Sunday, December 31, 2006


Meet Esuvat, who was sponsored to come to the School of St Jude in 2004 by a Rotary Club in Australia.

Esuvat lives with her family in a poor village.

Like everyone else, she does her share of chores – carrying water is a daily task. Unicef reports that the unavailability of water within a reasonable distance correlates directly to low rate of school attendance and high rate of drop out by girls. This is due to the disproportionate amount of domestic work, such as water fetching, that rests on girls.

School gives her a good education as well as friendships.

At the School of St Jude, sponsorship includes clothing (uniform), meals and bus transport. Esuvat uses the crowded school buses to get to school.

After school, she takes the bus and then walks home.

At home, her daily chores are waiting.

Esuvat started at the School of St Jude in 2004. In the Std 4 exams at the end of 2005, she placed first in the district of 17,000 students. This very bright girl from a very poor family will have the opportunity to reach her high potential and contribute her talents to the future of her country, thanks to the generosity of sponsors, donors and helpers world-wide.

Esuvat is only one of the many bright children who live in a cycle of continuing poverty. The School of St Jude aims to Fight Poverty Through Education. With our help, their future will be brighter.

Saturday, December 30, 2006


The financial accounts of the School of St Jude are now online. They show that fundraising has doubled in the last year. In 2005 the school raised $547,213, and in 2006 the figure was $1,081,778.

Because the school is growing by 150 students each year, the fundraising target will increase each year until the building program is completed in 2012 when the school will have about 2000 students from kindergarten to Year 12.

Here is Angela Bailey, the first principal of the school with the three students who enrolled in 2002.

2002 - the school started with three students

And here are the students and staff in 2006.

2006 - the school has 700 students + 150 staff

Major expenses in 2006 were the purchase of 30 acres at Usa River for a second campus and the construction of the new 10 classroom block at the Moshono campus.

These large goals were achieved, thanks to growing support from worldwide networks.

Nothing succeeds like success, and this school is a great success story. No wonder donors are happy to contribute.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Exam time

Tanzania is working to improve its educational services. The biggest boost to education in Tanzania has come from massive debt relief that has allowed the government to remove school fees for primary schools. A lot more children can now attend primary school.

The next task is to lift the standards, especially in small village schools across the country. This video clip, taken this year in a typical village school in northern Tanzania, shows the limited resources available in many schools.

To monitor educational standards, every Std 4 child in Tanzania sits a national exam in five subjects - Science, Maths, English, Kiswahili (the national language) and Social Studies (which is a Geography, Civics and History mix). Children at the School of St Jude did exceptionally well last year – they took five of the top 20 places in the Northern district of 17,000 kids!

Std 4 exams, November 2006

This was achieved because the school selects capable children from the poorest families – kids who would probably not go to school at all, or who would get a few years of basic education in a typical village school.

Then the work begins! The Std 4 children who sat the exam this November started working extra hours way back in January. This meant that teachers, drivers and cooks have been putting in extra time all year. As Gemma says,

I would like to thank all the drivers who would work tirelessly driving all the Std 4 kids home each evening, the cooks who would feed them after school before they started their late classes and of course all the teachers and admin staff who worked in making sure that all the students could reach their full potential. It was amazing to have children running up to me telling me that they thought that the exams were easy!! I NEVER thought an exam I did in the past was easy and so it was a thrill to actually see kids excited about going in to do their exams!

The difference that an education at the School of St Jude will make to the children, their extended families, and the whole community is immeasurable. In comparison with these benefits, our gifts of money and time seem small.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

Well, we have opened the presents, eaten a lunchtime feast (provided mostly by the supermarket deli) and had a snooze. It must be Christmas!

We are having a very quiet Christmas in Brisbane with my mother who is quite unwell. It is not a big celebratory Christmas for us this year - but it is exactly the Christmas that we need to have. I'm glad to be here at this point of need in my mother's life.

I find my thoughts are turning to incidents in childhood where she took care of my sister and I. Now we are taking care of her. It feels right.

I wish that everyone could be where they need to be at Christmas, and that they can give something to others in need.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Builders, always the builders

Here we are, just days before Christmas. Australian school children have started their long summer holidays and Sydney traffic is easing.

