Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Rachel and Simon Tyrrell

Rachel & Simon Tyrell are two young(ish) professionals who put their careers on hold, rented their house and left Australia in June 2006 for a six month working holiday in UK & Europe, followed by 12 months teaching at the School of St Jude in Tanzania, East Africa.

Class 1C with Miss Rachel

Rachel is teaching Standard 1 and Simon takes care of the accounts, admin and anything else that comes to hand!

Rachel makes the following comments about her class at St Judes.
I think there is a careful balance here of respecting the existing culture and making changes for the better.

It took me almost all week to explain to the kids that they do not need to empty their desk and take every single book home each night. In the end I got a local teacher to explain to them (we are not really meant to do this, as the kids’ English improves a lot more quickly in the classes where only English is spoken i.e. with the western teachers).

Apparently the kids are used to not owning much and so they guard it with their life when they do. The following day there were all these excited gasps when the kids ran into the classroom and lifted their desks to find that all the contents were still there!

The kids are very enthusiastic and really want to be at school. They are very well behaved and particularly love more creative classes - which Gemma is really trying to encourage versus the traditional chalk and talk method. So, while the language barrier is of course a problem, the day is very rewarding and does not feel draining because the kids are an absolute pleasure to have.

Rachel and Simon have an online journal that you might like to check out.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

World Economic Forum Davos 2007

I am very cheerful at the news from the just-finished World Economic Forum (Davos 2007) that the Doha Round talks will resume. These talks on the reform of global trade were suspended six months ago. They got stuck on the massive farm subsidies paid by rich countries to their own farmers, and the tariffs that protect their markets.

These subsidies and tariffs distort world markets and are a big factor in world poverty because farmers in poor countries can’t compete with heavily subsidised and tariff-protected farmers from rich countries.

Leaders of developed and industrialised nations have warned that a failure of the talks would be "catastrophic". And Tony Blair says a deal is now more likely than not, so perhaps we can hope for some progress.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Tony Blair and Bono at The Promise of Africa session at Davos 2007

The end of world poverty needs action at both the individual level and the system level. The literate children of Tanzania and other extremely poor countries will need to find jobs in local businesses, and these businesses can’t develop if global trade is restricted by the entrenched protective practices of rich countries.

Bono points at some typical examples of trade rules that prevent African countries from developing stronger economies:
If Africans sell us orange juice instead of oranges we slap a tariff on; if they sell us chocolate instead of cocoa we slap a tariff on. THIS is corruption.

Why are open markets better?
  • Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner found that developing countries with economies open to trade grew by 4.5% a year in the 1970s and 80s, while those closed to trade grew by only 0.7%.
  • Europe's farm subsidies are doomed because the EU is adding 10 new members and it cannot afford to extend its current lavish farm subsidies to the millions of Polish and Romanian farmers.

The Promise of Africa was a panel session held at WEO to review the progress made in the past year on the goals and promises made a year ago with respect to ending poverty in Africa. The panel of heavyweights (Tony Blair, Bill Gates, Bono, Hubert Burda, German media tycoon, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia and Africa’s first female president, Donald Kaberuka, president of the African Development Bank, Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa, Kumi Naidoo, boss of the Civicus, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Sadako Ogata, president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency) gave their perspectives.

I was particularly struck by one of the points made by Mbeki:
There is a capacity constraint across the board, and we need a radical increase in every respect: teachers in math, science, nurses, doctors, engineers, all sorts of people, so that we don’t have to go to Paul Wolfowitz, to borrow money from his World Bank and then hire consultants from him to say how we should spend it.

I thought straight away of the great work underway at the School of St Jude where the foundations are being laid for the future economists, lawyers, teachers, medical staff, program administrators, accountants and scientists who will provide the capacity needed by African countries to take each step along the path to prosperity. They don’t need our help to climb the ladder – they only need our help to step onto the first rung.

The BBC has a brief summary of The Promise of Africa session.

Monday, January 29, 2007

3 peaks 3 weeks challenge

Well, the ‘3 peaks 3 weeks Challenge’ has reached all its goals. The ten women have succeeded in climbing the three East African mountains in three weeks, and have raised $250,000 for the three projects they are supporting – the School of St Jude, Laikipia Wildlife Forum and Students for International Change. The School of St Jude will use the funds to build classrooms at the Usa River campus, Laikipia will use the money to support their community conservation work and International Change will buy three new mobile HIV testing vehicles.

Mission Accomplished! 10 women who did it!

How did these ten women raise so much money?

In their last dispatch from the field, the team gives a wrap-up of this BIG achievement.

One of the first successful events was a black tie dinner held in Wagga Wagga, Australia. Though it is a small town which rarely sees such a formal event, the community pulled together to support us and in that single night, raised over $15,000! Similar events to that were held in Tucson, Arizona and in London, UK. Pub crawls proved to be very effective, especially for our age group, and we appreciated all of the folks who came out for a good night at the bar in support of our work. Other events included movie screenings, overland treks, barbeques, and marathons. Some events were more successful than others, and we began to learn what worked and what did not. We tried selling chocolate, t-shirts, and Christmas cards. Most of these smaller initiatives did little to raise money, but were great for raising awareness and spreading the word about what we were doing. We met with companies across the globe in hopes they would put some of their “good will” money towards helping Africa.

A breakthrough came when Serac Adventure Films said they would film the trek. You can look out for the release of the film about the climb and the three projects that will benefit from the funds raised.

