Wednesday, February 28, 2007

End of the month

It’s time to look at the bank account and decide what to donate. Some of my donations are set on automatic deduct, but I always like to to think about what I send to the School of St Jude. I have chosen not to sponsor a child because I think that others like to do that. So I usually send a general donation. Sometimes I nominate a bus or teacher or computer donation.

Thank you letters from kids at St Judes

I don’t really mind which one I nominate because all the money is used to run the school. I always get an email confirmation that the money has been received. And I read the School’s monthly newsletter online.

Every now and then an airmail letter arrives from the school and I find a charming thankyou letter written by the kids. It’s a simple one-line thankyou, decorated by drawings and stickers. Now we know why the kids love to receive stickers!

What we give comes back to us in the achievements of everyone connected with St Judes – the children, their parents, the teachers and supporters world-wide.

Michael Liubinskas, an Australian supporter, says,

I always had fun visiting St. Jude's and was proud of what Gemma and the team had been able to do in such a short time. The school is well-built and well-run, and will provide a great long-term benefit to the people of Tanzania. I'm glad to be a sponsor.

So, I would encourage you to find out more about this terrific project that is Fighting Poverty Through Education in northern Tanzania. If you would like to make a small donation, you can do that right here – just click on the Chipin button at the top of the page.

Monday, February 26, 2007

What? Power blackouts again?

A report in the Arusha Times on 24 February shows the large impact that service failures can have poor countries like Tanzania.

Regular readers would know that the School of St Jude struggled to operate last year as the drought caused electricity rationing for 12+ hours a day. Since the rains at the end of the year the hydro-electric generation plants have come back on line and power has been restored.

Nevertheless, parts of the Central Business Area of Arusha have been in total darkness for the last two weeks. They have had no power because of a blown out transformer. Apparently TANESCO could not replace the transformer as it had none in store. ABB Tanelec has refused to sell it one because TANESCO could not also pay up-front and, although TANESCO is owned by the Tanzanian government, it is not credit worthy.

The power blackout is affecting businesses and essential services like schools and hospitals, and even the local radio station, Radio 5, has been off the air since 10 February. Just when meat vendors at the Central Market Place suffered a devastating blow due to an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever, those selling fish and chicken were restricted by the lack of power.

To Arusha residents and businesses the transformer failure is part of ongoing power problems. The town, despite the end of power rationing last December, still experiences daily power cuts.
In very poor countries, even important institutions like electricity companies struggle to provide basic services. Small things that go wrong can have major impacts that hold the country back, mired in the cycle of perpetuating poverty.

The School of St Jude bought two large new generators in 2006 to supplement the older ones it already had. It looks like these generators will be essential to the operation of the school for years to come.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

How many?

School of St Jude, 2007

Here they are! All 870 of them, encircled by their teachers. A handful of these kids have been at St Judes since 2002, while 180 started in January 2007.

Looking at this picture of all the children in their tidy uniforms, one can begin to take it for granted – this is what schools are supposed to look like. Well, it wouldn't be unusual in Australia.

So we have to keep reminding ourselves what a rare treasure this school is. It is rare anywhere, and particularly rare in Tanzania.

It would have been relatively easy to run just-any-old-kind-of-school in Tanzania because almost anything would be better than the general standard of education currently available. But Gemma didn't want to run just any kind of school. She wanted to give poor children the chance for a quality education that would encourage them to reach their full potential.

What she is creating at the School of St Jude is truly astonishing. Already, St Judes is gaining a reputation as one of the finest schools in the country, comparable to expensive private schools. But St Judes does not provide this service for the children of affluent parents, instead the school provides free education to the poorest of the poor.

Many children at St Judes walk for more than an hour to get the bus to school and their main meal of the day is the lunch provided by the school. After school, they have to do their share of the chores that keep their household functioning. Carrying water and feeding animals are typical chores for children in Tanzania.

At school, they learn English as well as the national curriculum of subjects. Families know that to have a child accepted into St Judes is like a lifeline for the whole family, so the school accepts only one child from each family. One of the more immediate benefits of having a child at St Judes is that the English skills of the whole family improve. In some families, parents have been able to find jobs as a result of learning/improving their English through their child.

So, take another look at the photo of the kids in 2007. Next year, there will be an extra 180, and the year after, and the year after. The school is growing. The plan is to grow to carry these kids right through to Year 12. Then they will be ready to learn some more. Tanzania needs all the well-educated citizens it can muster. The School of St Jude is educating the future citizens of the country.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Who will teach them?

Tanzania was one of the first countries to qualify for debt relief in 2000. The millions of dollars that are not spent on interest payments to rich countries have helped the country implement a range of poverty-reduction measures, including the removal of primary school fees. As a result, enrollment in both primary and secondary schools has gone through the roof. Between 2001 and 2005 an additional 2.7 million children enrolled in Tanzanian schools and the pupil-teacher ratio increased from 46 to 59.

