Thursday, May 31, 2007

Computers and cricket

Cricket update – Tanzania lost its game to Uganda in the World Cricket League Division Three contest currently underway in Darwin. But, as my mother would say, we just have to make the best of it and get on with things.

The main thing I want to share with you today is some news about a whole rash of new computers priced to be accessible to poor countries. I have blogged here about the One Laptop Per Child iments(OLPC) program of Negroponte that aims to provide $100 computers to schools in poor countries. Despite developing a suitable computer, OLPC is not finding buyers amongst governments of poor countries. This doesn't surprise me one bit. The poorest countries are struggling to build classrooms and train teachers to provide the rudiments of elementary education to their kids.

Sudeep Banerjee, India's education secretary, said,
We need classrooms and teachers more urgently than fancy tools.
One commentator says,
The OLPC project is based on the idea that just providing computers can make a huge difference, as children will spontaneously use them to make up for what they lack in books and other equipment and experiences. But many education researchers dispute this theory. And the more that classroom structure and teacher training is needed to maximize the computers' benefit, the more the programme will end up costing governments.

I was interested to read this report about competitors to OLPC. Intel has developed Classmate, and Novatium has developed NetPC, both aimed at schools in poor countries.

Intel's Classmate computer

It is great to see these developments because it means that when poor countries are ready to implement computers in schools, there will be a number of affordable options to meet their needs.

These new computers are a reflection of growing recognition that the slice of world population at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP), i.e. the poorest people, can be regarded as a viable market for goods and services. As these people/countries lift themselves out of dire poverty, they will enter world markets, both buying and selling. It is clear that a number of computer providers are positioning themselves to sell cheap computers to BOP markets – and education is the market they are tackling first.

Jhunjhunwala, the brains behind NetPC, aims to start where they can have a real effect — among the market of emerging middle classes and schools that can afford the computers and have the resources to use them effectively. He says that the OLPC will be irrelevant to developing countries because in the poorest strata of society "this toy will just be sold or stolen".

It's good to see that the governments of the poorest countries have the wisdom to see that the $100 computer is useless without the supports needed to use it effectively.

And it's great to see the School of St Jude has its own strategy for including computers in the classroom.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

World Cricket League, Day 1

Cricinfo reports the first day of competition in the World Cricket League, Div 3, tournament, being played in Darwin.

The opening pair of Steve Gordon and Ainsley Hall stroked unbeaten centuries to steer Cayman Islands to an easy 10-wicket victory over Tanzania. Gordon hit a 119-ball 104 laced with 12 fours and a six and Hall faced 150 balls for his 100 with 10 fours and three sixes as the Cayman Islands achieved victory target with 26 balls to spare. Tanzania, put into bat, made 206 for 6 with Athumani Kakonzi top scoring with a 105-ball 82. Shaheed Dhanani contributed 38. For the Cayman Islands, Ronald Ebanks snapped up 3 for 40.

Ah well.... 206 for 6 is not bad, especially as Cayman Islands is rated the strongest team in the tournament.

Actual education or phantom aid?

Earlier this month, I blogged about the pitiful level of Foreign Aid in the latest budget. I noted that the Australian government gives only .34% GNI as Foreign Aid, despite making international commitments to increase this to .7% GNI.

Investigative journalists at the Sydney Morning Herald have revealed that even this low level of aid is fudged. In a series of articles, Phantom Aid, they reveal that more than $600 million of Australia's foreign aid over the past two years never went overseas but was swallowed up in the coffers of a small Federal Government agency in Pitt Street, Sydney.

Examples of questionable aid identified by the Herald include:

  • A $27,758 payment AusAID made to the Australian law firm Sparke Helmore for legal assistance during the Cole inquiry into legal breaches of the UN oil-for-food program has been counted as foreign aid.
  • Another $81,993 described as foreign aid to Afghanistan between 2002 and 2004 was an Immigration Department assistance package for temporary protection visa holders in Australia.
  • Half a million dollars of last financial year's $23.4 million in aid for Nauru was to be spent on co-ordinating aid, while $1.3 million went on "logistics", providing housing, transport and other costs for Australian officials.
The following graph shows how countries rank on on their Commitment to Development.