We are departing and going our separate ways, but have no doubt that the friendships we have made will last forever. Walking down the mountain together on the final day gave us one last time to take in what it meant to be a part of such a great group of women. Each one of us now has 9 new friends, 9 new sisters, and 9 new bridesmaids. The relationships we have made over the past 3 weeks, and even more, over the past 2 years are incredible. We have successfully completed the 3 Peaks 3 Weeks Challenge and are leaving Africa with a feeling that we truly made a difference and that many lives will be bettered by the work we supported. We sincerely hope that we have inspired you to challenge yourself.

These amazing women plan to make this climb an annual event and keep the momentum alive. You can check out their website to keep in touch or join up!

Where do we look for inspiration in our lives? We don’t have to look too far when we see energetic and committed people taking on challenges and then figuring out all the details they need to learn in order to succeed.

You can join inspiring women like Gemma Sisia, step into your own set of challenges that will develop your talents to the benefit of others. What else is a life for?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Foreign Aid

Economies are complex open systems which have so many intersecting elements that they are hard to predict, never mind control. One result is that things that work on the small scale may fail dismally on the large scale. Aid that works on the small scale, with one family, one school, or one village may fail on a larger scale.

An example can illustrate this principle. Agricultural aid can help a village to grow a surplus for sale and allow subsistence farmers climb out of exteme poverty. But if local roads are not car-worthy, then the surplus food can reach only the most local markets where the combined surplus of all the local farmers pushes prices down and leaves farmers in the situation of getting no additional income for their extra output, despite the additional input costs of fertiliser and seed required to get the extra productivity.

If agricultural aid is scaled up beyond the village to a district, it only worsens the market conditions.

So, what is the solution when aid fails like this? Do we blame the recipient country? This is exactly what happens when poor countries are labeled 'basket cases'. The better response is to try to see more clearly the range of factors that are operating in the complex open system of world economies and to see what other interventions may be needed.

Mostly, I feel that the complexity of economic systems is beyond my understanding and there are so many conflicting points of view. So it is easy for me to help a good project at the individual level because the benefits are clear. The children who get an excellent education at the School of St Jude are likely to benefit no matter what else is going on in the economy. If I buy a chicken or a goat for a poor family, there will be a direct benefit for the family.

Australians are the second-highest private donors in the world, giving 0.8% of national income to help other countries (and that is before the boosting effect of the tsunami where Australians showed outstanding generosity). Helping others is one of Australia's core values. Internationally, Australians are recognised for their national volunteer organisations and private philanthropy.

But individual philanthropy can go only so far. Poor countries need systemic support to help them work towards good governance and better infrastructure. This kind of help needs to be given on the scale of country to country. This is where the commitments made by developed countries to contribute 0.7% GDP to foreign aid targeted at ending extreme poverty are critical.

The target of 0.7% is not onerous, it is very doable – in fact the Scandinavian countries already give more than this. The Australian government has signed treaties committing to 0.7% but falls way short. In fact, Australia is fourth-last in the ranking of 22 OECD countries and gives only 0.25% GDP as foreign aid. Recent announcements to increase foreign aid by 50% will lift it to 0.36% -- about half the agreed amount. What a pity that our Government does not reflect the Australian ethos of helping others in its actions!

What can I do to encourage my country to honour its promises in this important area? One thing I plan to do is start writing to politicians. I encourage you to do the same. Many voices can make a difference.

Here are some sites with more information about the Australian Government's record on foreign aid.

The Age, April 2006.
Aid Watch
Global Issues

To end extreme poverty, we need to work at both the personal level where individuals help individuals and the systemic level where nations help nations. Do your bit to encourage your government to help in ways that count!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Australia Day

I am spending the Australia Day weekend with my sister in Brisbane. We have all the pleasure of staying in her four-generation household. In her household she has her daughter, Lizzie + husband Cameron, grand-daughter Isabella, as well as our mother who has become quite frail in the past few months.

My sister, a high school science teacher, plans to work only part-time this year so she can be available to care for our mother. It is very warming to see her nurturing care of our mother. She cares for her with the same watchfulness that graced her mothering of her own daughters when they were small.

Thinking about very poor countries, like Tanzania, where life expectancy is in the mid-40s and dropping due to HIV/AIDS, I see that four generation households would be almost unheard of. Even three generation households would be rare. Family life in Tanzania is fractured by the struggle for existence, especially when disease takes children or parents, leaving grandparents, aunts and uncles to care for remaining family members.

See Mary-Elaine's blog in the sidebar for her account of the way the School of St Jude WILL NOT LET GO of the children that come into its care. She tells what happened to Joseph, whose mother was hacked to death in the bed beside him, and whose father committed suicide a few months later when he discovered he was HIV positive. Joseph seems to have moved between relatives and was accepted into St Jude's. Then he stopped coming to school. When school started this year he did not appear. The School has found him and is looking for a new home for him, so he can continue with his education and not fall through the cracks.

Vulnerable people, especially children, fall through the cracks so easily, especially when the community as a whole is living a subsistence life of extreme poverty. My mother, whose own life has been one of struggle, is lucky to live in a society where she was able to raise and educate two daughters who can give her the best of care in her frail old age.

We need to take care of those who are close to us, while also reaching out and helping those in need who are far away. In the wealthy West, we have the resources to do both.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

On the buses!

The School of St Jude is situated down a dirt road in the village of Moshono which is 5km along another dirt road from Arusha. Children come to school each day along the rough dirt roads from Arusha and the surrounding villages of this beautiful but very poor district. Most people are subsistence farmers who make barely enough to feed their families. Malaria, HIV/AIDS and other diseases take a heavy toll on these families and many children are orphaned.

A year or two after the School opened, it became evident that many children were walking for several hours to get to school. So, the School bought two battered old buses and rejuvenated them.