The school at Ilmisigiyo has around 560 students and 7 teachers

The government is establishing new schools at a frenetic pace and this is putting pressure on existing resources. How can Tanzania suddenly find an additional 6,000 secondary school teachers? It has been necessary to run improvised crash training courses, just to get teachers into classrooms. Oxfam reports –

The challenge now is making this education really worth something. With so many children now attending school, many primary schools do not have enough trained teachers or classrooms, or even basic equipment such as textbooks, desks and chairs.

In a Standard Four class at Imenya Primary School in Shinyanga district, one third of the 97 students in the class must sit on the floor and they are lucky if there is one textbook between six students. Teacher Consolatha Paul says, “With classes this big, it is impossible to tend to each student’s needs and difficulties”.

While some voices deplore the lowering of teaching standards, I take it more pragamatically. In the late 60s most Queensland secondary teachers had only one year of teacher training – I was one of them. As the baby boomer generation hit High School, a six-week teaching course was enough for those who had a bachelor degree in maths or science. They learnt the rest on the job.

These interim measures are inevitable when systems are trying to cope with sudden increases in demand. For the next few years, it is inevitable that schools in Tanzania will have large class sizes, poorly trained teachers, and pathetic resources. This is a difficult passage that must be negotiated along the way to providing basic education to all children in the country.

In the meantime, the School of St Jude continues to grow and looks for quality teachers who are interested in continuing to improve their professional practice. I am looking forward to the day when the first ex-St Judes student applies for a job as a fully-trained teacher.

Without the help of hundreds of supporters world wide, the children at St Judes would be struggling to get a rudimentary education in public schools.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What will we do this weekend?

Well, if you have gone to work at St Judes like many other long term volunteers, you might fancy a bit of sightseeing.

Rachel and Simon have described their recent weekend in the nearby Arusha National Park.

Simon says –

Arusha is actually quite close to most of Tanzania’s big game parks with Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara about a 3 hour drive away, and the Serengeti beyond that. Generally you do these over 3 or 4 days in one ‘safari loop’ as its called locally. As we didn’t want to do 3-4 hours each day in the car, plus the safari time, we opted for the local quieter option which would still get us to see some of the animals but being only 30 minutes away, was also going to allow us to relax and enjoy ourselves.

Source: Simon

As you can see, the animals were just what you might hope to see!

From where I am, it seems surreal to have these almost mythic African animals living so casually right on your doorstep. Here in Sydney, this is how I am used to seeing giraffes!

The giraffes at Taronga Zoo enjoy views of Sydney Harbour

The School of St Jude is located at the foot of Mt Meru which can be seen in this picture taken in the school grounds.

Source: Simon

Can you tell that I'm REALLY looking forward to our visit in September?

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Viral marketing

Viral marketing is the term used for good old fashioned word of mouth recommendation. When something is intrinsically good or clever, its users spread the word and tell others about it. The internet along with TV and radio have speeded up this process so much that word now spreads like exponentially, like a virus.

This blog is part of that process of spreading the word about the School of St Jude. After mentioning Amy's blog yesterday, I had a message from her saying how thrilled she and Freda are to be returning to the School in March-April.

She also said that she and Freda are working with the Smith Foundation to put on a fund-raiser there in Kentucky, so they hope to see a new large cadre of donators and sponsors building in that part of the world.

The result is that the enthusiasm of these two women will 'infect' many others, an infection that will be passed on others. Viral marketing. It only works with GREAT ideas and projects.

On the topic of great ideas that are becoming viral, check out this activist blog that supports the campaign to bring David Hicks home. It takes a clever visual idea that packs a powerful message - day after day.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Always improving

The School of St Jude is enjoying the professional input from two American teacher-educators funded by the Smith Foundation. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Amy and Freda visited the School in November-December 2006 and ran an intensive training exercise for the staff. Their work was wide-ranging and included curriculum development as well as class room techniques.

Amy and Freda with the Leadership Team, Nov 2006

I see that these two educators will be visiting St Judes again in March 2007, to build on the work already started.

Like everyone who comes in contact with the School, Amy and Freda have returned home on fire with enthusiasm for the great work the school is doing. Amy says –

In addition to my sponsorship of Bilal, in the month I have been home, five friends here in America have also signed on to sponsor children at the school, a blessing for these little ones who have such great need and such big dreams. Thanks to everyone for your support! If you are interested in finding out what is involved in sponsorship for a St Judes child, you can visit their website: - or - you can send me a message or give me a call.

You can keep in touch with their enthusiasm and activities at Amy's blog.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Two women working for change

Gemma Sisia grew up in the Australian education system and trained as a school teacher so it is natural that Australian values, principles and teaching methods are evident at the School of St Jude. One of the big challenges in establishing the school and fostering its growth has been the challenge of balancing Tanzanian cultural values with Australian ones.