The School of St Jude is on holiday too. Well, the kids are on holiday, but the builders, a constant presence on the site, are still hard at it.

The new secondary building at Moshono

This holiday, the builders are busy at work on both campuses – Moshono and Usa River. At Moshono, this beauty is under construction. It will have ten classrooms, two seminar rooms, two computer labs, staff rooms, offices and an amenities block!

Plans for the secondary building

This will be ready for use by 9 January 2007 when the new school year starts. In the longer term, this building will be for secondary students at the Moshono campus. But that won’t happen till 2009 when the Usa River campus is ready to accommodate three streams of each primary class.

A lot of planning, a lot of sheer hard work. An a lot of caring support from thousands around the world are bringing this school into existence.

As you share your Christmas festivities with loved ones, you can remember that the School of St Jude is one example of goodness and generosity in this world. Something to be grateful for.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bottom Shaking

Dance in Tanzania is a vigorous business. At the School of St Jude, you are always assured of an audience in hysterics when a well-performed traditional Tanzanian dance is presented - there is so much bottom shaking and hip thrusting that the kids watching are screaming with delight! And the 4B students (below) certainly earned their applause at the school celebration of St Jude’s Day in October.

Class 4b students dance

Tourists who visit Tanzania can see a variety of traditional dances that vary from tribe to tribe. The Wa-Makonde vibrate their bottoms in a Sindimba frenzy. The Wa-Zaramo bounce in undulating Mdundiko processions. The unique Wa-Maasai "leaping dance" is accompanied only by the rhythmic chant of their deep voices, seen here on YouTube. Here is a Maasai women’s dance, also on YouTube.

Dance also appears in Tanzanian cultural festivals.

Binti Leo performers

In July 2006, ‘Nkhomanile’ by Binti Leo Performers was presented at the Festival of the Dhow countries. This dance is the tradtional story of the warrior queen, Nduna Nkomanile warrring with German colonial powers is brought to life by energetic music and performance. Nduna Nkomanile was such a threat to German power that when she was finally caught, she was publicly hanged. ‘Nkhomanile’ is produced by two Women’s theatre groups: Binti Leo and Bagamoyo Women Artists.

You can see children at St Jude’s learning a tradtional Tanzanian dance in the classroom on YouTube .

It is great to see this school, run by an Australian with the help of volunteers from around the world, bringing high-quality education that respects the culture of the children who will be the leaders of the next generation of Tanzanians.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Water Sector Support Program

Drought has thrown Tanzania into crisis. While the country has one of the highest levels of natural water storage capacity per capita in Africa, more than 15 million people out of a population of 35 million are without a safe water supply. Moreover, the country relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture as a major contributor to its economy, with limited headwater storage for irrigated agriculture or for the hydro-electricity schemes. The current drought has reduced farm production and caused 18-hour per day electricity blackouts.

25m dam for hydro-electricity on the Kihansi River

The $900m Water Sector Support Program aims to build governance capacity in the Tanzanian water ministry, the National Urban Water Authority (NUWA), and prepare medium and long term plans that will improve the use of Tanzania’s water resources and set up a permanent supply of clean water.

Key activities of the Water Sector Support Program are
  • river and lake basin management and development plans for five major rivers and four lakes
  • management information system for the NUWA
  • procedures and guidelines for environmental monitoring
  • policy making

This program will give NUWA better skills and tools for effective long-term management of water which will help improve the water supply, hydropower, irrigation, and flood control.
The patchwork of international aid is evident in the list of donors who will contribute to this $900million program – the World Bank; the African Development Bank; the US Millennium Challenge Account; the governments of Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany; and the NGOs WaterAid and UN Habitat.

It seems to me that this hodgepodge of aid organisations much be very inefficient! Imagine all the resources that get chewed up in coordination and accounting. I guess that this is probably inevitable where large scale projects address systemic issues.

I like the directness of a simple project like the School of St Jude because you give directly to the school and they spend the money directly on the kids.

The scarcity of water in Tanzania, is one reason why Mary-Elaine, a volunteer at St Judes, commented that buckets seem to be the very foundation upon which the country is built!