As the school has grown, the two buses have grown to a fleet of 18. Like everything else at the school, the funding for buses is provided by sponsors and donors. For $500 pa you can sponsor a bus and contribute to the costs of running them.

An important donation came from Rotary District 9640 (in Queensland) in April 2006. Using a multi-district Matching Grant, they were able to provide the School with two new buses, an assortment of spare springs and tyres, and a motor vehicle maintenance course to be run at the School.

Here is Gemma receiving the grant money - surprised but delighted.

Gemma Sisia, Heather + Ian Yarker, Ailsa Hay

The buses at the school provide vital transport that makes school attendance possible for many children. Even with the over-crowded buses, many children have a long walk home after the bus drops them. These buses don’t offer Western-standard transport, but they do give bright children from the poorest households an opportunity to get their foot on the first rung of the ladder of opportunity. Guaranteed!

A development project in an impoverished African country that is well-run, economical and successful in reaching the poor - something you will want to support!

Millenium Villages Project

Wow! We know that Gemma Sisia thinks big. We know that Jeffrey Sachs thinks big. But how big is big? ‘Don’t ask little of me’ certainly applies to these people!

Gemma is growing the school at a rapid rate and has the long term aim of reproducing the hugely successful formula across Tanzania and East Africa. Jeffrey has identified the key factors that maintain the cycle of extreme poverty. He has established a project that will break this cycle in a five-year timeframe for the cost of US$110 per person per year. He believes that after five years of help (sufficient to leverage the threshold effect) poor villages can function sustainably without sinking back into extreme poverty.

Millenium Village, Bonsaaso, in Ghana

To put his ideas into practice, he has established the Millenium Villages Project which is run under the auspices of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. Millenium Villages started in 2004 with the Sauri village of 5,000 people in Kenya. In the first year, food production quadrupled with the help of fertiliser and new seed varieties, the health clinic re-opened and a midday meal was provided at the three primary schools.

To extend the Millenium Villages project, Sachs drew on his formidable support network to found Millenium Promise. In the first year, 2005, Millenium Promise raised US$100 million and now Millenium Villages is working in 78 villages in 10 African countries.

Sachs is a very persuasive man. He has the evidence to support his views and the heart to care.

There are many questions to answer about what happens next to these villages in the complexities of a whole economy, but there can be little doubt that this on-the-spot assistance to the poorest of villages will make a life-and-death difference to the 500,000 people who won’t have to watch one in four of their children die before the age of five.

Gemma Sisia and Jeffrey Sachs are both people to watch. They have big hearts and big goals. You, like George Soros who gave US$50 million to Millenium Promise, can help by giving money, encouraging others to give, and lobbying your government to meet its promise to lift foreign aid to 0.7% of GDP.

Ours can be the last human generation to know extreme poverty.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Book launch

Gemma Sisia makes ‘boundless energy’ look like an understatement! Not only does she run the school, plan and manage the building program, run her own household with two young boys, and fund raise, but she has also found the time and energy to write a book about it all. She’s a genuine force of nature!

‘St Jude’s’ will be published by Pan Macmillan in April 2007. Aussies should look out for Gemma’s whirlwind book launch tour in April, and everyone can get more info about the book here.

I am sure that the growing network of supporters will be delighted to get hold of the book and learn some of the more obscure details of Gemma’s life story. Growing up as the only girl with seven older brothers would fill a book all by itself!

Here is the provisional schedule.

Weekend 21/22 April: Arrive Sydney
Monday 23 April: Sydney - media interviews
Tuesday 24 April: Sydney - media interviews
Wednesday 25 April: ANZAC DAY - public holiday
Thursday 26 April: Brisbane - media interviews
Friday 27 April: Brisbane - media interviews
Monday 30 April: Melbourne - media interviews
Tuesday 1 May: Melbourne - media interviews
Wednesday 2 May: Adelaide - media interviews
Thursday 3 May: Perth - media interviews
Friday 4 May: return to Sydney

We are working on a get together in Sydney on 5 May for school supporters. I’ll keep you updated with details as they get firmed up. It will be so exciting to meet some of the many people who have made the School of St Jude the success that it is.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Don't ask little of me

Don’t ask little of me, you might get it.

Aphorisms can say it all. Large ideas and big goals have a force that lifts us with energy. When I was growing up the problem of world hunger seemed massive and unsolvable. Jeffrey Sachs reports that a generation ago half the world’s population lived on less than $1 a day, but now this proportion has shrunk to one-quarter. At the same time, world wealth has grown massively.

Students at St Judes with gifts for orphans and hospitals

What was once an overwhelming problem has become a large-but-manageable problem. Let’s redefine it like this, big-but-doable, and give ourselves the energy to tackle it meaningfully.

And while we are re-orienting our thoughts so that we are prepared to give some of our surplus to helping the poorest people get a foothold on the ladder of prosperity, let’s keep in view the courage and hard work of the desperately poor. They do not have the luxury to ask little of themselves.

The children who attend the School of St Jude come to school eagerly. They stay after school and come again on Saturday for extra tuitition. They are ready to learn.

The most exciting thing about St. Jude's is that the kids LOVE it! They love going to school and they take pride in everything they do. I have watched my sponsor kids go from very shy, hesistant kids, to outgoing, enthusiastic students! I enjoyed the opportunity I was givien while working with Students for International Change, to find children within the community who would fit the profile. I love that the school is the best in town, but strives to reach out to the less fortunate.
Laura Hartstone, USA

So, I would encourage you to open a window to new perspectives and new ideas. Let the energy of new challenges refresh you.

