Monday, April 30, 2007

Ramping up education

The School of St Jude has been established at a critical time for Tanzanian education. Just when the school was established in 2002, the Tanzanian government was able to remove fees for primary schooling and has welcomed an additional 2.8 million children into primary schools. As you would expect in ANY system, this has put a massive strain on the existing schools and teachers as they have been swamped by new students.

The government has been building schools and training teachers, but teacher/student ratios have risen from 46 to 59 during the transition, as I outline here.

Well-appointed classroom at School of St Jude

Now attention is beginning to turn towards secondary schooling. Last Tuesday, African education experts from 20 countries called on African governments and development agencies to pay greater attention to the large number of children who fail to proceed to secondary school because of limited opportunities. (Reported here).

The experts, who are meeting in Addis Ababa, said African governments need to consolidate the gains made in universal primary education by abolishing school fees for secondary education, investing more in vocational and technical education and job training.

Countries like Tanzania have succeeded in increasing primary school enrolments largely by abolishing school fees and recruiting more teachers. However, the transition rates for children from primary to secondary school remain relatively poor.

Burundi, Mozambique, and Tanzania were cited as countries that have transition rates of below 35 %, meaning less than four out of every 10 children make it to secondary school.

As you know, Gemma is planning to build a secondary school for her kids. Not only will this give them a continuation of the excellent education they have received so far, but it will free up places in the government run secondary schools.

Here in Australia, we really have no idea of what conditions are like in the very poorest countries. I have read blogs of Peace Corps teachers in Tanzania who note that the local teachers often don’t turn up for work, or if they turn up, they hang around socialising with each other and don’t actually go to the classroom. Apparently this is a major and pervasive problem because I read about it in India, too. One solution tried in India was to tie salary to evidence of being at school. In 60 schools, teachers had to ask a student to take a photo of himself/herself along with at least eight other students at the start and end of school, which had to be at least five hours apart.

Over 18 months, the 'camera' schools recorded teacher absence of 22%, against 42% for similar schools not in the camera program. Teachers are paid poorly, given few resources and not supervised – so they barely show their face in the classroom.

Unimaginable for us, but normal in desperately poor countries.

I am hugely grateful that Gemma has the passion and skills to address the huge difficulties in trying to provide excellent education in a third world country.

As she says in her book, it is a million times harder than she anticipated. And SHE was well-prepared by some years teaching in Uganda, and supported by her Tanzanian husband and family. Who else in the world could do what she is doing?

So, if you want to see something different happening in the next generation, give this woman all the support you can. Her teachers turn up every day.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007


Until last week, I had barely heard of Tanzanite. When I heard that it is mined near Arusha, I thought I should find out about it.

I discovered that Tanzanite is unique to a single deposit in the Merelani Hills, making it much more rare than diamonds.

The Coloured Gemstone Association says

The deep blue of the tanzanite is fantastic, and runs from ultramarine blue to light violet-blue. The most coveted colour is a blue surrounded by a delicate hint of purple, which has a particularly wonderful effect in sizes of over 10 carats. The well developed polychromaticity of the tanzanite is typical: depending on the angle from which you look at it, the stone may appear blue, purple or brownish-yellow.

Here are three colours that can show in a single stone, depending on the angle of the light.

The tanzanite mines at Merelani are divided into sections. Some sections are operated under lease by large scale miners such as the South African company Tanzanite One. This company runs a complete operation from mining, grading, and marketing the gems. It is working to have tanzanite accepted internationally as the December birthstone.

Other leases are run by the ‘informal artisans’ I blogged about earlier. It is in these unregulated areas that poverty results in the tragedies of desperation. IRIN, the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reports that some 30,000 miners work to depths of up to 300 meters without safety regulations, or a daily wage. Dynamite accidents, collapsing mines and floods have caused hundreds of deaths during the past five years. Everyday, 4,000 child miners between the ages of 8 and 14 risk their lives in poorly constructed mine shafts for barely a meal a day.

IRIN has a film about child labour in the tanzanite mines here.

Terri Hatcher shows off her Tanzanite ring

Predictions are that tanzanite will run out in about 15-20 years. So there is only a short window of opportunity to ensure that the benefits of this resource flow to the local communities and to the traditional owners of the land.

The School of St Jude provides free education, meals and uniforms to 850 bright children from the poorest families in the district. Next year it will be doing this from two campuses. Each year, more families will benefit from having one of their children well-educated at the School of St Jude. This will help protect them from the desperate situation of scratching in the dirt in the hope of finding a pretty stone to adorn people born into more fortunate circumstances.