The amount Australia contributes in Aid (the dark blue bit of each bar) is tiny, but this new information uncovered by the Herald, suggests that Australian Foreign Aid is even smaller, because the figures have been padded. The Government says that it is following the rules about what can be counted. I guess they are proud of being so mean-spirited.

One of the great things about the School of St Jude is that there is no hint of mean-spiritedness about it. The School is founded on generosity and care for others. It aims to provide actual education for bright children from the poorest families in one of the world's poorest countries. These children will benefit from the bricks and mortar school that is being built and run with your real help.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Tanzanian cricketers visit Australia

The Tanzanian national team is one of the eight nations playing in the World Cricket League Division 3 tournament in Darwin this week.

This tournament provides a stepping stone towards qualification for the 2011 World Cup. The top two teams from this event will join UAE, Namibia, Denmark and Oman in Windhoek, Namibia at the ICC World Cricket League Division 2, in November. The top teams from that tournament will go to the ICC World Cup Qualifier in the UAE in 2009.

Tanzania have prepared for the competition with a three week training camp in India in April, which saw them take on five local sides in warm-up matches. Hamisi Abdallah's side also gained valuable experience when they took on some of the Associate member countries taking part in the World Cricket League Division One in Nairobi in January, although they did suffer a 79 run defeat to Scotland.

I'm glad to see the Tanzanian national team visiting Australia. Cricket seems to be one of the most skilled and least violent of the big international games, so it is a sport that I would like to see encouraged. And, as the Australian government recently banned the Australian cricket team from visiting Zimbabwe as a sign of disapproval of the Mugabe regime, it is important that we put out the welcome mat for other African countries.

While I understand the impetus towards African solidarity, I am disturbed to see African countries put solidarity with the Mugabe regime ahead of broad principles of fairness and effective government. In the same way, I get annoyed by the stance that 'Africa is a hopeless case, look at Zimbabwe'. The poor practices of the Mugabe regime reflect on all African countries. So, I am glad that I have learnt a bit about Tanzania, because it allows me to point towards other African countries that are relatively well-run but still desperately poor.

What reason is there not to help, when you find a good project in a country that is working hard to improve the standard of governance and the economy? You can help to ensure that the future leaders of Tanzania, get an education that includes solid values as well as the broad foundations for effective professional lives.

Give your support to the School of St Jude, in Arusha, Tanzania and help Fight Poverty Through Education.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The woes of Kilimanjaro

The fabled glaciers on Tanzania's majestic mountain will soon be gone. Its forests are disappearing, too. For local farmers, this could mean disaster. For the rest of us, it's another permanent loss on an overheating planet.

Here is an insightful news item about the impact of global warming on Kilimanjaro and surrounding districts.

Mt Kilimanjaro is famous for the beauty of its glaciers and snowy cap which is especially remarkable as the mountain is right at the equator.

The article says,

Within the next 15 years, the glaciers atop Kilimanjaro are expected to disappear completely, and with them, some climate experts and government officials fear, a crucial portion of the region's water supply. Over 1 million people who inhabit the lower reaches of Kilimanjaro depend on this water for their crops, livestock and domestic purposes. Conflicts over water shortages have already broken out between water users on the mountain, and some villages have been nearly cut off by their upstream neighbors.

With declining precipitation levels driving glaciers toward extinction and threatening the area's forests, scientists, environmental organizations and even the Tanzanian government are turning their attention to a complex set of questions: How will water resources, and the humans who depend on them, respond if the ice and trees disappear? What will happen as the world's carbon levels continue to rise? For researchers and policymakers, the answers to these questions may be of academic interest or political concern, but for local people they are a matter of survival.

The School of St Jude is in the village of Moshono in Northern Tanzania, near Mt Kilimanjaro. The impact of climate change will affect the whole region.

