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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