There are many ways that respect for Tanzanian culture shines through the school life. For example, the three major religions, Christianity, Islam and traditional religions are welcomed in the life of the school. While lessons are taught in English, Tanzanian language, music, history and culture have a strong focus.

In some cases, the School has worked hard to replace local practices with Australian standards. For example, corporal punishment is the norm in Tanzanian schools but not at St Judes. Teachers at St Judes get one warning if they strike a child, on the second occasion they lose their job.
Queen Rania of Jordan at the Louvre with world leaders

It is really inspiring to see people, especially women, taking and using leadership roles to help straddle cultural divides. Queen Rania of Jordan has recently come onto my radar and I am impressed by her strong messages against Islamic extremism. In Italy to launch a Group of Seven program to develop vaccines against diseases that are endemic in poor countries, she took the opportunity to say that Islam does not require women to wear veils and to call on all Muslim moderates to "make their voices be heard."

Islam neither requires one to be practising, nor to dress in one way or another, so imposing the veil on a woman is contrary to the principles of Islam. Unfortunately, after all the suspicion weighing on Islam, many people have begun to consider the veil as a political problem, but this is not the case. Wearing the veil is a free personal choice."

I think, as I said, for societies to succeed in the 21st century, they really have to embrace diverse people from diverse backgrounds, they really have to succeed in multiculturalism.

In Tanzania, Islam is the dominant religion on the island of Zanzibar and it is common for many women to wear the full face veil, called a nikab. However, the government is considering banning women from wearing the nikab while driving because it restricts their view of the road. This seems like a practical decision.

As Tanzania struggles to climb out of extreme poverty, some traditional practices, like violence to children or making women invisible, must give way.

The School of St Jude is bringing new cultural values as well as a sound education to hundreds of bright children from poor families in Northern Tanzania.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Watch the orange bar

Hey! It's nice to see the Chipin donation tool at work! Thanks Rob for starting it off, and you too Bill, for adding your bit. I'm curious to see how this progresses.

A growing project like St Judes relies on a solid foundation of sponsors and donors who can give hundreds of dollars. Major fundraising events like the 3peaks3weeks climb raised $100,000 for the school. It took 10 women more than a year to reach this target through lots of local events.

St Judes also appreciates the small amounts that can really add up. If you want to give just a little to the school as a one-off or an occasional donation, you can do it here.

And if you are hesitant to send money, they have an urgent need for plain navy socks!

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

How is trade like motherhood?

To climb out of extreme poverty, poor countries need to build a healthy economy. So, it is good to see that the EU is in the process of negotiating with 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries for a timetable that will progressively remove trade barriers. The first step is due to take place on 1st January 2008.

As might be expected, many countries are cautious. Uganda says they will not will not immediately allow duty-free European Union (EU) products when trade deals being negotiated take effect on January 1, 2008. So while the EU will progressively reduce duties and tariffs, it does not mean that the ACP countries will cut tariffs on goods from Europe immediately.

The EU’s Trade Director Peter Thompson said,

We need to ensure that implementation is done in a sensitive phased way, which will lead to a profiled market access that is compatible with the country’s development level and done in conformity with the World Trade Organisation’s rules.

A particular challenge for the negotiations has been the regional trade blocks that are supporting local integration. In Africa these include the East African Community, Common market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and South African Development Community.

This means that EU negotiators need to work with individual countries and also regional trade communities. Very complex!

But it must be done. There is strong evidence that countries with more open economies grow faster. Jeffrey Sachs in The End of Poverty has some useful graphs that compare growth rates over the past 30 years amongst poor countries with higher tariffs and those with lower tariffs. Most of the lower tariff countries have left poverty behind or are well on the way.

A 2003 report on Trade and Food Security by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN has the following cautions.

  • Liberalization of agricultural trade is expected to drive up prices for most agricultural commodities. This could have a negative impact on food security in some developing countries, as most are net importers of food. Prices are expected to rise more steeply for the food products that developing countries import than for the commodities they export.
  • Many developing countries are expected to benefit, however, from reductions in tariffs and subsidies in developed countries. Improved access to markets in the industrialized countries and reduced trade distortion should boost rural incomes and employment and stimulate production and supply from local agriculture, particularly of food for domestic markets.
  • Overall, however, the lion’s share of benefits from trade liberalization is expected to go to the developed countries themselves (see graph). That is because developed countries have applied tariffs and subsidies mainly to protect the temperate-zone commodities that they produce themselves. Developing countries that export “competing” commodities, such as rice, sugar and cotton, should benefit if those protections are reduced. But the least developed countries, very few of whom export temperate-zone or competing products, would generally be worse off.
The following graph from the report shows that while low-income countries will benefit, it is the high-income countries that will benefit most.