Next time you buy something pretty, why not drop in here and donate $30 to buy books for the school library of St Jude’s? Buy something for yourself, then buy something for someone else.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Update on water

The Australian government has announced that the Murray-Darling water system, one of the biggest river system in the world, has run out of water. Unless there is good soaking rain widespread across the catchment in the next six weeks, there will be ZERO water allocation for farm use or for environmental flows across the whole 2,700km length of the catchment. The only permitted water use will be drinking and sanitation water for the towns and villages. The Murray-Darling contains 42% of Australia’s farmland and produces 40% of the nation's food. So you can see what is at risk.

Tanzania also knows the burden of drought. A young volunteer with the Peace Corps in Tanzania writes –

The poverty is crushing, pervasive and absolute. For me, the image that captures life in rural Africa is women carrying buckets of water on their heads. This single image is deceptively simple and genial. In fact, it is the figure of women walking, shouldering these heavy burdens, that most fully captures the poverty, the suffering and the culture of rural life.

Driving into a village means passing women and girls lining the road either on their way to the well or returning from it. These water sources can be 5-6 kilometers from the village and these women must make this journey twice a day. Often, this trip can take four hours round trip. Imagine walking 3 km in the morning, making the return trip with a full bucket of water, then, using that water for all the work of laundry, cooking, and cleaning, only to have to walk those same 6 km again in the evening, often returning after dark.

Girls from the Girls' Secondary School in Korogwe carry buckets of water to the garden: Water Wise Schools

Anthea, an Arusha local, has commented that she never sees students from St Jude's carrying water, unlike students at most other schools. It seems to be a special privilege that kids can go to school and actually spend most of their time learning instead of labouring!

In her talk at the book launch, Gemma gave an update on the School’s efforts to guarantee a reliable water supply that I blogged about here. She said that on their sixth attempt, at around $15,000 for each attempt, they have found water at 95 metres. Our ChipIn contribution will help ensure good water supplies for the school. As Gemma said,

It doesn’t matter how much you give. $10 will buy a bag of cement and that will lay two courses of bricks in a wall that will serve generations of kids.

So, as you stand under the shower tomorrow morning, spare a thought for the women and girls in Tanzania who carry buckets of water for kilometers every day. And be glad that your contributions to the School of St Jude are giving some of the smartest girls in the Arusha district the chance to break out of the relentless cycle of poverty. No wonder they are glad to come to school on Saturdays.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

The grand plan

It was great to hear Gemma talk about her plans for the school.

It was clear that once you start helping these kids, you have to stick with it. Gemma can't just help a bit for a few years and then leave them to it. These kids come from the poorest of households. Gemma told us about Albert, who came first out of 17,000 kids in the Standard 4 exams in 2006. He leaves home at 5.00am each day to walk for an hour and a half to the road where the one of the colourful buses from the school comes by. He rides four abreast in the crowded bus along pot-holed dirt roads for more than an hour to arrive at school. Then he studies, eats and plays for the day. Last year, with all the other Standard 4 students he stayed back after school every day, worked through the vacations and came to school on Saturdays to learn more. The jellybean buses do extra duty for the Standard 4 kids to make sure they can get home even after working extra hours.

So, what will happen when Albert finishes primary school? Do you think his parents will magically find the fees to send him to secondary school? That simply can't happen. Perhaps he will eke out a living in subsisistence farming, or in a mine, or as a farm labourer, or menial work in a local market, or domestic servant, or if he is lucky he might learn a trade and become a mechanic or a tailor.

Albert is second from the left in this group of St Jude's kids who were in the top 10 amongst 17,000 students in the local district.

Gemma's school, the School of St Jude, is like an ark for these kids and their families. She plans to see them right through to the end of their education.

She already has plans to build a secondary school for her kids, and at the book launch, she shared with us her dream to build a Teachers College.

I can't wait for the day that we have St Jude's kids come back as teachers.

By the time the oldest kids finish High School, Gemma hopes to have set up a scholarship fund that will ensure that all her kids can get a tertiary education in Africa. She was adamant about the 'in Africa' bit.

There's no way I'm letting them leave!!

Her vision is for these kids to contribute to their homeland. She is educating the future leaders of Tanzania.

This is a massive task that relies on her energy, persistence and endurance. You and I can give our encouragement and support to help ensure that the long term goals are met, step by step.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The book launch was great!

Just as I was trying to squeeze my car into a too-small spot after circling the streets several times, the car in front moved off and I just slipped in! A good omen for the Sydney book launch for Gemma’s book St Jude’s last night. Gemma must have signed more than 300 books!

