alleviating global poverty.

I need to read Jeffrey Sachs in more depth. He documents a combination of elements that work together to alleviate poverty. I think he points to a mix of trade, health, education and governance. Better health and education can’t wait for an economy to develop; instead they need to be supported by aid from First World countries.

The UK seems to be taking a lead role in encouraging First World countries to pay attention to the whole mix. A Blair Government representative for this weekend's G20 meeting, Stephen Timms, has come out in strong support of the Make Poverty History campaign. He is deputy to Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, and has praised the momentum that Make Poverty History began last year when the G8 summit committed to increase aid by $US50 million and double the amount of aid to Africa by 2010.

Stephen Timms was the only G20 representative to attend the Make Poverty History forum that was held in conjunction with the G20 meeting. Our Howard government seems determined to be a follower, not a leader, in this respect as in so many others.

A report released as part of the Make Poverty History campaign, involving 60 Australian aid agencies, community groups and church groups, shows that all G20 countries, apart from Australia, have increased their overseas aid allocation since 2000. Australia is the least generous contributor to overseas aid among the G20 countries.

Having a government with blinkered views makes it doubly important for individual Australians to be aware of the issues and to support worthwhile projects.

With education as one of the keystones of poverty alleviation, the School of St Jude gives me a clear way to help lift one of the world’s poorest countries out of poverty.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


The School of St Jude operates against a background of endemic malaria infection. Children and their families, and staff, are sick from malaria regularly. In her blog about her volunteer work at The School of St Jude, Jacky describes the funeral of Margaret, the wife of Herman, one of the school bus drivers. After suffering from repeated bouts of malaria, Margaret died from the disease.

Fortunately, world attention is focussed on malaria and a number of international agencies fund programs aimed at reducing the impact of malaria on Tanzania and other countries.

  • Life expectancy at birth is 46 years.
  • Under five mortality is 112 in 1,000, and malaria is a major cause.
  • One fifth (22%) of children are underweight by two standard deviations.
  • 30,000 children a year die of malaria.

Insecticide Treated Nets (ITNs) are one of the main weapons against malaria. Large portions of foreign aid are directed towards providing households with ITNs. One successful program in Tanzania provides discount vouchers for pregnant women. These are distributed at local health clinics. This program has had several major benefits:

  • Women attend clinics earlier in their pregnancy and so get better health care.
  • Private businesses that sell ITNs flourish (economic benefits for community).
  • More households have ITNs.

Research has shown that if about 80% of households in a village have ITNs, the level of malaria is almost eliminated because the mosquitos do not have access to infected humans and so cannot transfer the disease. By reducing the number of infected mosquitoes in the environment that are able to transmit malaria, treated nets offer protection up to a range of several hundred metres.

In 2004, 15% of Tanzanian households had an ITN. One goal is that by 2010 80% of children will sleep under ITNs.

If you could protect every child in Tanzania with a treated mosquito net, you could be looking at saving about 30,000 lives a year.

A local textile business in Arusha, A-Z Textiles, has ramped up the production of ITNs to meet the demand created by schemes like the voucher scheme. Last year they produced 1.5million nets.

They say blue is their best-selling colour as it suits the household conditions of the poorest of the poor.

Through education, The School of St Jude aims to improve the lives of children, their families and the nation of Tanzania.

PBS news item on malaria in Tanzania

World Bank report on ITP programs in Tanzania

UK Dept International Development reports on malaria

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Inspired to work there

As I delve into the whole experience of St Judes I am struck again and again by the reports made by people who volunteer their time to work at the school. Whether it is a group of teenagers or Rotarians who go for 2-3 weeks, or skilled young professionals who go for a year (and stay for two!), they report again and again on what a wonderful, challenging, life-changing experience it is.

Take a look at Jacqueline's blog with its many photos to get a taste for the range of experiences – including the variety of work at the school and travel adventures – that come with working at a well-run school in Africa. One of the pleasures for long term volunteers is that family and friends tend to visit too. Here's a small slice of Jacky's experience.

Jacky brings donated musical instruments to class
  • The school is just beaming at the moment. Gemma is all wrapped up in her new land purchases, Mary and Alice have been worked to the bone with loads of visitors and the current RAWCS group (Yes, that's the group my dad is here with, and it is fantastic to see him), I myself am either busy working in the office or spending time with dad, catching up on home and the family or showing him what my life has become.

Here's what Ann Gelao said about her experience at St Jude's.

  • I came to St Jude’s in 2005 as a short-term volunteer after seeing Australian Story [see link in sidebar], only intending to stay for two months. I was so moved and inspired by the children, with their positive attitudes, enthusiasm for life and love of learning that I stayed on for over a year. My experience here has been unforgettable and I have learnt so much about life and what’s really important. I feel so lucky to have been given the opportunity to make a difference and be part of The School of St Jude.

Corey Kowalewski from Colleyville, Texas, volunteered at St Jude's through a Rotary Teacher Exchange program in 2003. You can read about Corey's life-changing experience here.