Source: FAO

So, those of us who support initiatives that will help the poorest countries like Tanzania climb out of poverty, need to be well-informed. We need to advocate for good policies and we need to recognise that broad policies need to be adapted for each situation. Individual countries can be harmed by policies that benefit the majority. What do we see when we look at globalisation and the Doha Round talks through Tanzanian eyes?

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Swimmers come home!

Tanzania is rarely in the news here in Australia. It is one of those invisible places are aren't quite real to the media. So I was interested to hear them mentioned on the radio news yesterday.

The report was about swimmers coming to the World Cup event in Melbourne. The Tanzanian Government is asking its swim team to sign guarantees, backed by family members, that they will return to Tanzania after the event.

This is a response to the actions of some competitors at the Commonwealth Games last year when about 40 competitors from four African countries, including Tanzania, 'went missing' and refused to return home. 36 of those 40 applied for refugee visas (32 were granted) while the other four simply melted in.

For me, this news report raised all kinds of questions about leaving your homeland and seeking a better life somewhere else. And the possibility of persecution at home sufficient to win a refugee visa in Australia. Some Hazari Afghans who came to Australia illegally on boats have been held for years in desert camps or on Pacific Islands and then forced to return to unstable homelands. Yet these African swimmers have not been locked up and most of their cases have been resolved within a year, mostly favourably.

Is this a reflection of Australia's great love for sport? I suppose it would be different for the Afghans if they were polo players!

In any case, it has me thinking about the entangled difficulties of life in the very poorest countries in the world.

I hope the Tanzanian swimmers enjoy their visit to the swimming World Cup and that their visit fosters wider awareness in Australian society of the common humanity that binds us all together.

Your assistance to the School of St Jude in Arusha, Tanzania, will help Fight Poverty Through Education. Here's a handy place where you can click and donate to the School.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Not shoes but socks

The School of St Jude gets as many things as possible from the local area in Northern Tanzania. For example, the school uniforms that are provided for all students are made locally.

However, there are a few essential items that are just not available in Tanzania, and durable navy blue socks are one of those essentials.

The School supplies each child with two pairs of navy blue socks as part of their uniform, and stocks are running low! In January, the School accepted an additional 187 students who needed new socks. And of course the 700 kids already in the school need replacements.

In the past, all the hundreds of pairs of socks provided by the School have been brought in by visitors from abroad.

If you think you could buy a few pairs of ankle or knee length PLAIN NAVY socks for kids between 7 and 13 yrs old then the School would be so grateful! OR, if you know anyone who works for a sock distributor, the School would be happy to buy some socks.

To send a batch of socks to the School, send them an email and they will put you in touch with someone who is planning to visit.

Check out the School’s wishlist to see the range of items that are hard to source locally.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Footprints – are yours too big?

A footprint is the mark we leave behind – a sign that we were here.

WB Yeats said, “Tread lightly because you tread on my dreams.”

The future is a dream, a possibility that is created by our actions now. We need to be intentional if we are to build the future we want, if we are to bring dreams to reality.

A bright future is not our birthright, it is just one of the many alternatives that lie in front of us and our children.

Gemma's book will be published in April

Gemma Sisia grew up with the glimmer of hope that she might live her life in Africa and contribute towards breaking the cycle of enduring poverty. She took steps into the unknown, unsure how to bring this dream to reality. Now, she find that she is living the reality in Tanzania and, with the help of world-wide hundreds of people, her footprint will be large and confident.

An environmental footprint describes how much land is required to maintain a lifestyle. People who live very simply require very few resources and their environmental footprint is small. People in the affluent West, who have plenty of food, good transport and leisure for holidays leave large footprints.

When we add up all the environmental footprints – the too-small footprints of the millions living in extreme poverty, and the too-big footprints of the millions living in comfort – we can see how much of the Earth’s resources are being used.

What if everyone lived your lifestyle? Is the planet big enough to support everyone?

You can check out the size of your footprint at Ecofoot. Their handy gadget will do the calculations for you and show how many global hectacres are needed to sustain your lifestyle. And how many planets would we need if everyone lived like you do.

Some things will need to change if we are to bring about a bright future for all of us.

I think I’ll start today, with one small thing. I’ll leave the car at home.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chipin donation tool

I have added the Chipin donation tool so that you, my interested readers, can contribute to specific projects at the school.

Addendum: I have taken it down till I get organised with Paypal. I thought it was 'go', but it wasn't. My apologies.

A couple of days later: I've sorted the issues with Paypal (they need professional Usability Testing for their website) and now Chipin is nestled resplendently at the top of the page. Have you added your mite?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Does wealth make us more generous?

Apparently not. Data from the Reality of Aid organisation shows that OECD donor countries have failed to significantly close their “generosity gap”, which has been growing since the mid-1990s. The following graph shows how wealth per capita in OECD countries grew by 230% from $9,887 to $32,462 between 1961 and 2004.

Source: Reality of Aid

In the same period, Official Development Assistance (ODA) increased by only 50% from $55 to $83 creating an ever-widening generosity gap.