While individuals can make a big difference at the personal level, we really need to see assistance in capacity-building at the national level, if the country is to grow beyond the grinding cycle of perpetuating poverty. In Tanzania, we have reason for hope, because we see assistance given at both levels.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Tanzanian Demographic and Health Survey

The Tanzanian Demographic and Health Survey 2004 was based on interviews with over 10,000 women and over 2,600 men. It is one of a series funded by USAID to monitor progress towards the Millenium Goals to Fight Poverty.

St Jude's students bring gifts to local hospital

Here are some key figures from the survey:

  • The fertility rate in Tanzania has not changed in ten years and Tanzanian women have an average of 5.7 children. This is one of the higher fertility rates in East Africa.
  • More than 25% of young women age 15-19 have begun childbearing.
  • Infant and child mortality decreased markedly in the past five years. The 2004-05 Tanzanian DHS found an under-five mortality rate of 112 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to a rate of 147 five years ago. This is one of the lowest mortality rates in East Africa, and yet one in nine children in Tanzania dies before his or her fifth birthday.
  • Other child health indicators also improved. More infants are being exclusively breastfed now than in 1999. Vitamin A supplementation, which helps prevent blindness and infection, rose three-fold since the last survey with almost half of children under age 5 now receiving vitamin A supplements. Young children are also facing fewer nutritional challenges now than before.
  • Doctors recommend that all children under age 5 and pregnant women sleep under insecticide-treated bednets (ITNs) to prevent malaria. In Tanzania, only 16% of young children and 16% of pregnant women slept under an ITN the night before the survey.

These indicators are important measures that guide worldwide efforts to Make Poverty History. The grinding poverty of the poorest countries needs to be fought on many fronts simultaneously – the economy, education, health, infrastructure and governance all need systemic improvement.

The School of St Jude has taken the clear msision to Fight Poverty through Education. I will write tomorrow about a project that will make a big difference to Tanzania on the aspect of governance.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Three Peaks Challenge

While most of the us are preparing for the Christmas festive period of parties and holidays, 10 women from the USA and Australia will be preparing to become the first climbing party to summit three of Africa's highest mountains (Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya and Mt Meru) in less than 3 weeks.

The challenge is raising money and awareness for the three peak issues affecting Africa today; environment, education and HIV/AIDS.

Project Director Chloe Chick founded the 3 Peaks challenge after time spent at The School of St Jude in 2004.

3 Peaks aims to support and encourage the work of grassroots organisations in Africa who are having a positive and immediate impact on the local community. St Jude's is just that and has provided huge amounts of motivation to get this event established - this is our small way of saying, we truly believe in and support what St Jude's is achieving.

The women are dedicating every spare moment to fundraising, training and getting themselves prepared for the challenge ahead. To date the project has raised over $220,000, but organisers are hoping to crack half a million dollars! The money raised for St Judes will go directly to the construction of the secondary school on the new school block that many have helped to buy.

St Jude's is looking forward to hosting the team and supporters in January and celebrating with them on their return to base camp on Australia Day 2007.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Corruption and croneyism

A conference was held on 9 December by the Tanzanian Government to map out new strategies to tackle corruption. The conference will engage the Tanzanian Government and the key donor countries who contribute 41% of the Government’s annual income.

President Jakaya Kikwete

The anti-graft watchdog Transparency International (TI) pulled out of Tanzania citing the government's reluctance to wage a vigorous campaign against corruption. This underlined growing international unease with the manner in which President Kikwete has allowed corruption to fester despite official rhetoric about his government's determination to eliminate it.

Donors' indictment of President Kikwete followed a series of questionable decisions in the past 12 months that have resulted in economic performance hitting the lowest point in a decade in spite of increased infusion of aid. The low point came when all hydroelectric power plants closed causing an 18-hour daily electricity rationing. The economy is literally on its knees after manufacturing ground to a halt thanks to irregular supply of power - now reduced to less than six hours per day, seven days a week.

The one-year-old Kikiwete administration intends to persuade the donors that it has what it takes to turn around the wobbly economy. The forum is set to discuss the revised National Anti-Corruption Strategy and Action Plans (Nacsap), which was dismissed by donors as weak and ambiguous. The conference is expected to set benchmarks upon which the future donor funding would be pegged.

