Last summer my Grandpa called to ask, “How’d you like to go to Africa next spring?” I said “Really? I’d love to!” He offered to take my brother Tyler and me on a once in a lifetime trip. Needless to say, the trip was a life changing experience. Our trip included a safari to the Serengeti and to see the Mountain gorillas, but our week at the School of St Jude (http://www.schoolofstjude.org) was by far the most profound experience of the trip.
My grandpa is a member of the local Rotary Club in Rapid City, SD. In addition to leading numerous community service events and fighting Polio worldwide, Rotary International also helps fund a K-12 school in Tanzania by paying for their school fees. Some of the local Rotary members have been sponsoring students since the students were in Kindergarten and this trip aligned with their graduation so it was an especially moving weekend.
The School of St Jude and was started in 2002 by an Australian woman named Gemma Sisia. At the age of 22, Gemma volunteered as a teacher in East Africa and quickly gained a firsthand account of the poorly lacking educational system. She felt so moved by the experience that she quickly started her own charity to raise money for the schools and ultimately started the school on a donated piece of land from her father-in-law, a local Tanzanian. The first year the school had three students but has grown to accommodate more than 2,000 students and staff.
The school is solely for low income children who’ve performed very well on national exams. To be accepted, the kids must pass a poverty assessment as well as an entrance exam. In general, the kids who are accepted don’t have running water, indoor cooking or bathroom, glass windows, more than two rooms, or anything but a dirt floor. In addition, they must rank in the top ten percent in the country on test scores. Because the country is lacking in doctors and engineers, the school has a strong science engineering technology and math (STEM) focus. Nearly all the graduates go on to college where they plan to study medicine, engineering, agriculture, or business.
What impressed me most was how one person can launch an effort that truly creates positive systemic impact on a country. Through the creation of the School of St Jude, the lives of thousands of students have been improved, their families have been brought out of poverty, and there is great hope that these students will make a lasting impact on the economies of their communities.
Listening to the graduates speak was the most moving. Although they had a strong accent, they all had great English and an amazing life story to tell. Most student had used their education to tutor students in the local area as a source of income for their families. In addition, at home they taught English to their family. This greatly improved their family’s income as the country is very dependent on tourism. After graduation, most students came back for a year of community service where they helped in government schools which are extremely lacking in teachers. After their community service year, nearly all the students went to college so they could come back to raise their fellow countrymen and women out of poverty. I have no doubt that the graduates St Jude will be making an incredible impact on their home country of Tanzania.
Thank you Grandpa for an adventure of a lifetime and for the impact this trip has made on my life!