The Millennium Declaration issued by the UN in 2000 called on all countries to “spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty.” In September 2005, the Special UN World Summit to review progress with respect to the Millennium Declaration reiterated the longstanding goal for the rich countries to devote 0.7% of their GNI to ODA.

Ireland has already reneged on its 0.7% by 2007 commitment and pushed its target date to 2012. Japan, meanwhile, has effectively reneged on its $10 billion commitment made at the G8 Gleneagles meeting for new aid money for Africa.

On a more positive note, France, along with Spain, Brazil and Chile, has been leading the way in developing innovative mechanisms for funding development.

And Australia? Well our targets have been so modest, and so far short of 0.7%, that there is little pride is knowing we are on target to reach 0.35% by 2010.

Reality of Aid report that

Most donor countries that have so far failed to move towards the 0.7% target, can well afford to do so. The successful mobilizations in the 2005 Global Call to Action Against Poverty campaigns in many donor countries, as well as generous responses to the December 2004 tsunami, demonstrated that citizens are far more prepared to respond with generosity than their own governments.
All my letters to politicians are now posted and the breakfast table is clear of paperwork. So I have been using it to baste a quilt I am making.

We have had good rain in the Sydney catchment today! I expect the dam levels will be up this week, though I think we will have water restrictions forever more.

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What makes a GREAT wedding?

Yesterday we went to the wedding of my niece Janna to her beloved Sam. It was one of the best weddings I have been to. And that has me wondering – what makes a wedding good?

Cupcake Wedding Cake – very now!

Well, all the basics were there – everything went smoothly, there were no gaffs or glitches. The ceremony was outdoors and it didn’t rain, despite a thunderstorm at first light. The reception was in beautiful rooms and the food and service were good.

Beyond that, the wedding had the two main elements that make a wedding great –
  • It conveyed the messages of love and commitment in ways that really touched us and reminded us of our own promises to love each other. The ceremony, set on beautiful Sydney Harbour in view of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, was so uplifting and full of feeling that we were filled with joy.
  • It was was beautifully stylish. Janna chose palest pink and chocolate brown as the key colours and she mixed the formal elements (speeches, wedding waltz, etc) with youthful fun (cupcakes and thongs).
We couldn’t have been happier to be part of it. One guest was heard to say, “It’s the best wedding I’ve been to. Including my own.”

Janna and Sam cut the cake, so to speak!

Weddings in Tanzania are similarly joyful affairs. Jacky describes the wedding of Felix and Nembrus. Felix drives one of the St Jude’s buses, and Jacky was volunteering at the School in 2006 when he got married.

Felix and Nembrus

Their wedding started with family members singing and dancing Maasai-style outside the church. The wonderful service, full of singing and blessings, lasted about an hour was followed by a blessing in their new home, a two-room house next to his parents home. Jacky describes the next part of proceedings which took place back at the church.

Now it was time for the giving of gifts. People lined up all the way down the aisle and out the door of the church with their gifts. All different things from Maasai blankets and different types of local material, to pots and plates. When they got up to the bridal table they handed their gift to the brides maid and then shook hands with and blessed the newly married couple. My little gift was a locally made red shirt (for the driver of the little red bus) and a Swahili/English Dictionary. Felix loves speaking English and would love to help his wife to learn how to speak English.

Weddings are one of the great milestones of our lives, when we stand up with our community of family and friends to make our commitment to the positive virtues of love and loyalty. At Janna’s wedding, the celebrant made a point of acknowledging the families who raised Janna and Sam to be adults who appreciate these enduring values.

The School of St Jude gives strong support to these moral values for the 850 children who attend. This support is especially important for those children whose families have been fractured by disease, accident or poverty. Those of us who live in countries of plenty have an obligation to help support the great strengths of love and loyalty in the next generation of children who are growing up in extreme poverty.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

What was I just saying...

It was only two days ago that I commented that there were no market incentives to develop vaccines for diseases like malaria that affect poor countries but not rich countries. The World Bank has just reported that the Group of Seven (G7) rich countries, led by Italy, has signed an agreement to provide $1.5 billion to develop vaccines for poor countries.

HM Queen Rania of Jordan

The new Advanced Market Commitments for Vaccines program, under the auspices of the G7, is ‘aimed at saving millions of lives in the poorest countries and supporting their economic growth with new methods,’ the Italian economy ministry said. The mechanism involves donor nations making a prior commitment to buy vaccines which are under development at a preferential price once they are launched, thereby creating a demand-led market for new vaccines needed by poor countries.

Italy, Britain, Canada and Norway announced funding commitments at a ceremony attended by Italian Economy Minister Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, Britain's Gordon Brown, Canada's Jim Flaherty and World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz. Jordan's Queen Rania presided over the launch and the G7 officials explained the program in person to Pope Benedict at the Vatican before traveling to Essen in Germany for the G7 meeting.