Gemma's amazing mother is helping on this book launch tour

On a wet night in Sydney (hurray!!!), about 250-300 people attended the book launch, and many of us bought several copies of St Jude’s. We got one for ourselves and one for Hal’s daughter.

Book signing went smoothly with the assistance of champagne, Pan Macmillan’s rep, and happy good will from people waiting in queues.

I introduced myself to Gemma as the crazy lady with the blog – she knew me straight away and earmarked me for a job! I couldn’t be happier.

After snacking, drinking, buying books and getting them signed, we went off to a newly painted auditorium with its heritage architectural features to listen to Gemma give an outline of current activities at the school. I’ll share bits and pieces over the next few days, as they come to me. In the meantime, check out the schmoozing, Sydney-style.

Excellent nibbles – the home-made cheesy biscuits were my favourite!

Catching up with friends getting more books signed!

Today is Anzac Day in Australia. The US equivalent is Veterans Day. Here it is a public holiday and is marked by commemorative services in every town and city. Every small town has its war memorial and every town has a service on Anzac Day.

I remember when I was a small girl living in a small country town, I was a Brownie (a junior Girl Guide) and we were involved in the commemorative service at the town war memorial. In a small-town kind of way, they rounded up anyone in uniform (Boy Scouts and Girl Guides were good!) and created a ceremony that usually involved wreath-laying, playing the last post, and a minute of silence to remember those who gave their lives in defence of their country.

In the big cities, the Anzac Day marches are huge, closing down the city centre for half a day. For hours, the veterans or their descendants, march with pipe bands or brass bands or military bands along streets lined with people waving flags and holding sprigs of rosemary – for remembrance.

So, today my gratitude is large for those who died and suffered to defend this country that I love. And, as I woke to the sound of steady, gentle rain, I can't help be glad that we have had several days of rain.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

New anti-corruption bill

The Tanzanian National Assembly has approved a new anti-corruption bill that will become law after approval by President Jakaya Kikwete.

This is a new milestone for the government. I have blogged here and here about how the Tanzanian government has been dragging its feet in addressing corruption. One cost has been the loss of some aid that is tied to milestones that have not been met.

In the recent sitting at Dodoma in central Tanzania, a record number of 57 members of parliament aired their opinion in the debate about the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bill 2007.

The Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bill offers such new measures in the country's anti- corruption campaign as the formation of an anti-corruption board that will comprise the police, the national intelligence service and representatives from the private sector. Some of the powers of the director of public prosecutions will be reduced.

The bill will also spell out regulations for international agencies, companies, and non-governmental organizations operating in the country.

The bill has incorporated the proposed anti-corruption act the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, the African Union Convention on Prevention and Combating Corruption, the Southern African Development Community Protocol Against Corruption and Tanzania's public procurement act.

This is an important step in making governance better. It is vital that assistance to Tanzania comes at both the individual level and the national level. The children who are getting an excellent education at the School of St Jude, need to find work in a country that is well governed.

Tonight, at the book launch event I attended, Gemma spoke a little about corruption in Tanzania. She seems to have it sorted out! She says, “That’s just Africa”, and gets on with achieving her goals while protecting the school from blatant rorts.

Gemma Sisa at book launch in Sydney

For example, she described the 30 acres of land she has bought at Usa River. This was part of 130 acres. She asked the Government surveyor to measure off her 30 acres, and got a work team started on building security walls around her portion. She asked them to leave two ends of the walls unfinished till the survey was completed.

Then she asked a second surveyor to confirm the survey. Guess what? The Government surveyor had measured only 28 acres. The owners said her second survey was wrong. So she got a third survey – 28 acres. Still the owners argued. At this point she was glad that her father-in-law is a local man of some weight. They convened a meeting with the owners and the three surveyors and her father-in-law helped them all work through the issues.

The true 30 acres was agreed, the security walls were extended by 24 feet and the school has the amount of land they paid for.

“That’s Africa,” says Gemma Sisia, and gets on with building schools and educating kids.

Are you a supporter of the school? Have you visited the school? Met Gemma? Know someone who is helping at the school? Why not use the comment section to introduce yourself... We'd love to hear about you.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Get the book!

Right now Gemma Sisia is criss-crossing Australia visiting cities and regional towns to meet with the thousands of supporters who are encouraging her work at St Jude’s.

She is talking on the media and attending book launch events that have been organised by her supporters. I will be attending an evening talk tomorrow night where I plan to take lots of photos, and meet some interesting people. You’ll hear about some of it here on the blog in the coming days. Look here for a schedule of these book launch events.