At the local level, the School of St Jude operates in a society where corruption is common at all levels. The School is careful to monitor and measure the goods that are provided by all kinds of suppliers to ensure that they are not over-charging. The fees charged by local officials for services (visa renewal, postal deliveries) seem to be flexible acccording to the perceived ability to pay.

I guess that at the local level, this kind of petty graft is driven largely by the desperate poverty of most lives. But at the higher levels where national government contracts are handed to friends and family, the motives are more like power and greed. And given the bad smell that lingers around the US Bush administration’s connections with favoured companies like Haliburton, it is clear that this doesn’t just happen in the poorest countries.

I hope that Tanzania can make some substantive progress on reducing corruption. When incompetent friends are favoured in important deals (e.g. electricity supply) then the whole nation suffers. Suffering in the poorest countries is a desperate business of deprivation and death, not just the kind of deprivation in First World countries, where people with only one television can feel ‘poor’.

Meanwhile, The School of St Jude spends all donations directly on providing excellent education to the poorest children for free. And it takes steps to ensure that its funds are not eaten up by the croneyism and featherbedding of local suppliers and officials.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sewing lady

I mentioned the Sewing Lady in an earlier post, now here is the story of how the School of St Jude came to have a Sewing Lady.

Repairing uniforms keeps the kids well-clothed

When Lynne Hodgson visited The School of St Jude school with a tour group she heard some of the children being chastised for the poor state of their uniforms. The School supplies all the uniforms as part of the sponsorship package and they expect them to be kept clean and in good repair.

Unfortunately, in some cases the child’s guardian may be a poorly sighted grandparent or overworked or alcoholic parent who has no time or ability to keep the uniform in good order. Of course the School is sympathetic sees that standards must be maintained.

Lynne came up with the great idea - a generous offer to pay the wages of a local woman who could come in every day and go through the classrooms and find sweaters with holes, shirts without buttons, dresses without ties and repair them all.

A great burden has been taken from many parents, the morale of many children has lifted and the uniform committee is greatly relieved now that Stephanie has been employed. And there is one more member of the local community with a full-time job!

This story has a particular impression on me because I think that sewing is a very skilled activity that is often unrecognised. It is often carried out as an act of love when we make things for the people close to us, or as a fundraiser. I will show you what I am making for one of my daughters in a day or two.

And you can browse my previous posts to read about the quilt that a Mennonite church in the US made as a fundraiser for the Mennonite church in Arusha. They raised $4,000 when they auctioned it.

So, we can enourage each other to use our skills to benefit others.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Milllenium goals

The Millenium Goals to end poverty have brought an urgency and focus to the multitude of aid programs. One of the Goals was to ensure that all children have access to free primary school education.

Great strides have been made towards this goal since it has become a priority. However, the World Bank's Annual Review of Aid Effectiveness 2006 notes that

Achieving high-quality development results takes time, but pressure to show results quickly can divert attention from the quality of results. For instance, the Millennium Development Goal of ensuring universal completion of primary education by 2015 has spurred massive efforts to increase enrollments. These rapid increases are welcome, but in many countries they have come at the expense of attention to learning outcomes. In Uganda, for example, access to education has improved greatly, but there are now 94 children per classroom and three students have to share a single textbook. Yet, the experience of India, Ghana and Uruguay has shown that it is possible to combine increased access with gradual gains in learning outcomes. This requires careful strategic planning and strong commitment to focus on learning outcomes from the outset. However, only about one-third of primary education sector operations assessed by IEG explicitly aimed to improve learning outcomes.

Of course, it is likely that these deficiencies will be fixed in time and more teachers and resources will be provided so that primary education is not a token affair.

So I'm really glad that the School of St Jude has emphasised quality education right from the start. At the School, class sizes are under 30, there is a well-stocked library and a computer lab. A cooked lunch and morning tea are provided.