I’m rather intrigued by the cast at this carefully staged event – queens, popes, presidents, chiefs and ministers. It’s almost medieval. Technology might change but politics doesn’t. “Be nice to people who have power” is the golden rule for getting anything done.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Change and more change

The School of St Jude has 150 staff, including teachers, office workers, cooks, cleaners, drivers, builders and others. They are a rich mix of locals and international volunteers.

The mix of staff is constantly changing due to the rapid growth of taking on extra classes each year, and because the international volunteers are usually on one or two-year assignments. At the end of each year, there are the sad goodbyes as some internationals complete their assignment and head home – changed forever by their experience at the School of St Jude.

In 2006 Suzanne revolutionised the Art Department, and the volunteers kitchen!

They quickly come to love the kids for their enthusiasm and wish to learn. And they have all the rewards and satisfaction of contributing their skills in infamiliar conditions and rising to the challenges.

Alicia has the biggest heart and a cheerful willingness to do any job asked of her

Kim says,

The hardest part of the end of each year – saying good bye to the friends who have been such a part of our lives for a year or so. We share the joys of the job and the frustrations; we share our meals and washing up; we yell about noise and empty vegemite jars … and we make up; we complain together about the weather … or someone snoring; we share our jokes and smokes and diarrhea mixture; we rely on each other for chats about home and we are there for each other when bad news hits; and we make each other laugh … or at least, smile even if it is because of our variety of accents, vocabulary, and pronunciations … we are the ‘vollies’. And for that reason we come and go – taking a lot with us, leaving a bit behind … including promises to return ...

Emily, Head of Music Department and ceaseless advocate for the medical care of Alfani when he broke his leg.

Everyone at the School of St Jude is growing and developing as they face new challenges. Local teachers are striving to implement new curricula and apply newly-learnt skills, while the volunteers are striving to be effective in a challenging new environment. When the staff have the support and resources to take on new challenges, you know the kids are getting the best education possible.

Maria Kieran, Recruitment Co-Ordinator 2006, says:
Many people come to Africa to make their mark. The School of St Jude is making a massive impact in the lives of so many children. By giving them good education, and through respecting the African culture and beliefs, the school is giving these children the ability and skills to change their lives for themselves. I’d rather be a tiny part of something major than a big part of nothing.

Each year, the School faces the challenge of welcoming new staff, supporting them as they settle in, utilising their talents, and then farewelling them as they head off into the world as permanent members of the worldwide family of school supporters.

If you have visited the School, volunteered there, or know someone who has, you can use the 'comment' link below this post to share your story.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

The chicken or the egg?

So, richer countries have better health and higher education? But which came first – increased prosperity or better health and education?

Hans Roslings’ Gapminder institute makes dynamic graphs that track improvements in all kinds of measures including health, education and income. They show that in successful countries like India and China, the figures for literacy, schooling, and longevity began to improve before incomes did.

It is clear that while trade may be an essential element that lifts a country out of poverty, this won’t happen without the foundations of improved health and education to begin with.

A literate population with a reasonable lifespan is essential to economic development. While private investment may drive economic development, the foundations of health and education will not be funded by market forces.

The big pharmaceutical companies have not put resources into drugs for malaria because this is a disease of poor countries that can’t afford the drugs. There is no market for them to recoup their investment. So, as the system won’t take care of the problem, some intervention is needed. Seeing this, governments like the British government have offered a guarantee to purchase a malaria vaccine when it is found. This gives pharmaceutical companies the incentive to invest in research.

At the Malaria Vaccine Initiative you can read more about the huge effort going into the development of a malaria vaccine. We will see it in our lifetimes.

In the meantime, you can help build the foundations for future prosperity by giving bright children from poor families a good education at the School of St Jude. Give money, tell your friends, fight poverty through education.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Guaranteed correspondence

When you write to 150 politicians, you can be sure that your letter box will host a regular sprinkling of replies for months. I mailed another 20 today. I’m into the M’s. And today I came home to find my first response in the letter box.

Sharon Bird has the honour of being my first reply.

Just what you’d expect from a young, attractive female MP. Perhaps it means that her office is not very busy right now. I suspect that she hasn’t seen the letter herself, despite the ‘signed’ response. Parliament is sitting now and I am sending the letters to electorate offices, not to Parliament House.

I don’t think it matters whether I send them to electorate offices or to Parliament. I am sure that the pollies don’t see the letters themselves. Well, maybe some do. Or maybe they see some of them. I am fairly confident that they get to hear what people have been writing about. And we keep hearing that a letter weighs for quite a bit in pollie-land. So I believe that these letters make a difference.

The following chart shows why I am writing to politicians. It shows the decline in Australia's Official Development Assistance from .34% GDP to .24% in 2004, compared with other OECD countries (Netherlands, Denmark, Norway) that consistently exceed the .7% target and Ireland that is improving. We're pathetic! And it shouldn't continue.