In the mean time, you can contact a book shop near you for a copy of the book, ‘St Jude’s’, check here to see if your local library has it and if they don’t, ask them to get it in. It’s one book that every library should have! When you buy a copy, or get your library to buy a copy, some money goes to the school. Buy two! One for you and one for a friend. And when you lend your copy, ask your friend to make a donation to the school.

You can buy the book online through Collins Booksellers.

If you are a regular user of Australian libraries, this National Library of Australia site will tell you which libraries in Australia hold the items you are interested in. Isn’t that too cool? In fact the whole National Library is a wonderful free resource. If you are in Canberra, take a look at the beautiful foyer with its coffee shop and book shop.

National Library of Australia: Foyer with famous stained glass

There is usually a high-quality exhibition in the gallery, too. When they showed ‘International Treasures from the World’s Great Libraries’, they attracted such crowds that they had to stay open 23 hours a day! It was the most amazing exhibition event in Australian history.

Only one more sleep till I get to mingle with all the wonderful supporters of the amazing School of St Jude.

Things I am grateful for today –
  • Good drenching rain here in Sydney. Not in the catchment, but very welcome nevertheless.
  • Hybrid cars – we're looking at buying a Toyota Prius. What a clever car!

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Computers for African schools

Some years ago, a mature-age British couple on safari in Tanzania visited Tengeru Primary School in the Arumeru District of Arusha. They were so touched by the poverty of the school that serves nearly 400 students, that, as reported on AllAfrica, they have been sending donations to the school regularly.

Last week another consignment of goods arrived, including text books, exercise books, pens, pencils, crayons, safety scissors, sporting gear and assorted toys. And, most wonderful of all, the consignment included a computer complete with a printer, a flat monitor and other peripherals. This seems to be the way schools in Tanzania are resourced, see my blog about the recent container of goods that arrived at the School of St Jude.

The Tengeru computer has been set up in the Livestock Training Institute next door, in a room the school has hired. So now the 400 students have the chance to go next door and use the computer that has been so generously donated to their school.

You have probably guessed why they have to go next door - yes, Tengeru Primary School does not have electricity. The school chairman, Dennis B. Mushairizi explains that they have been applying for an electricity connection for more than 10 years now, but TANESCO (Tanzania Electricity Supply Company) hasn't managed to provide it, though the institutions on each side of them are connected.

Perhaps the publicity in the Arusha Times about the 'computer-next-door' might trigger some action from the apparently inept TANESCO. But even if the school gets electricity connected, the regular blackouts will render their computer unworkable on a regular basis.

The Tengeru Primary School works very hard with the resources they have. All 59 candidates who sat for the Class Seven National Examinations in 2006 passed - no one failed.

This example has me wondering about the pitfalls ahead of the One Laptop Per Child program that is trying to provide $100 laptops to schools in poor countries. Computers in classrooms need a lot more than the hardware. While the $100 laptop project may go a long way towards providing basic hardware, it's going to need massive support resources if it is to make a difference at the grassroots level. The elegance of the One Laptop website might indicate that they have innovative solutions to old problems, or it might just mean they have a great graphic designer!

All in all, I have solid confidence in the approach of the School of St Jude. Their latest container of goods (blogged here) contained 160 second hand computers for the current school, the new school under construction at Usa River and the boarding school. The school already owns two large diesel generators to provide power during blackouts.

New computer equipment arrives at School of St Jude

There are so many ways you can support schools in Tanzania. They have so little that everything you give makes a huge difference. You really can't do anything better.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Tanzania’s mineral wealth

We hear so much about diamond mines in South Africa and Australia (fabulous pink Argyle diamonds), that we never find out that diamonds are one of Tanzania’s main resources. Mining for diamonds and other precious gems, including Tanzanite which is unique to Tanzania is an important local industry. Unlike South Africa and Australia, diamond mining in Tanzania is dominated by lots of small scale informal miners who are more akin to fossickers than industrial workers.

The industry refers to this as “informal (artisanal) alluvial diamond digging”. Sounds almost quaint doesn’t it? It doesn't look so quaint.

In the past, little of the wealth from this industry has stayed in the country, so the Tanzanian government is taking steps to improve the way the industry is run, starting with a pilot project at the Williamson mine at Mwadui.

The Mwadui Community Diamond Partnership (MCDP) pilot project was initiated in Tanzania in August 2006. Its overarching goal is to alleviate poverty and improve the health and wellbeing of small-scale informal diamond mining communities around the Williamson mine at Mwadui, which is operated by Williamson Diamonds Limited. The partners in the project are De Beers, Williamson Diamonds Limited, the government of Tanzania – represented at national, regional and district level – the local communities, the UN and NGO organisations.