Here's what Mr Wesly, an English teacher from Canada, says.

  • I have 50 words to write about The School of St. Jude, but I only need one: inspiration. In my short stay here I have been moved, humbled, awed, and inspired by Gemma's tireless work and the students' passion for learning. St. Jude's is more than a school; it is an opportunity to change the lives of over 700 of the most beautiful, intelligent, and hardworking students imaginable.

So, now, somewhere in my future (an ever-shortening horizon) I know that I'll spend some time in Arusha – and I will try to lure a few friends and family to come too!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Economy improves

Interesting -- we have First World countries and Third World countries. The ones in the middle are 'Developing countries'. Being in the bottom ten countries, there's no doubt that Tanzania is a Third World country. But it has its sights on becoming a Developing Country.

In 2005, it made significant steps towards that goal. The biggest step was to be granted $2bn debt relief -- the money not spent on repaying ill-considered loans is being used to open schools, run vaccination programs and provide mosquito nets to pregnant women.

Here's an overview on 2005 that I found on a UN website.

Kikwete has vowed to improve the country's economy by consolidating the foundations laid down by his predecessors - Julius Nyerere (1961-1985), Ali Hassan Mwinyi (1985-1995) and Mkapa (1995-2005).

Mkapa's term in office brought significant Tanzania economic progress, although much more needs to be achieved if the nation is to be placed on the same economic footing as some other developing countries.

At the start of his administration, Mkapa vigorously pursued recovery programmes, robust macroeconomic policies and structural reforms, including privatisation initiated by his predecessor.

The results were striking: In 2004, inflation stood at around 4 percent, down from 27.1 percent in 1995, and annual economic growth reached 6.7 percent, up from 3.6 percent when Mkapa took office.

By 2005, foreign reserves had increased to an equivalent of eight months of imports, and revenue collections stood at about US $140 million a month, more than triple the amount for 1995-1996.

On 14 July 2005, Mkapa told parliament that his administration had achieved the economic fundamentals, which in turn boosted investor confidence in the country and in the government - a far cry from the situation when he was elected president.

Mkapa's policies also led the World Bank and the IMF in November 2001 to cancel over $2 billion in debt - representing about half the amount the country owes - a goal he set on coming to power. He privatised several state-run institutions like the floundering National Bank of Commerce.

This larger picture gives me confidence that my donations will make a lasting difference. The Millenium Goal of ending world poverty is very achievable.

Monday, November 13, 2006

New enrolments

As you would imagine, every parent within cooee wants to get their children into the School of St Jude.
So, every Friday in November sees scenes like this outside the school as literally thousands of children apply for the 170 places that are available each year.

Gemma Sisia says –
"How I wish we could take thousands of new students next year! Every Friday afternoon this month we have had around 1,500 children with their parents or guardians waiting patiently at the front gate for the selection process to begin.
We are looking for children who are bright, very poor and have the right attitude to be sponsored to start in Std 1 or Std 2 at St Jude’s next year. Understandably, there are thousands and thousands of families who would love to get their children into a school that provides free, high quality education, hot lunches, uniforms, stationery and transport instead of attending the overcrowded, understaffed, government schools where they are stuffed into classrooms with few teaching aids and poorly trained teachers with up to 100 other children. "

Mary-Elaine, who is volunteering at the school this year, says that about 70% of the intake comprises children who pass the academic tests, the remaining 30% is made up of kids who are resolutely persistent. These kids refuse to be turned away. They come every Friday, refuse to leave, ask to take the test again, slip past the guards. She says that these kids do very well in the school – their determination and hard work carry them through.
This rigorous selection process ensures that all the children at the School of St Jude can make maximum benefit of the opportunities given to them.
It seems to me that the money I give to St Jude’s is just a portion of my surplus, but these kids and their families give everything they’ve got.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

School founder

Who is the driving force behind the School of St Jude? The founder who has triggered this focus of generosity from First World countries is Australian woman Gemma Sisia. She has dreamed up this project and runs it in a way that makes 100s of people just want to get behind it.

The Melbourne Age newspaper wrote this about Gemma in September 2006.

"Sisia’s journey to Africa began after she graduated from Melbourne University with degrees in science and education in the early 1990s. Instead of settling for a comfortable life as a teacher in her home country, she set off for Uganda to volunteer in a school run by nuns. After three years she came home to a teaching job and used part of her salary — along with regular monthly donations from family and friends — to pay for the education of Ugandan children who would otherwise not be able to go to school.

"Winnie, the first girl she helped, is now a lawyer who this year opened her own office in Kampala. But frustrated by the inadequacies of being involved from a distance, Sisia decided to take a more active role in these children’s lives. It wasn’t all about work. She had fallen in love with Africa, and with the man who is now her husband and father of her two young sons — Richard Sisia, the Tanzanian who led a safari she and a friend went on when she worked in Uganda. ]

"Encouraged by Richard’s father — a village chairman who offered her a small parcel of land on which to build a school — Sisia began the project that now dominates her life.