Help the next generation of Tanzania children get a foot on the ladder of prosperity. Their own hard work will take them up the following steps, if only they have the chance to start.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Jeffrey Sachs -- End of Poverty

For the past few days I have been absorbed by reading "The End of Poverty" by Jeffrey Sachs. It is a book that has been on my 'must read' list for a while. Not only does it deal with a subject that is important to me - the topic of extreme poverty - but it brings the highest level of knowledge to the topic and presents it in a very lively and readable way!

Jeffrey Sachs

Jeffrey Sachs knows about development economics and extreme poverty in both theoretical and practical ways, because it has been his life's work. He brings great intelligence, common sense and respect for others to his work, and has been a pivotal player in shaping policy at the top level.

His book is full of useful concepts such as the threshold effect. He observes that aid to the poorest countries has failed to impact on poverty because it has never been sufficient to reach the threshold of effectiveness. For example, he notes that aid is often given to pilot projects which can never make a difference at a national level unless they are followed by scaled up projects with national reach.

He debunks the myth that the US has given a lot of aid African countries. His analysis shows that in the past 10 years American aid amounts to 6c per African person per year. As he says, this is hardly enough to buy a paper cup, never mind fill it with water.

Sachs was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential leaders in the world, and he is the author of hundreds of scholarly articles. The End of Poverty was a New York Times bestseller in 2005.

It is interesting to read Jeffrey Sachs with the School of St Jude in mind. It is clear that the school is run according to the success principles spelled out by Sachs for the end of poverty.

  • First, it addresses one of the core elements that contribute to the cycle of poverty -- lack of education.
  • Second, it provides sufficient resources to cross the threshold effect so that the children get a very good education -- they get a meal every day, clothes to wear, extra tuition and learning resources (library, computers, etc.).
  • Third, the school educates boys and girls equally.

So, if you feel that you are able to contribute towards ending the grinding cycle of extreme poverty in Africa, this is a project that is making a real difference.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Got any library books to spare?

The School of St Jude will open a second school in 2008 and they are taking on another 170 new sponsored children each year. The current library will not be enough for the 850 students that we will have in 2007 ... and definitely not enough to fit out another two libraries!

Library books: seen on flickr

In a few weeks the Rotary Club of Rocklea will ship a container of goods to the school, as they have done with all the previous containers over the past 5 years.

The school is desperate for good library books and so if you can get the word out quickly then the container can have more books in it.

If you would like to help with books then you need to read the below guidelines:
  1. Firstly - thank you
  2. We ONLY need fiction and non-fiction primary and secondary library books. Class sets of English readers (any age) would also be good. Also stationery like good lead pencils, markers, chalk, exercise books, etc.
  3. We cannot take encyclopedias, textbooks and teacher resource books as we get the encyclopedias on CD and we buy all textbooks etc here as our local curriculum is very specific.
  4. Please only give library books for kids to borrow, and please think before giving them as we get many university level books or obsolete books that are of no use, even in Africa!
  5. Please remember that our people here are very proud and we expect only the best for them as you would for your child.
  6. If you have any nice, good, fun library books that children all over the world would love to read then please get them to the man below (please realise that Lloyd and his family and mates cannot pay for any cartage of books). The books must be delivered to the below address to be able to come to Africa.

Lloyd Fleming - PP The Rotary Club of Rocklea
154 McCullough St
Robertson, QLD, 4109

Fax: 07-3344-6851

Postal address
PO Box 530
Sunnybank, QLD, 4109


If you are unable to find/organise books for this shipment, perhaps you could spread the word through libraries you know (your school, a local library) and start collecting books that could be sent in the next container shipment later in 2007.

Anti-corruption fights poverty

Corruption seems to be common in all very poor countries. It is one of the factors that feed the cycle of poverty – when donors see their aid syphoned off into private hands, they back away, and the poor remain poor.

Recently, donor countries have linked their donations to evidence of progress on anti-corruption measures. The Tanzanian government has been working on anti-corruption legislation that will provide better conditions for accessing information, improve the possibilities of sanctioning persons found guilty of corruption, and protect whistle blowers.

This legislation was due to be tabled in 2006 but the deadline was missed. Because of this, Denmark slashed 20% ($3.9 million) of its aid pledge to the Tanzanian government for budget support during the 2007/08 period, saying it was concerned about the delay in dealing with graft.

Denmark had granted general budget support to Tanzania of up $103.8 million for the period of 2006 to 2010. It was agreed by the two countries that 20% of the support be linked to specific achievement indicators of tabling anti-corruption legislation. The government says the Bill will be tabled in the House this year. That may help to ensure that they don’t have another 20% slashed next year!

The importance of anti-corruption legislation has been underlined by a news report in The Guardian this week. The report notes that in 2002 the UK's biggest arms supplier, BAE Systems, secretly paid a $12m commission into a Swiss account in a deal which led to Tanzania buying a controversial military radar system.

A Tanzanian middleman, who has a long-standing relationship with military and government figures, has admitted that the sum was covertly moved to a Swiss account by BAE Systems, which is under investigation by the British Serious Fraud Office.

The School of St Jude is run to benefit very poor children. It works hard to ensure that every dollar donated is used to provide excellent education for these bright children. Careful supervision of expenses and rigorous accounting ensure that money is well-spent. See the 2006 Annual Report on the school website.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

World Social Forum 2007 Nairobi

Kenya will host the massive conference of the World Social Forum (WSF) in January 2007. Starting in 2001 with 12,000 attendees, the WSF has grown rapidly and 120,000 are expected to attend in Nairobi.