The Mwadui Community Diamond Partnership will address its goal through socio-economic development partnerships, the identification of sustainable alternative livelihoods, organisational and technical support to help formalise sustainable small-scale mining activities, and the design and implementation of innovative technology.

De Beers is contributing US$2mill and the project is expected to run for 3-5 years.

Key deliverables from this project are –

  • 1. Small scale, viable, regulated mining industry supported by government valuation expertise
  • 2. Fair prices paid directly to miners, facilitated by a 'smart card'and verified by a third party
  • 3. Sustainable business model for small scale diamond mining with innovative project finance
  • 4. Sustainable alternative livelihoods focusing on farming productivity and business supplies
  • 5. Health needs in the region met, specifically preventing and managing HIV/AIDS, malaria
  • 6. Education and training needs met, particularly school feeding and skills transfer for miners
The project began in September 2006 and is on track to a multi stakeholder meeting at the end of April to agree on the final implementation plan.

In very poor countries, these matters of governance and systems need to be addressed and supported through wide partnerships that bring skills and funding to the table. The government alone does not have the money to fund projects like this. So it is very appropriate that large companies that benefit from business in the country should contribute towards improving the economic conditions.

In the Tanzanian education sector, privately run schools make a huge contribution to the education system overall. Of course, most private schools serve students who can afford to pay the fees. It is only the rare school like St Jude’s that provides free education to bright children from the poorest homes who would otherwise be lucky to scrape a few years in an over-crowded, under-resourced community school.

With your help, these children can get an excellent education. Projects like the Mwadui Community Diamond Partnership will help to ensure that they grow up in a country that has more effective systems for managing industries and the economy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Chipin donation for water tanks

Thank you, thank you to everyone who contributed towards the $120 for water tanks at the School of St Jude using the ChipIn donation tool on this website. The money has been forwarded to the School and I’ll post pictures of the new water resources when I get them – maybe after our September visit, so don’t go holding your breath!

Tanzanian cricketers to visit Australia

Here’s a piece of news that I’m just catching up with. Cricinfo reports that the Tanzania cricket team will be coming to Australia in May to participate in the ICC World Cricket League Division Three competition.

It will be played in Darwin between 27 May and 6 June 2007. I wonder how much we will see broadcast? I guess that Cricinfo will be my best resource to find out how things are going.

Captain: Hamisi Abdullah

The ICC runs international cricket. Apart from the top tier Test competition, there are five divisions for international competition, so it is to Tanzania’s credit that they made it into the Third Division. Neighbouring Kenya is the leading African cricket team and they are playing in the First Division. The teams playing in the Third Division in Darwin will be –
  • Argentina, Cayman Islands, Fiji, Hong Kong, Italy, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania and Uganda

The US team had won a place in the Third Division, but they have been suspended from the ICC due to issues of poor governance (whatever that means). So here is one field where Tanzania is outperforming the mighty USA. Then, again, the current corruption scandal around Wolfowitz of the World Bank suggests that Tanzanian officials are no worse than officials in other countries when it comes to correct behaviour.

To prepare for Darwin, the Tanzanian team has travelled to India for a 20-day training spell. Cricket was brought to Tanzania by British and Asian residents in the late 1800s. It has been reinvigorated in recent years and is supported by development initiatives for juniors and women’s cricket, coordinated by Tanzania Cricket.

Somehow, it seems important to know that a Tanzanian national sporting team has opportunities to participate in international sporting events. It’s all part of the complex web of exchanges that keep us connected.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Nothing better to do

The Global Philanthropy Forum is one of those high-powered organisations that supports the international philanthropic community. It matches grantmakers to vehicles for overseas giving, and addresses international issues of concern.

At their recent Forum, President Clinton was one of the inspirational speakers. He closed his remarks with this thought:
Who needs to be involved in changing the world? You do. After all, you don't have anything better to do.

As he had spoken of the "unequal, unstable and unsustainable" nature of our world and exhorted us to consider the powerful contributions all of us can make toward building "integrated communities with empowered people," his final words rang clear.

I have also been listening to Jeffrey Sachs who is giving the Reith Lectures for the BBC. Transcripts, webstreaming and MP3 downloads are available here.

In the first lecture, Sachs points out that this year the US will spend $650billion on defence, compared with $4billion on assistance to poor African countries. He suggests that climate change is already causing famine and war, and he notes that throughout history, when people have to choose between starving or raiding their neighbours, they always choose to raid the neighbours.