No wonder the children excelled in the recent national skills examination.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Blade Runner St Jude

There is something surreal about the School of St Jude. In some ways it seems entirely familiar – kindy classes wear lion masks and present little plays; older classes go on excursions to worthwhile places. But then, something odd shows up in the school newsletter, like the wrong answer to a question in Blade Runner and you realise that this school cannot be quite like the schools we are familiar with.

  • How many schools do you know that have 15,000 kids lined up at the gates on Fridays in October, seeking to win a place in the school?
  • How many schools in your area have a sewing lady who spends each day mending and repairing the clothes of the kids?
  • What schools do you know that take only one child per family?
  • And how many schools offer free lunches – OK, we know that British schools do cheap lunches, but that is the land of Monty Python and Harry Potter afterall. And Jamie Oliver has shown us how bad the ‘food’ is.
The School of St Jude is for the poorest of the poor. Children who come from homes with more than two rooms, or houses with floors or window glass are not eligible. This school is for people who are REALLY poor. Nevertheless, the school encourages the children to be generous and giving.

Each year the school celebrates the Feast Day of St Jude Thaddeus (28th October).

Father Julio presides over a great celebration where each class gives a presentation. Then there is communion for those who are Catholic and blessings for those of other faiths.

Communion and blessings

During the service while Fr Julio was giving communion to the confirmed Catholics and the staff choir sang, he asked a number of teachers from various religions, tribes and countries to bless all the other students. It is a wonderfully uniting part of the service and again we thank Fr Julio for bringing everyone together so superbly.

A key element of the day is that each child brings a gift to be given to those in need in nearby orphanages and hospitals.

Although the children in this school come from very poor families, sometimes having only one meal a day and sleeping three to a bed, I feel that they need to understand how important it is to give to others. At our St Jude’s Day celebration, every student is asked to bring a gift to say thanks for all that they have to be grateful - their families, their friends, their teachers, their sponsors, the school’s donors, the cooks and cleaners, the drivers, the administration staff, the groundsmen and the guards. Every person in every section is a vital cog in The School of St Jude machine. So it is on this day that the children get the chance to show their gratitude.

Gifts from grateful families

Here are some of masses of gifts given by students’ families – the baskets were over flowing with sugar, soap, eggs, vegetables, fruit, cloth, salt, flour, rice and even live chickens. After the school community celebration, students took the gifts to local orphanages and hospitals.

Children distribute gifts in local hospital

The School of St Jude aims to fight poverty through education. It does this in a material way by providing excellent education to the poorest children. It also teaches that a generous spirit does not require material wealth.

May your generous spirit move you to lend your support to the School of St Jude.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

End of school year

The 2006 school year is nearly over in Tanzania as well as in Australia. The School of St Jude has had its final assembly before the summer holidays.

Final assembly for 2006

With nine teachers and office staff leaving at the end of the year, Friday's assembly was big and emotional with some tears shed by both staff and students. Many of the classes did farewell songs and dances for the teachers and those who were leaving made speeches about how the school has changed them.

At any point in time there can be around 24 volunteers working at the school. These fantastic people help to keep the school running.

As well as teaching classes and running the office, volunteers help the local teachers to expand their teaching skills beyond the basic ‘chalk and talk’ methods that are the focus of teacher education in Tanzania.

Mandy uses a board game for revision

Here is a revision game that Mandy has demonstrated to the teaching staff.
Mandy came to the school for a quick visit in 2005 and used her great teaching tools with the classes. This was so successful that Gemma encouraged her to return this year for three months to continue her lessons. She has shown the Tanzanian teachers some ways that the children can have organised fun in the classroom while learning.

The game is used at the end of a lesson for revsion. When a student’s counter falls on a number with a gold star, he or she has to answer a question correctly before advancing on the board. The kids love it; they are learning in a fun atmosphere and the teacher has a happy, focussed class - it’s winners all round!

Mr Andrew uses the Snakes and Ladders board game

Mr Andrew has the ‘Snakes and Ladders’ version – if you don’t want to slide backwards down the snake or you want to take an advantage by climbing the ladder, get the question right!

With so many volunteers at the school, there is a high level of staff turnover. This would be regarded as a problem in an Australian school, but in Tanzania the benefits far outweigh the work of managing the turnover.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Government spending on education

It is widely accepted that a well-educated population is a cornerstone of economic prosperity. Australia spends 5.8% of GDP on education, and it ranks mid-point amongst OECD countries on education spending.