"The idea seemed so preposterous that she named it after St Jude, the patron saint of hopeless cases. "A girl from the Australian bush trying to build a school in Tanzania — that’s a serious hopeless case, isn’t it?" she says.

"Those who share her religious beliefs might say Gemma Sisia’s prayers were answered. The school, housed in solid brick buildings, now educates 700. She has mobilised squadrons of volunteers, including a team of builders from NSW who were among the first to give up their holidays to make the school a reality.

"And she’s employed and trained scores of Tanzanians, from teachers to bus drivers to cooks and builders. Even the pristine school uniforms are sewn by local women.

"Along the way, this young woman with the calm and friendly manner, who grew up with six brothers on a farm in NSW and learned early to take risks, has won respect in the region. Sisia now calls Africa home, but she says: "I’ll always be an outsider."

"She is clear-sighted enough to realise that to be really effective, St Jude’s must be an African enterprise. She’s training local teachers and administrators for leadership — all heads of department are Tanzanians — and defers to a parents’ committee when dealing with family problems."

The sidebar links to the full story.

In just four years, the school has grown from 4 students to 700. It takes in an additional 170 students each year and builds classrooms for them. Gemma is thinking ahead so she can have a secondary school for her students when they finish primary school – the oldest class is Year 5 this year.

And when you take in only kids from the poorest families, (if families have more than two rooms houses, or have electricity, or have glass windows, their kids don't qualify for St Jude's) how do you help those kids to achieve excellence in school? Well, one thing you do if you are Gemma Sisia is set up a Monday-Friday boarding house for the really vulnerable ones. A local order of nuns, the Sisters of the Oblates of the Assumption will run it in conjunction with the school.

Gemma says, "The more I spend time with them, the more I am convinced that they are just the right people to be assisting us – their care and concern and eagerness to participate show just as much as their intelligence and wisdom in this area. It’s a great relief to have these wonderful women sharing our plans. Many thanks to the Sisters for taking on this massive project with us!"

You can make a massive contribution to the Millenium Goal of ending world poverty by adding your support to this well-run school that is providing excellent education and care for 100s of the worlds poorest children.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

One good meal a day

I love the school hall at St Judes! I have followed its progress through the regular newsletters and watched it emerge from bags of cement to a useful space like this. It really 'clicks' for me because it is the same kind of open air hall as I am familiar with in North Queensland – Ingham to be exact. It's really just a roof because it is open to the air on all sides.

This hall tells me that Gemma and her team who are developing the school are immensely practical and efficient. They REALLY make the most of each donated dollar.

What huge challenges they have faced. How squarely they have faced them. You start off thinking you'll just run a school – and within a year or two you find you are also running a kitchen for 700 people. Of course you don't HAVE a kitchen, but you see that the children need to be fed, and sooner is better than later, some are severely malnourished. So, you start feeding them – a team of cooks working outdoors with vast cooking pots.

When you start a school for the poorest children, you become their lifeline to more than just an education.

In a subsistence economy like Tanzania the government collects very little tax revenue. Education simply doesn't happen without significant outside support. The School of St Jude is one place where your support will make a difference – you can fight poverty through education by supporting the School of St Jude.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Excellent fundraising

The funds are flowing in to support the $250,000 needed to purchase land for the new school. This is hugely encouragaing!

At the start of October they started putting the boundary wall around the new 30 acres of land and began the drawings for the new Primary, Secondary and Boarding School construction. They have also started the very long process of getting electricity and water to the site.

On its current three acres, St Jude's already offers impressive facilities. And best of all, these facilities are dedicated for the benefit of the poorest families.

While most schools in Australia have an admissions policy that gives preference to siblings of current students, at the School of St Jude it is the opposite – only one child from each family is accepted. This ensures that the benefits of a good education are spread widely through the community. This is one of the harsh realities in a country where most families subsist on less than $1 a day.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

CIA Factbook

The CIA Factbook is the best source for reliable information about any country.

Some key facts about Tanzania:

Population = 37.5 million
Infant mortality = 96 deaths per 1,000 live births
HIV rate = 8.8%, 1.6 million are infected
Literacy = 78%

With GDP of $700 per person, Tanzania ranks in the 10 poorest countries in the world.

It has a stable government that is making improvements, so this is a country that can really benefit from the assistance you give.

We live in one world.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Video classroom singing

Here's a find! You'll see inside a classroom at St Jude - the children are learning a simple song.

Construction on new school begins

Construction of the second Primary, Secondary and Boarding school on the new land has begun - Tuesday, October 24, 2006 - Wednesday, October 25, 2006
At the beginning of October 2006, the first bricks of the second campus of the School of St Jude were laid down.
Whilst the actual construction drawings are being drawn up, the big boundary wall is currently being contructed around the 30 acre plot.
The first building pictures of this exciting new project can be seen by clicking on the following link
This link to this new school will have pictures added to it consistently over the coming year as the construction of the new second primary, secondary and boarding campus of The School of St Jude continues.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The School of St Jude is in Arusha, Tanzania.