Source: OECD Factbook 2006

I was interested when my daughter, the one who gave me the Tanzanian coffee, recently asked me to print out the list of politician’s addresses for her (no internet at work and no printer at home). It warms me to know that she cares enough about something to make the effort to write to politicians about it.

What else is new? One thing I am following up is a suitable hall for the 5 May fundraiser for the School of St Jude in Sydney that I am coordinating. Option 1 didn’t pan out, so I’m pursuing options 2 and 3.

Oh, yes! There’s an exciting new widget for the blog that I’m working on. More later!

Have you checked out the YouTube link in the sidebar to see and hear St Jude’s kids singing songs? Very cute!

Always the builders!

When a school is growing by 150 children a year, teaching is carried out against the constant background of building and renovation. This is the new classroom block at the School of St Jude in December 2006. By 12 January, it was open for business!

During the Christmas holidays, the builders can REALLY get to work unencumbered by the presence of children. One important renovation during the recent holidays was the office expansion. The admin area seems to double each year. Kim says

It’s hard to believe that we expanded last Christmas and already have outgrown the space. In a week or so I hope I won’t be shuffling sideways past desks to get to mine while apologising to Lulua for knocking her off her chair.

I laugh when people ask if I’m enjoying the holidays – HOLIDAYS!? Along with the builders, we in admin work harder when the school is ‘closed’! So much to do to prepare for the next term and normally I’d say at least it’s a bit quieter but at the moment we are coping with the demolition derby next door and all the dust and rubble that it brings. Still, it will be worth it in the end … Lulua will certainly think so.
Office renovations

African style building has some colourful results. Thnext photo shows the site behind the office which has been the dumping ground for broken branches, unearthed tree stumps and homeless logs from all around.

Not a chainsaw

The photo was taken four weeks after the work started so it doesn’t show the true size of the massive deadwood forest that was there originally. Although the cooks would come and grab armfuls of the smaller stuff for the kitchen, the pile just kept growing like the magic packet of TimTams.

During Operation Cleanup, Gemma found a wily old local bloke who offered to chop the lot and clearly it was going to take a chainsaw, so Gemma gave him money to hire the machine in town. Instead, he hired two of his mates for a lot less! Although they are less noisy, it has taken a lot longer. The beautiful smell of seasoned wood wafting through office window tells Kim and other office workers that it’s not a tennis court despite all the hacking and grunting!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Support it! Wear it!

Ooooh! Look what was waiting in our letterbox last night!

Hal in the St Jude t-shirt – it's organic cotton!

We’re in the process of setting up an online shop to sell items relating to the school and with all profits to benefit the school. This is a trial order to check out the process and the quality of the goods.

Imagine it! You can be a walking billboard for the school! Send greeting cards with cute kids smiling from them, drink coffee from St Jude mugs, etc, etc!

The online shop should be ready to launch in the next few weeks. You can be sure that you’ll hear about it here!

Monday, February 05, 2007


Do statistics make your eyes glaze over? You won’t think so after you have seen Hans Rosling’s remarkable presentation of 30-year trends on world health, education and wealth.

The animated graphics prepared by Gapminder provide a wonderfully clear explanation of the Human Development Trends, and transform development statistics into dynamic and mesmerising journeys. Well, they do for me!

Gapminder chart: GDP per capita and education levels

Using these tools Gapminder's founder, Hans Rosling, proves in a brilliant presentation that development statistics can be very entertaining. Check out the video presentation of his talk at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) site.

Then you can cruise over to Gapminder and play with their animated charts and maps. Set your own questions, quiz yourself.

  • Which one country is outstanding in going backwards on child (under 5 years) mortality in the past 10 years while all other countries have made significant advances? Iraq. Evidence of the superior foresight of the Bush Administration.
You’ll find lots of surprises and quirks in these gorgeous playthings.

It's fun to check out your favourite countries on these charts. Tanzania, Australia, India, Norway. It's hard not to barrack for your favourites when you press the 'play' button on one of the dynamic charts and watch the dots move onward and upward from 1970 to 2003. Very exciting stuff. Or am I just nerdy?

Letters to politicians

In Australia, it is easy to write to politicians. Their addresses are available in handy formats ready for printing on address labels from the Australian Parliament website.

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I am writing to all members of the House of Reps to ask them to support Australia’s commitments on foreign aid. Well, I am in the midst of sending my letters. I am up to ‘H’.

Letters, labels and envelopes. And coffee! Tanzanian of course.

Last night’s cricket was a bit too exciting for the process of sticking the label on the envelope, signing the letter, folding it and stuffing it in the envelope. Besides, I was feeling tired. So, as the weekend has slipped away from me, I decided to do a few before breakfast. And that’s what my photo shows.

Better get on with it!