UNSW graduates – Master Clinical Psychology

With GDP per capita of $31,600, this means that Australia spends $1,800 per capita on education each year.

If Tanzania spent the same proportion of GDP on education it would equate to $41 per capita. It is clear that the poorest countries do not have the resources to run even basic education services, never mind invest in improvements and try to catch up with other countries.

The Tanzanian investment in education has been restricted by huge debt repayment schedules. However, since Tanzania completed the current debt relief program they have received $3 billion in debt relief, according to the World Bank.

Tanzania has used the savings to increase education spending and eliminate school fees for elementary school education. Almost overnight, an estimated 1.6 million kids returned to school. By 2003, 3.1 million children were back in school. The net enrollment ratio has risen from 58.8 percent in 2000 to 88.5 percent in 2003. Tanzania expects to attain universal basic education by 2006.

With debt relief savings in 2002 and 2003, Tanzania built 31,825 classrooms and the number of primary schools increased from 11,608 in 2000 to 12,689 in 2003, a net increase of 1,081 schools. Also in these two years, 17,851 new Grade A teachers were recruited and 9,100 science-teaching kits were supplied. The pass rate in primary school exams rose from 19.3 percent in 1999 to 40.1 percent in 2003. This rate would have been higher if the pass rate standard had not been raised.

The international campaign to raise awareness of the pernicious effect of debt repayments on the poorest countries has been effective in causing First World countries to re-think the ways they help the poorest of the poor.

Just as the very poorest people in society have no means to repay loans, so the very poorest countries do not have the means to repay loans.

It is great to see that the Tanzanian government is able to invest more in schools. But on an ongoing basis, the country still has only $700 per capita as a tax base to fund essential services.
With economic growth running at 6%, this may grow to around $742 next year giving the government $43 per capita for education (at 5.8% – the same proportion Australia spends on education).

It will be generations before the Tanzanian economy has grown enough to fund basic education and in the meantime it is clear that at this stage on its upward climb out of poverty, your contribution is essential.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Right place for your talents

What would Winston Churchill have been without WWII? Just another ho-hum politician with a very mixed record. Who would have known that he had the ability to hold a nation together through its darkest years?

Churchill on Life cover (photo: Yousuf Karsch)

In a way, he was fortunate that his life presented the conditions that allowed his talents to flourish to their fullest extent. How many of us find that our life circumstances do not match our talents? We will never realise our full potential, and the world will not benefit from our abilities, if we don’t seek out the conditions where our talents can be used.

Gemma Sisia is one of the lucky ones. As the youngest of eight children (she has seven older brothers!) growing up on a sheep grazing property near Tamworth in NSW, it was highly likely that her talents would be used in her local community.

But, following her strong desire to help the poorest of the poor, one thing led to another and she now finds herself running a large school in Africa. What would Gemma Sisia be without the School of St Jude? Just another energetic school teacher in country NSW? It’s hard to imagine!
While it cannot be said that Churchill fostered WWII in order to exercise his talents, I can see that Gemma has created the conditions where her considerable talents can flourish. I wonder how much further they will develop? The story is still unfolding.

The result of Winston Churchill’s talents and efforts was the endurance of Britain in its finest hour – the survival of the nation and its culture.

The result of Gemma’s talents and efforts (so far!) is the excellent education provided to hundreds of bright children from poor families. Just as England may have failed without the massive talents of Churchill at the helm, so these children would be condemned to the ongoing cycle of poverty that is perpetuated when children grow up illiterate and unskilled.

Kindergarten class performance for St Jude's Day

So, if you find yourself wondering what particular field is needed for your particular talents to flourish, consider how you might lend them to the task of helping one of the poorest countries in the world climb out of the tragedy of extreme poverty.

You can find out more about Churchill at Wikipedia and The Churchill Centre.

It is not really surprising that Churchill was voted the greatest-ever Briton in the 2002 BBC poll the 100 Greatest Britons, but did you know that he won the 1953 Nobel Prize in Literature for his many books on English and world history!

"Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour." -- Speech delivered to the House of Commons on June 18, 1940 following the collapse of France.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Certificate of Excellence

In her October newsletter, Gemma described the recent government inspection of the school. It took THREE DAYS! Now that is thorough!

Heads of Department at School of St Jude

As I was eating breakfast, I got a message that there were three government school inspectors waiting outside the office! I dropped the toast and dashed to the office to be greeted by three very serious faces that dominated my life for the next few days. They had us running all over the school getting this document and that file. Bundles of lesson plans, schemes of work and logbooks were scrutinised; teachers lessons were appraised; inventories of every item in the school were demanded; assessment procedures and reports were checked and every work contract was looked at. Even the after school extra-curricular club objectives were inspected (though I don’t know what they made of the ‘Girl Guides’ report on the sleep-over in the school hall!) No folder, file or fingernail clipping was left unturned in the whole school!
It was exhausting for everyone involved but thanks to the great team effort of all the teachers, drivers, cooks, cleaners, guards, groundsmen and the administration of the school, we were able to achieve a “Grade 1 Certificate of Excellence in Performance” - the highest grade achievable! The inspectors wrote a glowing report about the school and mentioned that when they have government officials from the Ministry of Education in Dar es Salaam visiting, they would like to bring them out to see the school. It was a remarkable award for everyone involved in the school and well deserved as every worker associated with the school puts in 100% effort. And, of course, we share this with all of you who have given so much of your time, energy, money and support to help us achieve this.

I get a sense that things are coming together in Tanzania in important ways that will lay strong foundations for a better future. Schools like St Jude's, started by one skilled and dedicated person, supported by hundreds who care, can do more than give jobs and training to hundreds of locals while educating hundreds of the poorest children. A well-run school can be a model to others and encourage better practice throughout the education system.

Fantastic job Gemma! I think we're ready to go the next round with you.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Peace Corps

What can you learn if you spend some time in Tanzania, working in AIDS/HIV education?

Jen settles in to watch a DVD with friends

Jen is a Community Health Volunteer working in HIV/AIDS Prevention Education with a focus on children and youth. She is based in Newala, Tanzania. She works for US Peace Corps and her placement goes from June 2005 to August 2007.

You can get a taste of her experience at her blog.

On her 26th birthday, she reflected on what she had learnt in the previous 12 months. Here are her thoughts.

That I hate ants. That monkeys bite. That it’s better to be 5 minutes late than to rush past a good friend on the street. That one person’s trash truly IS another person’s treasure. That the moon is even better than a flashlight. That eating new foods, speaking a strange language, and dressing differently hasn’t changed me... but that something has. That I CAN live without cheese. That talking is easy... and that action is difficult... and that behavior change can sometimes seem impossible. That running water is an unattainable luxury for most of the world’s population. That I somehow enjoy mountain-biking in a skirt. That there are always people you can trust, and always people you cannot... and that you will always struggle to tell the difference. That having “no money” is a very relative term. That tampons don't burn. That people are dying... more of them than I ever imagined when I lived in Connecticut. That sometimes you can trust a child more than you can trust her parents. That I am lucky. That my grandmother’s friends listen much better than most folks out there. That I am privileged. That Imani likes to eat baby chickens, even though her mom is still a vegetarian. That I am loved. That Africa can be COLD. That going easy on people doesn't help them to realize their mistakes... and that being too hard on them doesn't make them want to right their wrongs. That polygamous marriages aren’t all bad. That palm wine tasts better than millet beer. That hunger and need can drive people to do things that you never thought they would. That it isn’t too hard to make your own pizza. That a warm bucket bath is much better than a cold shower. That changing the world is a slow process. Just that an ordinary life will never be tolerated.

What an astonishing life she is living. I suspect that the best thing that parents in First World countries can do for their children is to give them early life experiences in one of the countries where life is a struggle. You can visit with them, or send them to stay for a few weeks. Wealthy schools can offer group travel that has the ultimate reward of giving to others rather than merely receiving a tourist experience.

The School of St Jude accepts visitors as individuals or in groups. Visit their website for details.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

What's for dinner?

Chickens and goats seem to feature quite often in news about the School of St Jude.