Noam Chomsky at WSF 2003

The World Social Forum is an annual meeting held by members of the anti-globalisation movement to coordinate world campaigns, share and refine organizing strategies, and inform each other about movements from around the world and their issues. It tends to meet in January when the World Economic Forum is meeting in Davos, Switzerland. This is not a coincidence. The date was chosen because of the logistical difficulty of organizing a mass protest in Davos and to try to overshadow the coverage of the World Economic Forum in the news media.
Rallying around the clarion call of Another World Is Possible, the World Social Forum has placed social justice, international solidarity, gender equality, peace and defence of the environment on the agenda of the world’s peoples. From Porto Alegre to Mumbai to Bamako to Caracas, Karachi and now Nairobi, the forces and the contingents of the World Social Forum have collectively expanded the democratic spaces of those seeking concrete, sustainable and progressive alternatives to imperialist globalization.

By locating the conference in East Africa, WSF will draw attention to issues that affect Sub-Saharan Africa and will also give a boost to local economies through the business brought to the region by so many visitors.

Who knows, some WSF visitors may find themselves in Arusha and get the opportunity to learn about one of the great grass-roots projects that is Fighting Poverty Through Education – The School of St Jude.


Oh, the 10-woman team climbing 3 peaks in 3 weeks has just completed the second summit – in pouring rain! They are really earning those sponsor dollars!

Challenges for 2007

The main challenge for the School in 2007 is the building program at the new campus. To be ready for students at the beginning of 2008, the new campus needs buildings (classrooms, administration and work rooms), furniture, computers, library, hall and kitchen, toilets, water, electricity and all the basics for a new school.

Work begins on Usa River site

Three reasons to support the School of St Jude
  1. All funds go directly to the school and are used for running the school.
  2. Hands-on management of the school by the very capable Gemma Sisia. — "Lunch for 2,400? No worries!"
  3. The school meets the very real needs of bright children from poor families in an impoverished country where education often means classes of 40-60 children who share a handful of books.

Supporter Programs
The school accepts general donations of any size and also offers a number of Supporter Programs.
  • FULL sponsorship of a student's annual fees AUD$1,100.00 p.a.
  • HALF sponsorship of a student's annual fees AUD$550.00 p.a.
  • Sponsor a classroom AUD$500.00 p.a.
  • Sponsor a school bus AUD$500.00 p.a.
  • Sponsor a teacher AUD$500.00 p.a.
  • Sponsor Internet for a Class AUD$500.00 p.a.
  • Sponsor 30 square metres land purchase US$100
Special project sponsorship
If you have an idea for a special project you would like to sponsor, please contact the school with your thoughts.

Check out the school website (link in sidebar) for more information about the school. Come aboard! Make a difference!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Africa: The Next Chapter

What better way to help a poor country like Tanzania than to give it some of your business? Arusha, with its excellent hotels and proximity to major tourist attractions (Serengeti and Mt Kilimanjaro) is well-placed to host international conferences. So it is great to see this conference scheduled for June 2007.

The TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference is an annual event where leading thinkers and doers gather for inspiration. Titled ‘Africa, The Next Chapter’, the conference will feature 50 extraordinary speakers who are shaping Africa's future though innovation and world-changing ideas.

Underlying this new initiative is TED’s recognition that Africa is at an important tipping point. Its problems and challenges are well known. But across the continent, tremendous change is afoot. Ingenious solutions are being applied to tackle some of the toughest health and infrastructure problems; businesses are being launched that are capable of transforming the lives of millions.

A new generation of Africans is emerging who refuse to be daunted by Africa's familiar litany of challenges, and instead believe an exciting future beckons. They include leading entrepreneurs, inventors, cultural ambassadors, scientists, designers, artists, writers, activists, musicians and mavericks making real change across the continent.

Leading the conference is TEDGlobal Program Director Emeka Okafor: entrepreneur, analyst and creator of the influential blogs Africa Unchained and Timbuktu Chronicles.

You can find more information about the conference at TED.

I am sure that conference delegates will want to visit the School of St Jude as an outstanding example of the new energy that is contributing to the fresh wind of change in Africa.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Climbing mountains

Remember the 3 peaks 3 weeks challenge that I mentioned a while ago? Ten women are climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Meru and Mt Kenya as a fundraiser for local beneficiaries, including the School of St Jude.

Well they are now in the middle of the expedition. You can read daily reports here.

This group of amazing women have raised $300,000 so far.

Between mountains, they visited St Jude’s. Here’s what they say.

After sorting out our luggage at the hotel we loaded back up into the cars and headed out to St. Jude. The school is an amazing example of how education can give even the poorest children an opportunity to succeed. Gemma Rice, founder of St. Jude, led us around the campus which has grown from 1 classroom, 1 school bus, and 3 students in 2002 to over 20 classrooms, 17 school buses, and 800 children this semester!

The children came out to greet us, proudly wearing their dark and light blue uniforms, and couldn’t have looked any more precious than when they donned their wide-brimmed sun hats. Gemma asked grade 6 if they knew why we were there and they replied by correctly stating each mountain we would summit. When we asked them why we are climbing mountains, many looked confused. We, too, have had times when we feel confused as to why we are climbing mountains! We made sure to stress the point that we are building a secondary school for them – of which grade 6 will be the first to use. In 2009, that class will graduate primary school and enter secondary school. With the funds we are raising from 3 peaks, the new secondary campus will be built.

More on St. Jude to come tomorrow. We are all very impressed by the education they offer and will be spending a day at some of the student’s homes. Donations are greatly appreciated as we near the $300,000 AUD mark. Please visit the donations page on our website for more information on how you can be a contributor!

There’s a lot happening! Get on board!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Teacher Training

The School of St Jude aims for excellence and works hard to ensure that teaching standards are high. In a country that has been starved of resources for education, it is a challenge to find enough well-trained teachers to meet the demands of the rapidly growing school.