Your contribution to quality education for bright children from poor families will help to give them a brighter future in these uncertain times.

No water, no power

Last year the Tanzanian electricity supply was wrecked due to the drought that knocked out the hydro generating plants. Today we hear that Australian electricity is threatened by our current drought. The National Electricity Marketing Management Corporation forecasts that the water crisis could cause power shortages next year unless action is taken. Water is needed for the Snowy hydro power, and also for cooling towers of coal powered generators.

Premier Iemma has responded immediately by allocating water reserves in the Hunter Valley for use by the big power stations in their cooling towers.

Bayswater Power Station, Hunter Valley, NSW

Also in the news today is the Australian government plan to spend $23 million telling us about its ‘leadership role’ and ‘balanced voice’ on global warming. No wonder voters are cynical about politicians! After years as a climate skeptic, Prime Minister Howard now wants us to see him as having shown leadership in this area. Leaders are supposed to drive the machine and steer it, not just apply the hand brake. Still, it's an election year, so what can we expect?

I wonder how far $23 million would go in Tanzania if it was invested in projects to produce electricity from renewable resources? Water used to be a renewable resource, but with global warming, that isn’t necessarily so any more. As most of their electricity is hydro, they have an urgent problem.

Climate skeptics are a dying breed. The evidence for global warming has become widely accepted on the basis of scientific concensus. Here’s an excellent resource, accessible and authoritive, for key information about global warming. The helpful guys at RealClimate say,

We've often been asked to provide a one stop link for resources that people can use to get up to speed on the issue of climate change, and so here is a first cut.

They point towards info at different levels – beginners to advanced – and have a handy set of links to answers for specific contrarian myths.

Our fearless leader

Like extreme poverty, climate change is one of the big issues that we need to know about if we are to live our lives responsibly and leave the world a little better for having been here.

So, keep learning, keep giving!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Best seller!

It is very exciting to see Gemma’s book, St Jude’s hitting the best seller lists.

St Jude’s hit Number One in the independent bookshops’ bestseller list on its first week in the list. It was Number two in biographies over all the bookshops (chains, Big Ws etc, as well as independents) and Number 5 over all for non-fiction. It’s a tribute to Gemma’s fantastic hard work flogging it around Australia and a great publicity tour from Pan Macmillan.

I find that St Jude’s is a great book for people who like an old-fashioned ‘good read’. Gemma has a great story to tell and she tells it with simple appreciation for both the rewards and challenges. In this way, it is similar to Albert Facey’s A Fortunate Life.

So, make sure you get a copy, and keep it in mind as a gift for birthdays and anniversaries. It is one of those books that is likely to become an enduring Australian classic. A People’s Classic.

Check out your local bookshop, or buy it online at Collins via the link in the sidebar.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Tanzanian coffee farmers go green

Coffee is one of the main crops in Northern Tanzania where the School of St Jude is located. Most coffee is produced by small farmers who are virtually subsistence farmers. They have few resources to improve their farms or farming practices, and they are badly affected when world coffee prices fall.

The Fair Trade movement has been important in improving their conditions. You can check out Black Gold, the film that spotlights the way poor coffee farmers are disadvantaged by market conditions.

Technoserve, has been helping Tanzanian coffee farmers by supporting an association called Kilicafe, comprising 93 farmer groups, and by lobbying the Tanzanian government to change rules that restricted direct sales to overseas buyers. This has allowed Kilicafe to work on producing and marketing quality coffee that they have successfully sold directly to the big US coffee merchant, Peets. In 2006, Starbucks tripled its orders from Kilicafe, directly impacting the income of over 10,000 smallholder coffee producers. Naturally, this means that the farmers receive higher prices and get a larger share of the sale price because middlemen are not involved.

Technoserve has helped Kilicafe farmers to develop business plans, get loans for processing equipment and establish market linkages with overseas buyers. TechnoServe’s coffee experts have also trained the group’s staff on coffee quality and financial management.