Rotary visitors enjoy grilled goat

I thought I would see if I could find out a bit more about the culinary heritage of Tanzania.

As you would expect the cuisine varies with the geography. In the inland savannah, the traditional cuisine of cattle-keeping people is distinctive in that meat products are generally absent. Cattle, sheep and goats were regarded as a form of currency and a store of wealth, and are not generally consumed as food. In some areas, traditional people consume the milk and blood of cattle, but rarely the meat.

Elsewhere, other people are farmers who grow a variety of grains and vegetables. Corn is the basis of ugali, a starch dish eaten with meats or stews.

Around 1000 years ago, the Arabs settled in the coastal areas of East Africa, and Arabic influences are reflected in the Swahili cuisine of the coast – steamed cooked rice with spices in Persian style, use of saffron, cloves, cinnamon and several other spices, and pomegranate juice.
Several centuries later, the British and the Indians came, and both brought with them their foods, like Indian spiced vegetable curries, lentil soups, chapattis and a variety of pickles. Just before the British and the Indians, the Portuguese had introduced techniques of roasting and marinating, and the use of spices, turning the bland diet into aromatic stewed dishes.

Portuguese also brought from their Asian colonies fruits like the orange, lemon and lime. From their colonies in the New World, Portuguese brought exotic items like chiles, peppers, maize, tomatoes, pineapple, bananas, and the domestic pig – now, all these are part of East African food.

Here is something you might like to try yourself.

Spinach with peanut sauce
1 medium onion, diced
180 ml water
2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 lbs spinach, roughly chopped
1 pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon chili powder (or more if you prefer a more spicy dish)
2 teaspoons honey

  1. brown off the onions in oil in a sauce pan on medium heat.
  2. add the water and peanut butter on a low heat, stir until dissolved and simmer for a few minutes.
  3. add salt, honey, chilli pepper and tomatoes, stir together.
  4. add the spinach on top and put a lid on, leave for approx 5 minute.
  5. stir everything together, cook a further 5 minute.
  6. serve with rice.
I think I'll try it tonight!!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Seventh Wonder of the World

The Great Wildebeest Migration of Serengeti National Park was recently declared the Seventh Wonder of the world. In a joint project undertaken by USA Today and ABC-TV's Good Morning America, a multi-disciplined panel has named the "Site of the Great Migration," which includes about 90 per cent of Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, as the Seventh New Wonder of the World. The panelists who completed the new list of the new wonders of the world descrived the Serengeti and its Wildebeest Migration as "a rare and wondrous natural drama."

Wildebeest (African Wildlife Foundation)

The other six Wonders of the World in this list include the Polar Ice Caps in Iceland, the Underwater Coral Reef in Hawaii Island, Tibet's Potala Palace, Old Jerusalem City, the Mayan Pyramids in Mexico and the Internet.

Serengeti is Africa's greatest national park. It is in Northern Tanzania and covers 14,763sqkm.
Wildwatch has a great map of the migration paths of more than 1.5 million wildebeests, 600 thousand zebras and 300 thousand gazelles, which move in a gigantic herd, migrate through the area in a clockwise circle.

Following the grand multitude are packs of wild dogs and hyenas, families of cheetahs, and prides of lions all pursuing the vast herds. Above the long, dusty procession are circling vultures and other scavenging and hunting birds, on the lookout for their next meal.
No one knows for sure what triggers the migration but the herds seem to follow fresh pastures. In their thousands, these animals travel in long moving columns that at certain points extend for forty kilometers, and which ultimately will describe huge oblong figures a thousand kilometers across within an ecosystem of 250, 000 sq. kilometers.

The nomination of the Wildebeest migration as the Seventh Wonder of the World will give a boost to Tanzania’s safari tourism industry. With fantastic natural riches of landscape and wildlife, and over 25% of land protected for conservation, Tanzani is well-placed for economic growth.

You can browse the blogs of St Jude volunteers in the sidebar to get a taste of their safari experiences during breaks while volunteering at the school.

For further browsing about Serengeti and wildebeest, try these sites.

African Wildlife Foundation
Tanzania Tourist Board
Natural High – safari company