He notes that while peace-keeping is part of the solution, a deeper part of the solution is to address the systemic factors that cause starvation. In the news today there are reports that the tussle between subsistence farmers and nomad grazers in Darfur is spilling over into Chad. Dozens of villages have been destroyed. Libya is stationing troops along their border in a bid to prevent raiders moving into that country too.

I wonder what would happen if the US directed a large chunk of its defence budget to providing basic resources as a foundation for sustainable living for Africa's most vulnerable people?

All in all, I’m glad to offer my assistance to a project like the School of St Jude, which gives free education to bright children from the poorest families. I really don’t have anything better to do.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Latest news

The March newsletter for the School of St Jude is available on the school website.
I always enjoy the newsletter because it shows what is happening right now and includes lots of photos.

The big news this month is the schedule of book launch events in Australia from 20 April - 8 May. More details here.

The newsletter also shows the energy generated when a container load of ‘stuff’ arrives at the school.
It’s like Christmas in March.

The container was sent from Brisbane, thanks to the care and efforts of the Rotary Club of Rocklea. It travels two months at sea, waits a month on the hot dock in Dar es Salaam and then about 15 hours on the back of a truck across Tanzania to the School in Arusha.

When a container lands, every pair of hands within ‘cooee’ is available—this 40 foot container was offloaded in an hour !

. . . . . . . . . . .

On another note, I’m going to try to spend a little more time each day deepening my practice of gratitude. I thought I would use this blog to report a couple of small things each day that I feel genuinely grateful for. Here we go –
  1. Yesterday I particularly enjoyed working on the quilt I am making for Blanche. There’s a photo here of the applique in blue and green that I just finished.
  2. Right now the early sunlight is falling on the bushland outside my window and the lorikeets and other parrots are feeding noisily on nectar from gum tree flowers, camellias, etc.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Reward yourself!

Go on, do it now. Instant gratification guaranteed. Give a few dollars to the School of St Jude and see how good it makes you feel.

Two recent studies by psychologists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to visualize the brain's activity while people played computer games that enabled them to earn money for real-life charities.

One study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved about 20 people, each of whom had the potential to walk away with a pot of $128. They were also given a separate pool of funds, which they could choose to distribute to a variety of charities. A computer presented each charity to the subjects in series, and gave them the option to donate, to oppose donation, or to receive a payoff, adding money to the pot. Sometimes, the decision to donate or oppose was costly, calling for subjects to take money out of the pot.

It turned out that a similar pattern of brain activity was seen when subjects chose either to donate or take a payoff. Both types of decisions were associated with heightened activity in parts of the midbrain, a region deep in the brain that is known to be involved in primal desires (such as food and sex) and the satisfaction of them.

This result provides the first evidence that the "joy of giving" has an anatomical basis in the brain – surprisingly, one that is shared with selfish longings and rewards.

So, now we have the evidence – reward yourself by using the ChipIn tool on this website to support the School of St Jude as it educates bright children in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Too many good causes

What triggers us to help a worthwhile cause? How do we choose which cause to help? I often notice that people support a cause because of a personal connection. A sister has breast cancer, so they raise funds for the Cancer Council; their child has an accident, so they support the burns unit of the hospital. Mel Gibson gave $US1mill to his old school, NIDA.

I became interested in the School of St Jude after seeing the TV program ‘Australian Story’ featuring Gemma Sisia. This was an entirely new direction for me. I had never paid much attention to Africa because India has always been the country that caught my imagination. I travelled through India in my early 20s as I went overland Katmandu to London. I enjoy Indian culture, artefacts, music and spiritual writings. And India has been poor enough to call our assistance.

A few years ago, Ross Gittins, economics editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote about the ‘Africanisation’ of poverty. This opened my eyes to the shifting landscape and I became more aware of Africa. Then the Millennium Development Goals were formulated and the picture became clearer for me. So, when I became ready to give in a more substantial way, it was Africa that called me. Clearly the need is greatest there.

I am filled with hope that severe poverty can be eliminated in my lifetime. Before the Industrial Revolution, most people in the world, including today’s developed countries, lived a survival existence of short lifespans, high infant mortality, low literacy, and chronic illness. Only one hundred years ago, the British soldiers who fought WWI were so markedly under-nourished that they were inches shorter than Australians soldiers.

We forget that our developed countries have travelled this same path only very recently. If it was possible for us, it can be possible for Africa. Tanzania is working on better governance and improved infrastructure. The Tanzanian government is pouring all the resources it can get hold of from its own taxes and from aid (official and private) into health, education and infrastructure.