The BBC reports on another interesting development in the local coffee industry. A bio-gas converter, the first of its type in East Africa, is being tested by the 120 members of a local coffee farmers' group. Instead of using diesel to fuel the coffee processing machinery, a new process uses waste water from the processing of the raw coffee beans to produce methane. The waste water is high in acid and it is this acid that micro-organisms like to feed on. Methane is a by-product of the feeding process.

Coffee farmer Moses Urio trials the new bio-fuel

This bio-gas project is a part of a larger project funded by the Swiss government's State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) to boost the incomes of Tanzanian coffee farmers.

This new bio-fuel process is a virtuous circle. It prevents the acidic water from being discharged into the environment and the saves the farmers the cost of buying diesel to power their machines.

But I wonder what happens next? How will the new process be taken beyond the pilot stage and rolled our across the industry?

There are around 55 pulperies run by farmers groups in the northern and southern coffee growing areas of Tanzania, all of which could benefit from bio-gas. But with set-up costs of around $4,000, few will be able to afford it. Mr Urio, one of the farmers in the pilot, said:

We are happy to test this technology, but if we had to pay to set it up it would be very difficult for us, even though we understand that it would take only a few years to repay the initial investment from the money we save from not buying fuel.

Perhaps low-interest loans could help these farmers to establish this more environmentally friendly process and to save some expenses at the same time.

It is really good to see these improvements for the coffee industry in Tanzania. The work of donors and not-for-profit organisations help to bring about these systemic and technical improvements. In Australia, this role is played by government departments, especially agriculture departments – think of the technical developments that are promoted to farmers by agricultural officers through local field days. None of this assistance to agriculture is available to farmers in poor countries because the governments do not have the resources due to their low tax base. Subsistence farmers don't pay income taxes because they don't sell anything.

Overseas aid to poor countries is essential if they are to benefit from the knowledge and technology of the modern world.

Your contribution to the School of St Jude will help educate the next generation of professionals and leaders of Tanzania.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Milestones, big and small

Some milestones are so big that we throw a party and drink champagne. But every big milestone has many steps leading up to it, and these are worth celebrating too.

In her last newsletter, Gemma reported another of these noteworthy milestones.

It is so thrilling, to realise we are at a stage where our students are confident and competent enough to enter interschool academic competitions.

Last week, a group travelled to another English medium school in the district to pit their imaginations and grammar skills against others in their age groups in an Essay Competition.

As this was their first experience of this type of competition, they really did the school proud. There will be some Tanzanian literary stars of the 21st Century in the making here!

All these little steps are building capacities that will see the students and teachers of St Jude's becoming proficient at a world class standard. What a huge achievement this is in a country where, on average, girls can expect 5 years of schooling, whereas Australian girls can expect 20 years of schooling, according to a recent Save the Children report.

School supporters are glad to share each of these little steps, as well as the big milestones.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

What’s the vision?

What if you have a really, big scary vision? One so big that you can hardly dare to dream it? A dream so full of hubris that you only dare to peep at it occasionally. It glimmers at you in the darkness by the side of the road. You glance out of the corner of your eye, pretending that it isn’t really there. In good times, it shines a bit brighter, beckoning you. In bad times it fades away as though it was never real, so there is no need to be disappointed about something that was never real anyway.

Mt Everest

That’s how Gemma is with her biggest dream. In 2002, she started out with a village school with a couple of classrooms and a handful of children. Now, in 2007 she has 850 kids and she is building a second school 30 km away. She is developing curriculum and training teachers, laying the foundations for effective school management that will scale up to many schools. Because her big scary goal is not to run a village school, or two schools. Her big scary dream is to establish a network of independent schools across East Africa.

These schools will provide excellent education to bright children from the poorest households. From the basics of literacy, numeracy and English language, through to full professional qualifications, this network of schools will educate the professionals and leaders that are needed for these desperately poor African countries to climb the ladder of prosperity.

If you want to climb Mt Everest, you’ll need to dedicate several years of your life to getting fit, saving the money and organising the climb. But if you want to establish a network of independent schools that offer free education for hundreds of bright children, you’ll need to dedicate your whole life, and to inspire hundreds of others to come on board and help out.

