“THANK YOU FANS AND ALL MEMBERS FOR VOTING GEMMA TO BE ON OUR WALL OF FAME SHE HAS DONE EXTRA MILES AND SHE HAS BROUGHT A BIG CHANGE IN THE LIVES OF YOUNG MEN AND WOMEN OF AFRICA ASANTE SANA”
ERIC LUCAS FOUNDER OF AFRICAMOJA YOUTH SOCIETY
“Its a long walk from Australia to Tanzania , many valleys and mountains have been climbed and many challenges has bee concurred , that you have show us a way toward self liberation from poverty though education ,thank you very much Gemma Sisia for the changes that you have made , thank you for preparing the future leaders of Tanzania and word at large , leaders who will be HONEST,KIND,RESPONSIBLE and RESPECTFUL God bless you and live long Gemma.“Eric Lucas Founder & Director Africamoja Youth Ssociety
Gemma Sisia spent her early years on a fine wool sheep property just outside Guyra in northern New South Wales, Australia. She is the only daughter with seven brothers
After completing her secondary studies at St Vincent’s College in Sydney, Gemma decided to pursue a Science Degree (majoring in Genetics and Biochemistry) at Melbourne University and then an Honours Program (where she was awarded First Class) in the Northern Territory.
After completing a Diploma of Education she fulfilled a long held desire to help the poor in Africa, and travelled to Uganda to work for three years as a volunteer. This experience lead to her passionate belief that free yet high quality education should be the right of all children in the world as education is the strongest weapon in the fight against poverty, corruption and political instability.
On her return to Australia, Gemma decided that this was the sort of work she wanted to pursue and so started a small group effort to help educate the poor in East Africa. A gift of a small plot of land in Arusha, Tanzania, from her father-in-law allowed her to realise her dream. In 2002 The School of St Jude opened with only a handful of sponsored children. With hard work and determination, the school has exploded to over 1300 children (on three campuses) all of whom are given a free education through sponsorship from individuals, families, clubs and schools from around Australia and abroad. The school also gives employment to over 330 local Tanzanian staff, including three sets of local Headmasters and their academic teams who run each school.
Even though The School of St Jude is very young, its academic results have already proven to be excellent with all the students in the examination year, being placed in the top 10% of Tanzania in the 2008 Tanzanian National Examinations. Then in 2009, only the second time that the school participated in the National exams, St Jude’s moved up in the rankings, number 21 out of over 15,000 nationwide.
Gemma is married with three children – Nathaniel (8), Jacob (7) and Isabella (2). Her autobiography, St Jude’s, was published in Australia by Pan Macmillian and remained on the best sellers list for over two months after it was released in 2007. Gemma’s story featured twice in the high rating ABC TV documentary program, Australian Story. In 2007 Gemma’s achievements were honoured by an Order of Australia medal.
The School of St Jude is a non-profit organisation enjoying continuing success only because of our dedicated and generous supporters and the hard working team on the ground. Monetary contributions to St Jude’s are tax deductible in Australia, UK and the US. Guided by the school’s philosophy of Fighting Poverty through Education Gemma Sisia is determined that St Jude’s will continue to grow and maintain the high standard of academic achievement it currently enjoys.
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“Gemma Sisia was always a ‘challenge junkie’ according to her parents, so it was no surprise to anyone when she established an Australian run school in Tanzania.
Gemma originally went to Africa to work in a convent school started by an order of French nuns. But her plans changed on safari when she fell in love with her Tanzanian guide, Richard Sisia. Despite the reservations of some in her family, Gemma and Richard married in 2001.
Gemma started a scheme to sponsor the education of African children, but then decided to go one step further and build her own school to fight poverty through education.
Four years later, the School of St Jude is flourishing but donations to keep it running are drying up as the global financial crisis takes hold.
Now Gemma faces her biggest challenge yet, can the school find the money to educate the next generation of students.
We rejoin Gemma Sisia on a visit to Australia and witness a moving encounter in Tanzania as Gemma’s mother puts aside her reservations to visit her daughter for the first time.”
CAN YOU IMAGINE
Gemma Sisia (1971 – )
A remarkable Australian girl from the country in Northern NSW, Gemma Sisia is busy transforming the lives of African children by running a school in Tanzania called The School of St Jude
Born in Guyra, near Armidale,in 1971, Gemma is one of eight children. As a country girl she loved show-jumping and mustering sheep and later hang gliding, skydiving and even camel racing. It is no surprise that her parents labeled her a bit of a ‘challenge junky’. On leaving school, she wanted to work as a volunteer in Africa so trained as a teacher and the taught for two years in Uganda, her first spell of volunteering. It was then she met her future husband, Richard Sisia, a Tanzanian safari driver.
After returning to Australia Gemma and friends began sending money back to Africa to help a number of young Ugandans complete their schooling. When she found it more and more difficult to ensure that the money she and friends collected ended up in the right places she decided it would be better to return to Uganda and set up her own school.
Richard Sisia’s father had another idea. Chairman of a village near Arusha , he offered Gemma some land on which to build her school in Tanzania and she began seeking donations of pens, paper and books and money for bricks and cement to build her school. She 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, with an 18-year-old volunteer teacher from Sydney, three sponsored pupils, and Gemma’s own boundless energy. From those humble beginnings, the school now has over 1300 students, and one of the best academic records in the country.
The St Jude’s slogan is simple but effective: ‘fight poverty through education’. The school is for the very poorest children, the ones whose families can’t afford the clothes or books or even pencils to send them to the few government-run schools. These are the children of illiterate parents, who might otherwise remain trapped in a cycle of poor education, illiteracy and poverty.
Now the mother of three – two boys, Nathaniel and Jacob, and a daughter, Isabella, – Gemma Sisia sees herself as a trouble-shooter for St Jude’s, busy every minute of the day and totally committed to continuing to raise funds to maintain the school’s standard of excellence and ensure that each year St Jude’s can continue to take on new students.
A second St. Jude’s campus opened to great excitement in January 2008, reinforcing the long-term aim to reproduce the hugely successful formula across Tanzania and East Africa. St Jude’s has been an astonishing achievement to help children who would otherwise have little hope for the future.
In 2014 St Jude’s will educate up to Form 6 making it a complete Primary and Secondary School. This will be the year that the first students will also graduate – an exciting year for Gemma and her team of dedicated teachers and staff.
Gemma Sisia’s story challenges us with the evidence of how the determination of one person can help change the world.