Your assistance of the School of St Jude will help these bright children from the poorest families and also help the country as a whole as it climbs onto the first rung of the ladder to prosperity.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Albedo Effect

Well, the latest report from the IPCC has been released. It confirms the growing concensus amongst reputable scientists that global warming is real and that human activity is a contributing factor.

Global warming will affect all of us, and it will affect the poorest countries the most as I have discussed here.

One of the websites I enjoy is where climate scientists discuss all the ins and outs of current science relating to climate, oceans, greenhouse gases, etc.

I enjoyed their April 1st posting on the hitherto unrecogised Albedo Effect announced in a press conference by Dr. Ewe Noh-Watt of the New Zealand Institute of Veterinary Climatology. Noh-Watt and his co-workers, describing work funded by a generous grant from the Veterinary Climate Science Coalition, declared "We have seen the future of climate – and it is Sheep."

Their hypothesis notes the strong correlation between the falling population of sheep in New Zealand and increasing global temperatures. The Albedo Effect accounts for the link – fewer sheep mean there is less white wool reflecting heat back from the planet. The result is global warming.

You need to read the whole article to appreciate the full joy of this scientific whimsy. The comments that follow the article are just as fun.

Still, after all the fun, the kids at St Jude’s will still grow up in a fragile world where their country, Tanzania, will suffer increasing drought and reduced farm productivity as world temperatures rise.

I encourage you to do your bit to give them a better education and a more secure future.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Famous for their jellybean buses

In Arusha most buses are banged up old rattle-traps. That makes the colourful buses of the School of St Jude really stand out – even though they are just old rattle-traps in disguise. Anthea, an Arusha local, notes –

The pupils of St Jude’s come from all over Arusha in buses. My children and I have counted 12 at a time, all marked with the school’s familiar logo, all a different colour – orange, red, green, pink – so that it looks as if somebody’s emptying a packet of jelly beans down the road.

In the February newsletter, the School announced that they have been able to buy two more buses thanks to a Rotary Matching Grant initiated in 2005 by 11 Rotary Clubs in Australia, Italy, Tanzania and USA. How is that for global action!

The grant was valued at $US25,000. This allowed the School to buy two second-hand buses, weld them back together, and fit them out with some new parts, brand new tyres and a lot of love.

Before the 'extreme make-over'

After welding them all back together, they needed a new paint job and so for an extra few hundred dollars they were painted purple and pink and had the Rotary symbol painted onto the driver’s door of both vehicles. The kids and staff LOVE them and already the buses are getting a good workout with each vehicle bringing over 60 students and staff to and from school each day.

Here are the drivers George and Henry - proudly standing near their new buses.

And here are the treasurer of the Rotary Club of Mt Meru, Bhavesh Gohil and immediate past president Ashik Nanabhai with the bus their club helped to fund.

These jelly bean buses provide more than reliable transport. They communicate the cheerful optimism of the School as it educates the future community leaders of Tanzania.

Make your contribution to the School through the ChipIn tool at the top of the page, or go to the School website to sponsor a bus and help cover ongoing maintenance and running costs.

As it is Easter, the School is on vacation. Well, except for the Standard 4 classes who will sit the national exam at the end of the year. They work through the holidays, studying hard so they can do well in the exams. In term time, these Standard 4 classes work six days a week, but during vacation time, they get Saturdays off!

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Join a Working Team at the school in August!

In August a working team will be travelling from Australia to help the school build furniture for the new boarding school and the secondary campus at Usa River.

The team leaves Australia on 18th August and will fly back on 11th September. They will be spending around two weeks working at the school, going on a safari for 5 days and heading to Zanzibar for a few days rest.

The team still has a few spaces, so if you would like to be part of a really enriching and rewarding experience, now is your chance. You can look here to see what previous working teams have achieved at the School.

Gemma with some St Jude's students

Don't worry, you don't need to be a carpenter or even a Rotarian to join - just hardworking, willing and enthusiastic!

To find out more, contact Kelli Williams on

What a GREAT way to find out more about a new country and new culture! You can get a local perspective on the School of St Jude by checking out Anthea's blog. She was born in Africa and lives outside Arusha with her farmer-husband and three teenagers. She says:

Ask any child in the West what they want and they’ll be hard pressed to decide between latest iPod or designer trainers. Ask an African child and they’ll tell you that more than anything in the whole wide world – they want to go to school.

In one of the poorest countries of the world, Tanzania, this is only possible through the help of people like you. Make it happen!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

What did I give this month?