Route climb for Mt Everest

If you want to climb Mt Everest, you need to find a guide who will take you in the footsteps of those who went before. But if you want to establish a self-sustaining network of independent schools in East Africa (Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi), you have to define the path as you go, each step of the way. No one has done this before. You discover the challenges and dead-ends as you go along.

Educating bright children builds a future for individuals, families, communities and countries who are humbled by even the most modest dreams.

So, I want to encourage you not to be shy. I want to encourage you to dare to dream that this big, scary goal is achievable. The more of us who are dreaming this dream, the more brightly it will shine and the more strongly it will beckon.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Therapeutic giving

Yes, helping others makes you feel better. So much so, that some psychologists are treating depression with programs that include an element of 'good works' that benefit others.

In our material culture, there are so many pressures and influences that lead us to think of ourselves and to get rewards from having more stuff. We are seeing a bit of a turnaround in movements that encourage people to stop buying stuff, or make do with what they've got, or even cook more slowly and take time to enjoy mealtimes.

But mostly, we're fairly well self-obsessed.

A couple of days ago I deplored Australia's low level of foreign aid that falls short of promises the government has made. And on Monday, I blogged about the generosity of Australians. Well, an article in today's Sydney Morning Herald has me re-thinking. The article, Treasurer passes charity test that many of us fail, compares the government overseas aid with Australian's private giving to overseas causes. They say,

Australian Council for International Development, estimates the community gave almost $700 million to overseas aid last year, four times less than what the Federal Government spent on development assistance.

In Australia, voluntary giving to overseas aid is about one-eighth of the total $7.7 billion given by individuals in 2005. The $7.7 billion is the equivalent of 0.68% of gross national product.

I'm not quite sure that this evidence is enough to support the headline that the Treasurer passes the charity test. Especially when the government continues to fall so far short on its promise to give 0.7% – we're only halfway there and creeping forward in miniscule increments.

So, I'm going to persevere. I'll continue to use less in my own life and try to take time every day to consider the needs of others. This blog is one of the ways that I keep my eye on the ball.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mothers Day coming up

I went and got another copy of St Jude's today. I will send it to three mothers in my family – my mother, my sister and her daughter (mother of Isabella) who all live in the same household in Brisbane. St Jude's is an ideal book for Mothers Day, because it is so interesting and it is a really easy read. And the book addresses some of the difficulties that Gemma's mother had in accepting Gemma's decision to live in Africa. Mothers will understand the issues around this.

Incidentally, I met Gemma's mother at the book launch in Sydney. She was accompanying Gemma and helping out at the various book launch events. What a trouper!

I have designed a bookplate to go in all the copies of St Jude's that I buy. It is intended to encourage people to lend the book, and for the borrowers to donate the price of the book to the School via my blog. What do you think?

If you have a copy of St Jude's, you might think about putting something like this in the front cover and then lend it to someone!

When I was at the local bookshop, Lindfield Bookshop, Scott told me that if people want to buy children's books for the School, he will sell them at cost and ship them to Brisbane to go in the next container sent to the School. What a generous offer! I wonder whether I can get some fundraising happening around that idea?

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Foreign Aid in the Budget

Last night's budget allocation of $3.2 billion for overseas aid - or 0.3% of Gross National Income (GNI) - keeps them on track to being at the tail end of OECD countries. Nothing inspiring about this insipid performance.

They are proud to inch towards the goal of $4 billion by 2010 – that will be .34% of GNI.

While welcoming the undertaking, non-government aid bodies noted that a majority of other donor nations had agreed to move to 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2010. And Scandinavian countries already give .7% or more of GNI in overseas aid.

Here's the longer view of Australia's official aid, from Ben's blog.

In this bonanza budget, where the government had the problem of too much money and nowhere to put it (see Ross Gittins comments), there was plenty of scope to live up to the nine values that the government requires to be taught in schools, starting with 'Care and Compassion' and 'Integrity'. Instead, they have fallen short on both.

