IT’S A long way from Guyra to Tanzania, but the journey is everything, according to Gemma Sisia.
Mrs Sisia travelled to Tamworth last Thursday afternoon to address more than 150 local Rotary club members that night.
During the past week or so she has been travelling across the north for various engagements to speak about her life in Africa and being able to offer an education to Tanzanian children.
The week-long journey across the region was one of four and involved back-to-back fundraising and “catch-up” events, often five or six each day, to help her school, St Jude’s, in Tanzania.
“A month is about as long as I will leave the school and my family,” Mrs Sisia said.
“I promised my husband, and the three children, that I won’t be any longer than that.”
Upon leaving school, Gemma told her parents she wanted to volunteer in Africa.
She trained as a teacher and moved to Uganda. It was there she met her husband, Richard, a Tanzanian safari driver.
After her first spell of volunteering, Gemma returned home and encouraged her friends to send money to Africa to help a number of young Ugandans complete their schooling.
When she found it was more difficult to ensure the money ended up in the right hands, she decided it would be better to establish her own school.
Richard’s father, the chairman of a village near Arusha, had another idea and offered Gemma some land on which she could build her school.
She began seeking donations of pens, paper and books, as well as money for bricks and cement to build the school, and organised a succession of volunteer teams from Australia to come and construct the first two school blocks.
St Jude’s, named after the patron saint of hopeless causes, opened in 2002.
In the time since the school has grown beyond belief.
It now has more than 1300 students and one of the best academic records in the country.
A second St Jude’s campus opened in January 2008, reinforcing the long-term aim to reproduce the hugely successful formula across Tanzania and east Africa.
From next year the plan is to educate students up to sixth form – meaning the school will cater for all primary and high school students.
It will also be the first year students will be able to graduate.
Mrs Sisia’s trip to Tamworth last Thursday was part of an annual pilgrimage to raise funds to continue to help build on St Jude’s and what it can offer its students.
By offering classes from the equivalent of Year 1 to Year 12 next year, the need for about 150 more sponsors is getting urgent.
“If we have 150 students coming in, which we do in Year 1 next year, we need 150 sponsors for them,” she said.
“We are also hoping to retain sponsors for those children who will graduate as they move on to university, because we want to be a part of that pathway, too.”
The week of the tour that encompassed our region was significant for other reasons, too – it allowed Mrs Sisia to catch up with her mother, Ann Rice.
“We haven’t seen each other for about two years,” Mrs Sisia said.
“It’s good that mum can come with us for a week, so that we can catch up, but it also means she is there supporting me and can hear about where work is up to.”
In the years since St Jude’s was established, Mrs Sisia said she continued to be overwhelmed by the support from towns close to her Guyra home.
“We have so much support from the region and it’s ongoing. It doesn’t seem to matter if people are in drought or flood, they are still generous. The tour is another great way to get back and connect with people who offer that support, and honestly just say thank you,” she said.
More information about St Jude’s and Mrs Sisia can be found at www.schoolofstjude.org