At the end of each month, I check my bank balance and decide what to give to the School of St Jude. I try to give a regular amount each month because everything runs better when income is fairly steady. It's hard to manage large fluctuations in cash flow!

I check out the sponsor page at the School of St Jude website and consider what I'll sponsor this month. Most often I make a general donation that will be used for building projects, fuel, computers and whatever!

This month I decided to sponsor internet access for two classrooms. This will support the computers and internet infrastructure in the school, and contribute to technology for the new school that is under construction on the Usa River campus – due to open next year.

Learning to touch type

These bright children from the poorest homes can really benefit from access to excellent resources. At the School of St Jude, they can be in touch with the rest of the the world. Educational resources developed in First World countries become available to teachers and students in the poorest countries through modern technology.

Lend your assistance to this well-run project in Tanzania by making a small donation using the ChipIn tool on this page, or visit the school website to become a sponsor.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Does a country deserve the leaders it gets?

I am more than disheartened by the disasterous leadership shown in many African countries. African post-colonial history is littered with civil wars (Rwanda, Liberia, Congo, Sudan, Angola, Sierra Leone), straight-forward madness (Idi Amin) as well as sheer ignorance (Yahya Jammeh, the president of The Gambia, is currently promoting a herbal remedy for AIDS/HIV!).

Right now Zimbabwe is being dragged further into the abyss of destruction by President Robert Mugabe. Since 1980 he has held onto power and, combining poor economic decisions with violent corruption, he has wasted the future of the country.

Mugabe, 83, has been Zimbabwe's only ruler since it achieved independence from Britain 27 years ago.

Mugabe, blames the West for his mess

Under his rule, the once-prosperous country now faces its worst crisis with inflation running at more than 1,700 percent, soaring joblessness, and regular food and fuel shortages.

In an effort to foster an African solution, an emergency meeting of southern African leaders was held last week in Tanzania.

The talks were called by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe, after its attacks on opposition activists.

It is hard to see poor countries suffering from bad leadership that is intent on throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In their mission to reject the European countries that colonised their land, many new African nations have rejected all that the West has to offer. So one can’t help but feel hopeful about Tanzania when it demonstrates willingness to accept resources from the European Union (EU) to assist the ongoing talks between the country's two major opposing political parties.

The EU has pledged 8m euros to help the process of dialogue because it had been impressed by Tanzania's resolve to seek internal solutions to internal problems. Tanzania's ruling party and the country's main opposition started a new round of talks in January 2007 in hope of finding a way out of their political impasse.

The closed-door negotiations started with talks between Yussuf Makamba, secretary-general of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party (CCM), and Seif Shariff Hamad, secretary-general of the opposition Civic United Front party (CUF).

Now a special committee with five members from each of the CCM and the CUF is continuing the talks.

Intra-party relations entered an impasse in the wake of the 2005 general elections in Zanzibar, where the CCM won the polls with a small margin.

The CUF has been boycotting the activities of the Zanzibar House of Representatives though the party's elected members have been sitting through sessions of the Zanzibar parliament.
The opposition party claims that the October 2005 elections had irregularities and had been rigged by the ruling party.

This is the third formal talk between these two parties that concluded their previous talks in October 2001 with a peace accord known as Muafaka.

Kikwete: Mediates and seeks better government

One of the fruits of this dialogue is the outcome from the SADC meeting. After the meeting, President Kikwete announced:

The leaders have expressed great concern over the worsening political situation in Zimbabwe. The situation is not good both ways and SADC has decided to act.

Kikwete revealed that SADC had appointed President Mbeki to mediate in Zimbabwe on its behalf, underlining that SADC now had become a player in the country's crisis.

Both the ruling ZANU-PF party and Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were urged to cooperate with the South African President.

But as SADC was now taking on responsibility, President Kikwete urged Western powers to stop their one-sided actions against the Mugabe regime. "Diplomatic relations between Zimbabwe, the EU and the US are not healthy," he said, urging the West to engage in communication with Zimbabwe instead of isolating it. SADC leaders made it clear they would prefer the US and EU to lift their sanctions against Zimbabwe, claiming these only fuelled the conflict and the economic crisis.

Tanzania is showing great maturity in continuing two-party talks to resolve differences with its own political process; great maturity in accepting resources from the West that will enable the process; and great maturity in taking diplomatic initiatives to foster better government in neighbouring countries.

If you are looking for a project that can make a real difference in one of the world’s poorest countries, lend your support to the School of St Jude in northern Tanzania and help educate the future leaders of the country. Visit the school website or use the ChipIn tool on this blog.