In 2000 the PM signed on to the Millennium Declaration in 2000, agreeing that,

We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected.

I guess that the PM and I differ on the meaning of 'spare no effort'. As our government is doing so little, it is up to us to do it ourselves.

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To capture hearts and minds

Nothing captures hearts and minds as much as seeing a single person take on an awesome challenge. And the whole game lifts to another level when that challenge reaches out to others. Sports people take on great physical challenges to rise to peak performance and be better than others, and that is inspiring. But when someone pours all their talents and resources into establishing an education network in East Africa, it is more than inspiring – it captures our hearts and minds.

Sydney Morning Herald feature: 5 May 2007

Gemma's mission to fight poverty through education has been in the news here in Oz because of the book launch tour for St Jude's. Radio, TV and major newspapers have featured her and given her story their support. Last Saturday, the Sydney Morning Herald presented a major feature article, Lessons of Hope. The feature is entirely positive and it is clear that St Jude's has captured the heart and mind of Linda Morris who wrote the article.

So, be prepared to lose your heart and mind to the best aid project in Africa. Send your support and be part of this inspiring challenge. Fighting poverty through education.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

How generous is that!

The Australian government might be failing to meet its commitment to give 0.7% GNP to help the poorest countries meet the Millennium Development Goals, but Australian citizens are giving more than ever.

Australians gave $1.5 billion in 2004-05, according to a study of the latest Tax Office data by Queensland University of Technology's Centre of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies has found. The study examined official figures on tax-deductable donations. It does not include all those small amounts we dropped into the charity tin, or the raffle tickets we bought.

NSW taxpayers donated an average of 0.42 per cent of their taxable income, followed by ACT taxpayers with 0.38 per cent and Victorian taxpayers with 0.37 per cent. This compared with a national average of just under 0.35 per cent.

The public response to the Indian Ocean tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 caused a sharp rise in tax-deductible gifts. However, even without the tsunami-related giving, tax-deductible donations have been well above the average growth rate over the past five years. Fifteen years of economic growth and a 30-year low in the unemployment rate underpinned the donations.

The report said fears that some charities would suffer from donor fatigue after the tsunami were misplaced.

The strong indications are that giving has expanded to meet the challenge of the tsunami and, in fact, increased further due to the public focus on giving.

In 1994-5, 33% of tax-payers claimed a tax-deductable charity donation, in 2004-5 this had increased to 38.4% of tax-payers and the average individual claim for tax-deductable gifts had doubled. More Australians are giving, and they are giving more!

And is it true that the more you’ve got the more you give? Apparently, it is. People who earnt more than $1mill gave way an average of 1.98% of their taxable income, compared with the national average of .35%. Oh, and the figures show that women are more generous than men – on average women gave 0.37%: men 0.33%.

So, we can all keep up the good work! Is ‘generous’ as strong a part of the Australian character as ‘larrikin’ and ‘fair go’? It will be if we make it so. I encourage you to find a good project that you have confidence in, and give it your support. Make a difference!

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Where’s the evidence?

I guess you can tell that I think the School of St Jude is a great project. What was it that convinced me?

I was enthusiastic from my very first encounter with the School, on the ABC’s Australian Story program. I saw that Gemma had the right skills and was committed to the project. And I saw that the work of the School is much needed.

Since then, I have taken every avenue to find out more about the School. I read the annual reports on the website and the newsletters. I read blogs by people who have visited or volunteered there. I keep in touch with other supporters. I have learnt a lot about Tanzania and development aid to Africa. I met Gemma on her recent visit to Australia.

I have not discovered a single thing that has slowed my enthusiasm. If anything, I have become more amazed by the scope of the project and the effectiveness of its approach.
However, as I have some experience in program evaluation, I thought I would start to document this evaluation. It might help to give others the confidence to lend their support to the School of St Jude.

Students perform at St Jude's Day

There are three aspects to evaluating any program:
  • Is it appropriate? Does it it fill a real need?
  • Is it effective? Does it get good results?
  • Is it efficient? Does it makes maximum use of its resources?