Heads of Department, 2006

In December 2006, the school employed 37 Tanzanian + 12 foreign + 8 teaching assistants. The school rewards the Tanzanian teachers with good salaries and a bonus scheme for initiative and exceptionally high standards of work. Foreign teachers work on a volunteer basis and receive a monthly stipend.

In December 2006 the Smith Family Foundation from the United States granted the school a great gift – the expertise of two education experts who spent three weeks in December with the teaching staff working on leadership skills and innovative teaching techniques.

Teacher training seminar

Mr Florian gives feedback in training seminar

For three weeks from late November to early December, Amy and Freda, two wonderful teacher educators from the USA, gave professional development sessions with teachers and leaders of the school. Everyone absolutely loved the sessions and got a lot out of the visit. Amy and Freda have totally revamped the school’s curriculum, so 2007 will be a challenging year for everyone!

The School is currently seeking volunteer teachers in three fields: primary teaching, art teaching and teacher training. Check out the Teachabroad website for details.

It is quite wonderful to see the comprehensive range of activities carried out by the School of St Jude in its mission to blend the best of Western and Tanzanian instructional methods to instill critical thinking and high moral values in students who will later become the leaders and builders of Tanzania

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Value for money!

In 2006 the School of St Jude educated 700 primary age children at a cost of $1,000,000. That is $1,429 per student. This amount includes all expenses associated with running the school, including capital works (purchase of 30 acres and new building of 10 classroom block).

Classroom block nearly complete, December 2006

In comparison, in 2005 the NSW Education department educated 1.1 million students (primary, secondary and TAFE) at a cost of $10,145,000,000; that is $9,900 per student. This also includes all expenses associated with running educational institutions, except, of course that in NSW capital works take up a much smaller proportion of the overall budget than the rapidly expanding School of St Jude.

It seems to me that the School of St Jude offers donors excellent value for money.

We can only wonder at what Tanzania could achieve if it had the same resources for education that NSW has. I regularly read announcements of aid to Tanzania amounting to hundreds of millions – for example the British government gave $275 million in 2005/06. It seems like a lot of money. But it is very little compared with the $10,000 million every year that NSW spends on its 1.1 million students.

I have heard people say that aid has not worked – Africa is still a basket case despite all the aid given over the years. But when you compare the amounts given to African countries for education with the real amount that it costs developed countries to offer the same service, we can see that the aid given is miniscule. It is not enough to improve anything, in fact it hardly serves to maintain the poorest of possibilities.

So, let’s get on with the job of sharing the resources that we were lucky to be born into. Your support of the School of St Jude will make a massive difference to hundreds of children and their families. These well-educated children will grow up to be thoughtful citizens and future leaders of Tanzania.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Birdman of Arusha

Are you into birds? Since marrying Hal, my eyes have been opened to the obsessive qualities of serious birders as they make their lists and learn the subtle (obscure?) identifying features of different species. So, it is no wonder that birds will be an important feature of the visit we plan to make to Arusha later this year.

You can picture my delight at discovering the Birdman of Arusha.

James Wolstencroft, Birdman of Arusha

James Wolstencroft made his first East African safari in 1976 and settled in Tanzania in 2005 with his wife and two sons. He is a lifelong naturalist and very keen birder, whose enthusiasm for all forms of wildlife has encouraged an interest in many others, some of whom have become avid birders.

His website reflects his passion, knowledge and aesthetic appreciation of the natural world, especially birds.

Luckily for us John offers guided tours of all varieties. He says,

In my tours and writing I seek dialogue with nature. Where ecological insight and aesthetic appreciation meet; hopefully generating more rewarding experiences than quick looks and ticks on a list.

I hope that we can spend some time with this remarkable man, in the natural world that he knows so well. Who knows, maybe we will be lucky enough to see the critically endangered Beesley’s Lark – there are only 45 left in the world.

A visit to East Africa can be a richly rewarding experience. We hope to experience the wonders of the natural world, learn about the local people and culture, and make a contribution to the School of St Jude.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


After a devastating drought in 2005-2006 that brought the country to its knees, late rains have filled the dams enough to give hope that electricity supplies will soon return to normal. It will take more rain to restore the confidence of farmers and give the country the farming production it needs for economic growth.

The drought and power cuts led the government to revise its 2006 gross domestic product growth forecast to 5.9% from an earlier 7.3%.

With the return of more certain electricity supplies, the School of St Jude won’t need to rely so heavily on its diesel generators, and will get some relief from the $8,000 per month fuel bills.

Here's Gemma with two of her constant companions – Amiri, the head groundsman in charge of all the building stores and Amani, our fulltime electrician, who has the tough job of keeping the school ‘switched on’ in a country with an atrocious power supply.

How many schools have a full-time electrician to keep things working? I guess that this is just one of the many wonderful differences about the School of St Jude.

I keep thinking about solar power. How effective is it in the Arusha district? Are there local suppliers? Can sponsorship help to provide solar power at both campuses? I need to find out more.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Amazing ability!

You should check out the December newsletter for Kim’s account of all the astonishing activities at the school in that single month!

This is a great newsletter because Kim is able to give us a picture of the remarkable capacities of Gemma to organise and encourage her large and growing team of staff, volunteers, parents, students and supporters.

Lunch for 2,400? No worries!

She certainly has a talent for running major events. The final school assembly was astonishing! 2,400 people were transported, seated, presented with awards and then fed!