P.S. A reminder: As part of the Millenium Development Goals, the Australian Government has committed to give 0.7% GDP as foreign aid. It currently gives 0.25% (rising to .35%). It is dragging its heels on its commitments. It needs to be nudged by voters otherwise this neglect will continue.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The $100 computer

Two IT industry heavyweights are vying for Third World computer markets. On the one hand there is Nicholas Negroponte, an IT guru whose nonprofit organization One Laptop Per Child is trying to develop a children’s computer – the XO is designed to sell for $100 by the end of 2008.
photoNegroponte shows a prototype of his $100 computer at Davos 2007

In the other corner there is Craig Barrett ex-chairman of Intel who is busily developing a similar low-cost computer. The two are trading in head-to-head competition. Negroponte positions himself as the good guy.

“Craig and I sometimes argue, and he called our thing a ‘gadget,’ ” Mr. Negroponte said, referring to the XO. “I’m glad to see he’s got his own gadget now. Craig has to look at this as a market, and I look at this as a mission.”

This combative stance is doing little to forge a common strategy that helps bring computer technology to advance economic and educational development. I suppose that it does give choice.

These high-level fancy technology projects always seem a bit pie in the sky to me. I’m inclined to leave them to someone else and to focus my own energy on what can be achieved here and now – like the School of St Jude which is one of the best schools in Northern Tanzania. It provides free education (no extra charges, the school even provides lunches, uniforms and bus transport) for bright children from the poorest families.

Computer lesson at School of St Jude

The Bill + Melinda Gates Foundation started out with a primary focus on the long term goal of finding a vaccine for malaria and funded several major medical research projects. However, in response to criticism that this long-term approach neglected the immediate problem, the Foundation has directed some funds to more immediate project. A $35 million grant to Zambia to fund nets, existing drugs, and insecticide is expected to reduce malaria mortality by 75% in the next five years.

Little people like us can work on the immediate needs – our small dollars can achieve thousands of small benefits to millions of individuals. The big guys like governments and billionaires can work on long-term projects as well as the immediate ones.

In the time it takes to develop a radically cheap computer, get it made, sell it to poor countries and get it into classrooms (many of which don’t have electricity) a whole generation of children will have passed through the computer rooms at the School of St Jude.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Coffee — Black Gold

Wheat, barley and rye orginated in the fertile crescent of Iraq and enabled humans to give up nomadic herding and establish agriculture-based villages – the basis of all civilised life. Tomatoes, corn, and potatoes are native to the Americas, and are now endemic to world cuisine – what would Italian cooking be without tomatoes?

But what has East Africa contributed to the world? Coffee, that ubiquitous drink that is now an $80billion global industry, originated here. A lot of people have become rich through coffee, Starbucks buys 11% of world production, but the small coffee producers of East Africa live in deep poverty.

Ninety-five percent of Tanzania’s coffee is grown by 400,000 small-scale farmers owning fewer than ten acres of land. Coffee is Tanzania’s largest export crop but small-scale farmers have not reaped the benefits because of policies that have restricted their direct access to the international coffee market. USAID supports programs that allow better trading conditions for small producers in Tanzania.

The School of St Jude is located at the foot of Mt Meru in the prime coffee growing area of Tanzania. The School gives many poor families who depend on coffee production the chance for their children to get a good education.

Private philanthropy, like your donations to the School of St Jude, can help fill the gaps left by unfair trading systems, but the system continues to be unfair. So, it is good to see organisations working to change the system. One initiative to look out for is a new documentary film, called Black Gold, that looks at coffee growing in Ethiopia. Made in 2006, it is doing the round of film festivals and should be released for general viewing later in 2007.

Black Gold Movie

Black Gold is an activist film that aims to point at unfair practices and to change them. Their website has a forum that addresses issues of coffee production, Fair Trade, Starbucks and actions you can take.

If you live in the US, you can buy Peets ’Tanzania Kilimanjaro’ – the 840 growers that supply it get 50% above market rates for their quality beans.

In Australia, Oxfam sells a Fair Trade coffee that is sourced partly from Tanzania – my Christmas supply is nearly finished. Time for more!

On the basis that I need to help at two levels – filling gaps in the system (through support of St Judes) AND changing the system — I am on a letter writing campaign. I am writing to all 150 members of the House of Representatives to ask them to raise the level of Foreign Aid that Australia gives and to target it at extreme poverty. Currently, Australia gives only .26% of GDP as foreign aid, placing it fourth-last of OECD countries. It has committed to increasing this to 0.5% by 2010 and 0.7% by 2015 and these amounts will be needed if the Millenium Development Goals are to be met, because it looks like they won't be at this rate.

I have drafted the letter, printed copies and bought the envelopes and stamps. Folding and stuffing 20 envelopes a day is quite soothing! Especially when we lose the cricket, as we did last night — ending Australia’s perfect summer.

There is an interesting update about the film and related issues on the Poverty News blog. 15 Feb 2007.