To get a good score, a program has to rate highly on all three things.

Here’s my thumbnail summary.

Does it fill a real need? Education is essential in breaking the cycle of poverty. Tanzania has one of the poorest education records in the world. UNESCO ranks Tanzania 6th last of all countries on education, with an average of 5.1 years education, compared with 18+ years for countries at the top of the table. Nationally, the teacher-student ratio was 59 in 2006. The Tanzanian government has been able to put more resources into education since gaining debt relief, but the task ahead is massive. 35% of Tanzanians live below the poverty line of $1 a day, and it is their children who fall below the average of 5.1 years of education. In these conditions, capable children from poor households have no chance of reaching their potential.

Does the School of St Jude provide an effective education for Tanzanian children? The School specialises in providing excellent education for capable children from poor homes. Rigorous screening ensures that children are academically capable and that they come from disadvantaged homes – if they have more than two rooms, concrete floors or electricity, they don’t qualify.

In 2007 the School enrolled 850 children in six grades. The school adds 160 children each year and is building a second campus. In national examinations, the School of St Jude has ranked third amongst all schools in the northern district and 10 children from St Jude’s have been in the top 20 of 17,000 students. So it is clear that the school is delivering excellent educational outcomes. It does this by providing meals, transport and clothing to students, and by strong educational practice, supported by professional development for teachers.

The School is in the process of building weekday boarding facilities and a secondary school. Long-term plans for a teachers college along with a tertiary education scholarship fund will meet the entire educational needs of bright children from impoverished homes.

Does it makes maximum use of its resources? I am constantly astonished by how much the School achieves with the resources it has. The resources include financial donations, volunteer work (long term volunteers and short term visitors) and in-kind or discounted services such as graphic design, website, accounting and shipping.

I am impressed by the no-frills decisons about infrastructure such as the school hall, which is basically a concrete slab with a metal roof. In addition, Gemma seems to have the ability to balance and prioritise her expenses to match the likely funds. On the one hand there is never anything left over, and on the other hand, she manages to avoid over-stretching.

The School has been successful in scaling-up its operations to fit the success in raising funds. This scaling-up has balanced needs such as new infrastructure, staff development as well as adding services such as school meals.

In an indepth feature on the ABC news on 1 May 2007, Gemma says:

It's a very romantic idea, setting up a medical centre or an orphanage or a school, but the nuts and bolts of it, on the ground, is extremely hard.

If Africa was easy to solve, then it would have been solved a long time ago.

So, if you care about important issues like breaking the cycle of poverty, and want to know more about an effective program that is fighting poverty through education, keep reading this blog. When you are ready to lend your assistance, visit the school website and offer what you can. Oh, and there's no harm in telling your friends, is there?

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Win a copy of Gemma's book!

Kerri-Anne is giving away 10 copies of St Jude's. You can go here to enter the competition.

Kerri-Anne Kennerley

It's great to see Pan Macmillan doing such a good job of promoting St Jude's. Remember that Mothers Day is coming up on 13 May, and this book would be a great present for your Mum. It is fast-paced and upbeat, so it is a good read.

You can use the link to Collins Booksellers in the sidebar to order it online. Or support your local bookshop and see whether they have it in stock!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Gemma talks up a storm!

Gemma is still on the talk-trail – talking up a storm!

Gemma Sisia

The ABC has an interview with her online, from their 'Conversation' program in Brisbane. Their website says....

Gemma Sisia is a woman with an outrageous amount of energy. With $10 in her bank account, the former Guyra farm girl set up a school in Tanzania for poor but bright African children. Gemma found sponsors and supporters in Australia, and literally helped build the school - brick by brick - on an idyllic piece of land at the foot of Mount Meru in Tanzania. She named the school 'St Jude's' after the patron saint of lost causes - but in fact the school is a huge success, bringing a decent modern education to 890 kids who would otherwise be doing manual labour. She's written about her amazing experiences in her book called, simply, St Jude's.