School Assembly December 2006

Kim says that lists and schedules had been drawn up well in advance to include teams of workers involving every single person on the school grounds (even a chap who’d just wandered in to visit a friend for lunch) and preparations had been going on since lunchtime the day before when a thousand chairs had been placed in lines beside the hall to supplement the benches inside, a bus load of bananas was peeled, mountains of cabbages chopped, 350 kgs of meat diced, hundreds of tomatoes, capsicums, onions and carrots sliced, vats of water boiled, serving tables arranged, food bowls stacked, napkins prepared and the school grounds mowed and raked.

Gemma fosters a cooperative spirit in all the school’s activities. This is one of the core values that are transmitted by the school. There is such a good vibe about this place that people just WANT to be part of it. Kim says –

The most rewarding part of the whole procedure was watching the incredible team work as EVERY member of the staff pitched in and did his or her bit – drivers worked with heads of academic departments to chop tomatoes; the brickies served coleslaw with the security guards. And while teachers joined the gardeners to ladle out the cooked bananas, students stood with visiting Rotarians to offer soap and water for hand washing. Every person was vital to the success of the day … and it truly was a huge success. Not only did everyone have a meal within 15 minutes but there was time and enough for seconds!

The rewards of your contribution are massive. These children and their parents know through and through the life-changing value of the education offered at the school. Here is a mother of one of the 200 children who were accepted into the school in December.

A joyful mother hugs her newly-equipped daughter

What a smile! This small child is at the beginning of a wonderful journey that carries future hopes for her whole family. A lot rests on her shoulders. But with the support of her family, the school and supporters world-wide, she will realise her potential and break the cycle of grinding poverty that passes from generation to generation.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Peter Singer – Professor of Ethics

Peter Singer, an Australian, and the professor of ethics at Princeton looks at the ethics of philanthropy in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Peter Singer, Professor of Ethics at Princeton

He asks how our beliefs about the value of human life square with our actions in a world in which more than a billion people live at a level of affluence never before known, while roughly a billion others struggle to survive on the purchasing-power equivalent of less than $US1 a day.
He applauds the actions of the world’s richest people, Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet in pledging more than $US67 billion directed towards the world’s poorest.

Singer then analyses the incomes of the richest Americans – the top 0.01%, the top 0.05%, the top 1% and the top 10%.

He figures that the 14,400 people in the top 0.01% who earn an average of $US12.8 million could give a quarter of their income without hurting. The next categories are asked to give 20%, 15% and 10%. On his figures, this philanthropy would yield $US404 billion.

Extending this scheme worldwide would provide $US808 billion annually for development aid. That's more than six times what the task force chaired by Jeremy Sachs estimated would be required for 2006 in order to be on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

Of course, it is very easy to do this kind of armchair calculation; the difficulty lies in persuading the mega-rich to share their wealth. The fine leadership of Gates and Buffet has defined the first decade of the 21st century as a new "golden age of philanthropy", but it won't appeal to most rich people.

The effort to bring our actions in line with our values is an ongoing personal challenge for most of us. If you value human life and believe that equality is an important principle, you can act to support these principles by helping the School of St Jude to Fight Poverty through Education.

The school is one of those energetic, well-run and successful projects that are making a difference to hundreds of lives. Your donation, large or small, will be well-used.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Tanzanian women – world leaders

The new Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has appointed a Tanzanian woman for the top job, as the Deputy Secretary General. Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro is currently the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Republic of Tanzania. Prior to this post, she was the Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children. In her academic career, Dr. Migiro rose to the rank of a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Law of the University of Dar-es-Salaam.

Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro – UN Deputy Secretary General

Mr. Ban said, "She is a highly respected leader who has championed the cause of developing countries over the years. Through her distinguished service in diverse areas, she has displayed outstanding management skills with wide experience and expertise in socio-economic affairs and development issues.

"I have deep confidence in and respect for her, and intend to delegate much of the management and administrative work of the Secretariat, as well as socio-economic affairs and development issues, under a clear line of authority to ensure that the Secretariat will function in a more effective and efficient manner."

Dr Migiro has a master's degree in law from the University of Dar es Salaam and a doctorate in law from Germany's Konstanz University. She lives with her husband and two daughters.
With the UN appointment, she will be the highest ranking woman at the United Nations and the second-highest among all UN officials.

This appointment shows that, with the benefit of a good education, Tanzanians can contribute at a global level. Your support of the School of St Jude will help ensure that hundreds of capable children from the poorest families will get an excellent education, making them the future leaders of Tanzania, and the world.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Fair Trade coffee

My dear daughter Blanche has an eye for the appropriate! At Christmas she was very pleased with herself because she found some Fair Trade coffee from Tanzania to include in her Christmas gift to me.

She makes me smile at her thoughtfulness.
Fair Trade is an important scheme that promotes economic development in poor countries through trade.
Fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, which seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers. Fair trade organizations (backed by consumers) are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.

Trade is a vital element in the mix needed to lift countries out of poverty. However Alex Nicholls, social entrepreneurship professor at Oxford University says that "within developing countries, market conditions are not such that producers can unambiguously be declared to be better off through trade." The existence of market failures lessens the capacity of trade to lift developing countries out of poverty.

Wikipedia notes that fair trade products generally account for 0.5-5% of all sales in their product categories in Europe and North America. In October 2006, over 1.5 million disadvantaged producers worldwide were directly benefiting from fair trade while an additional 5 million benefited from fair trade funded infrastructure and community development projects.

Here’s a personal aside – Australia has a culture of good coffee which was brought to us largely by Italian migrants post-WWII. So there is no excuse for the cultural imperialism of American fast-food outlets in the form of Starbucks. When you drink the watery filtered stuff that passes for coffee in US restaurants and cafes you can see why Starbucks swept the nation. But it would be a sad state of affairs if the same happened here. So, I tend not to use the few Starbucks cafes that have opened in Australia.