Gemma's childhood, growing up on the farm with seven brothers, equipped her well for the daily challenges she faces in Africa. "I was expected to do everything," she recalls, "from mustering sheep to land-marking to even crutching sheep. Mum and Dad brought all of us up to never give up; anything's do-able - you can start anything if you really put your mind to it, but nothing will succeed without hard work...

"Before I went to Africa originally I did this two week 'how to integrate into a third world country' course. Absolute waste of time! If anyone wants to work in Africa, they should go to TAFE and do a mechanics course, a plumbing course... Thank God I was brought up on a far! All the days I was with Dad helping with the tractor, laying down the polythene pipe pumping water... All this stuff I learned has really come in handy!"

At St Jude's, Gemma's busy day starts at 7.30am. "I go through all my emails, then the school buses start coming in. We have 18, with all the kids and teachers...

"School starts at 8.30. Then I have a spike near my desk - if anyone needs any materials, painters/electricians, hey put it on my spike. I can't talk to anyone! If they want something in town they stick it on the spike, then once or twice a week I take my spike into town... Then [I] come back... [have] meetings with teachers... I meet once a week with the head of the Masai guard and head cook, cleaner, gardener. Every three minutes probably [I wear] a different hat."

Gemma has a small army of people helping her, however. "We've got a melting pot of nationalities, religions, money backgrounds, beliefs, senses of humour. In my office alone, my sponsorship co-ordinator is German, the accountant is French... [we have an] Irish visitor co-ordinator because everyone gets along with the Irish!"

Gemma's thrilled with the school's success. "Every year [we get] 200 new kids... With that, more bus drivers, more cooks and cleaners, 12 or 13 more teachers. It sounds very romantic and really exciting but actually, it is so hard! It is by far the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. The last five years have taken more out of me than my whole life put together, but I wouldn't do anything else. I wouldn't be able to find anything as challenging or rewarding and when you do get the wonderful academic results that we've been getting, and the knowledge that these kids are definitely going to lead Tanzania in the future - well then, it makes it all worth it."

You can listen to the program as Gemma talks with Richard Fidler by going to the ABC website and downloading the audio file.

This fantastic education project in one of the poorest countries is very well run. Gemma has a close eye on every detail, and she has a large vision for the future. Don't hold back from giving your support.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

I can’t help but encourage you

What is ‘normal’ for me? Whatever it is that is normal for me becomes the entirety of the world I live in. I tend to screen out other things – they are ‘out there’ or ‘over there’; they are less real than my normal world. My sense of ‘normal’ defines the horizons within which live.

With my interest in the School of St Jude, I find that my horizons of ‘normal’ are expanding. Suddenly a new horizon appears over the edge of the old horizon. I can now name all the countries in Africa; I have learnt to place each one on the map. I know the issues and I know some of the stories. I have become an activist.

I can’t help but encourage you to visit The Guardian newspaper site that is presenting news about the upcoming G8 meeting in Germany in June. They have all the regular news stories about the event, including a piece about the 7.5km security fence that will be built around the resort town where the meeting will be held. This touched my interest because of debate here in Sydney about the silliness that is likely to occur in Sydney later in the year when the APEC meeting is held in the city centre. With current security concerns, it seems very stupid to hold these high profile meetings in major cities. At least in Germany, they are closing off a regional town rather than a major city centre!

The surprising thing about the Guardian site is that they are doing more than reporting the odds and ends around running the G8 meeting – they have taken a deliberately activitist position by presenting the stories of eight African women, each one with a key message for the G8 meeting. Now this is an example of the press REALLY doing its job. They are making the news, as well as reporting the news.

Check out The Guardian site for the stories of the eight women – especially the story of the Tanzanian nurse, Sabina Nicholas, whose four daughters walk miles to get 10 buckets of water in the morning and again in the evening for their household of 14 people. This is because the water utility failed and their district no longer has running water, so they have to buy it by the bucket from trucks.

So, I can't help but encourage you to expand your horizons, redefine 'normal' and live in a whole new world.

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