However, Starbucks rose mightily in my regard when I discovered that they use Fair Trade coffee. Of course my estimation slid again when I discovered that only 3.7% of their coffee is Fair Trade. Ah well – a little is better than none. Look here to learn about an activist campaign to encourage Starbucks to give greater support to Fair Trade coffee.

For more information about Fair Trade you can check out Wikipedia, or the Fair Trade Organisation of Australia and NZ.

When you are shopping, you can look for the Fair Trade logo on goods you buy. Your retail dollar is a vote, and every dollar counts.

The Fair Trade movement is just getting underway in Australia, so look out for more Fair Trade goods appearing in the major supermarkets in the next year or two.

I wonder if they grow coffee in the north of Tanzania, near Arusha? Do some of the parents of kids at St Judes work on coffee farms? Maybe I’ll find out when we visit later this year!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

School visitors

The first building at the School of St Jude was started in 2002 by a working-party of Australian Rotarians. Each year, several groups of Rotarians come to help out at the school and do some sightseeing.

In an earlier post I showed the work accomplished by a group of Rotarians in September. Well, November saw the arrival of another group of eleven hard working Australian Rotarians who assembled the timber cut by the earlier working-party into around 170 desks and chairs for next year’s newly sponsored students.

While they were on the job, no one at the school could have a sleep-in because the group would be up at 6.00am hammering away! However they did a great job and by the time they had left had assembled around 170 desks and chairs. It’s great to know that all the new sponsored kids who will enroll next year won’t have to sit on the floor!!

After the rewarding work of making something useful, there is the fabulous chance to see the Serengeti!

Wildebeest migration – one of the Seven Wonders

The School has always welcomed visitors –
We love visitors! The children and staff love visitors! Even our supposedly ferocious Alsatian guard dogs love visitors! We are very proud of our school and so we enjoy being able to show it off. For this reason we have a special visitors program for people who would like to drop in for a day or up to two weeks and join in activities, explore the area or just relax and soak up the atmosphere in and around the school.

Visitors tend to fall into one of two categories: younger backpacker types who are travelling the world in an adventurous way, and older people who wish to contribute their skills and energy to a worthwhile project that is making a real difference. I think this kind of travel is called ‘values-based travel’ or ‘authentic tourism’ some such marketing category.

We are excited because it looks like we may be able to visit Tanzania this year. There are some good flight deals in May, so that might be the time!

REMINDER: The ‘3 peaks 3 weeks’ challenge starts on 6 January. Ten women will climb three mountains (Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya and Mt Meru) in three weeks as a fundraiser. The School of St Jude is one of the beneficiaries, and they have raised an amazing $220,000 so far. Check out!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The task ahead

The very poorest countries depend on foreign aid for their basic functioning. Major aid comes through the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the UN and donor countries. Because they hold the purse strings, these donors have a strong influence on African policy.

School enrollment rates in sub Saharan countries soared for two decades until 1980, when the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund demanded that African governments slash public spending to deal with a wave of economic crises. As spending stagnated, so did schools. During the 1980s, the region’s enrollment rates languished. In Mali, the spending cuts meant that all but three teacher training institutes were closed. No wonder education suffered.

You could say that the current education standards in Africa are a direct result of the actions of Western donor countries. Donors seem to have seen the error of their ways and they have reignited the push for basic education in the 1990s. Wealthy nations and global lenders like the World Bank increased contributions to basic education in sub-Saharan Africa by almost half in just four years, to an average of $723 million a year in 2003 and 2004, according to Unesco.

Yet even this will not enable the region to meet the United Nations’ millennium target of assuring all children a sixth-grade education by 2015. At current spending levels, the World Bank estimates, that will take sub-Saharan nations another 50 years. Achieving it within the next decade would require a ninefold increase in aid, Unesco’s experts say. They argue that donors should shift funds to Africa from other, less needy parts of the world and to primary schools from higher education.

Today’s development experts say that education is the region’s best hope. Only by educating children through at least the sixth grade, they say, can Africa attack the rise in poverty that has left it trailing the rest of the developing world. In sub-Saharan Africa, the average adult’s schooling ends at the third grade. Two in five are illiterate. No nation has ever achieved rapid and sustained economic growth with a population so poorly educated, the World Bank says.

There's a good article in the New York Times on this topic.

The School of St Jude provides quality education for 850 children from the poorest families around Arusha, Tanzania. It is a centre of excellence that is supported by private donors from Australia and other countries.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! May 2007 see great strides towards meeting the Millenium Development Goals and the Fight against Poverty.

Sydney, as usual, welcomed the New Year with a major fireworks party. One million spectators gathered at hundreds of spots around Sydney Harbour on New Year's Eve to witness the world's biggest ever fireworks display. The $4 million celebrations, dubbed "A Diamond Night in the Emerald City", celebrated the Diamond anniversary of the Harbour Bridge, which celebrates its 75th birthday in March.

Fireworks on Sydney Harbour. Source: Sydney Morning Herald

I tried to stay awake so we could make the half hour drive to a viewing spot I know, but I fell asleep on the couch and Hal went off alone.

I woke this morning to the sound of good soaking rain – an auspicious start to 2007. I hope the five year drought breaks this year. We find ourselves pulled between two opposite thoughts – the hopeful voice says ‘it must rain again sometime!’, while the fearful voice says ‘with global warming, rainfall will drop and the dams will never be full again’.

Are we facing an era of instability and war as countries and communities fight over dwindling water resources? Is this fueling the current war in Ethopia/Somalia? It is hard to see the large patterns when you are right up close. A longer timeframe will make it clearer.

In the meantime, I plug away at doing my bit, making my actions count.