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Published: July 12th 2013
As we disembarked the plane and walked across the tarmac to the small Kilimanjaro airport, breathing in the warm tropical air, it really hit us – we are in Africa, a place of dreams. Known as the Dark Continent not for the racial undertones as many believe, but rather because so many areas of the map were left dark to indicate uncharted and undiscovered land in the nineteenth century, Africa still holds an exotic and mysterious appeal. Our arrival into Tanzania also signified the realization of our long standing goal: to travel to the six inhabited continents before the age of thirty.
Our first stop in Tanzania was Arusha, once a small town it has now turned into a bustling city as it is widely accepted as the “Safari Capital” of Tanzania’s ever growing tourism industry and is also the site of the ongoing War Crime Tribunal for neighbouring Rwanda’s horrific 1994 genocide. Arusha is also home to the School of St. Jude which is an NGO providing a free high quality education to its students. St. Jude’s is a non-denominational school where the only admission criteria are that the students be very poor and very bright. By
allowing these children to get a quality education it changes their lives and the lives of their families, providing them with opportunities that would never have been available to the poor. St Jude’s also provides the students with their uniforms and educational supplies, safe drinking water, a nutritious meal, transportation to and from school, and annual medical check-ups. Upper level students stay in boarding houses where they receive three meals a day and teacher guided study sessions in the evenings. The school also employs about 400 local staff and buys their supplies locally, so they help not only the students and their families, but the whole community. It is hoped that once the students graduate and enter the workforce, this ripple effect will continue to improve quality of life throughout all of Tanzania by having well educated people with good values and a true understanding of the country’s poverty working towards making their country the best it can be. The mission of St. Jude’s is Fighting Poverty Through Education. Without St. Jude’s, these children would face the government schools where there are often more than 75 people to one teacher and a couple of textbooks, and many students
sit on the floor because there aren’t enough desks. Often poor families cannot afford the uniforms and schools supplies and many children have to drop out after elementary school.
St. Jude’s is funded entirely by International sponsors and Rotary Clubs. We have sponsored a little girl named Sabha for the past year. She writes us letters and we receive updates on her progress at school and her report cards. Being able to visit the school was very special to us; rarely does one have the opportunity to witness their charitable donations at work first hand. We arrived at night and were put up in accommodations reserved for visitors. In the morning Bernadetha, the Visitor Coordinator whom I had been communicating with via email for the past couple months gave us a tour of the school and the nearby boarding campus. We were permitted to observe the extra-curricular classes which students take once a week – physical education, art, and music; but not the core academic classes as we would distract the students from their studies. Whenever we entered a classroom, the class would stand up and sing in unison, Good Morning Visitors! and then continue on with
their class. St. Jude’s is an English medium school, and students are asked to speak English at all times (with the exception of one KiSwahili course), as English is the language used by government and business in Tanzania. The students seem to have a good grasp of the language even at a young age. We were lucky enough to sit in on a music class where the students were learning drums. They were using both traditional bongos and a modern drum set. African people seem to have a sense of rhythm ingrained into them from birth, and some of the children would follow the rhythm of the drums with their whole bodies. We had a short break to speak with the teacher between classes, and when he asked us about our musical talents we told him I had none but Andrew could play the drums. He invited Andrew to use the drums, and as he was playing the next class hurried in, marvelling at the strange white man rocking out on the drums. The students circled him and clapped along as he played. Afterwards, as the class continued a few of the children could be seen playing air drums at
their desk a la Andrew. After our experience in the music class we went to the library where we helped out by laminating some new workbooks while listening to the librarian read a story to the young children.
A highlight of our visit to the school was meeting Sabha. We first met her during lunch, when we ate a traditional meal of Ugali with her, a filling dish of corn flour paste that looks like mashed potatoes, mixed with spinach and other spices. After we ate, we asked if she wanted to go play in the playground. We would have been content to watch her play with her friends, but she was excited to bring us around and show us all the different play areas. I pushed her on the swingset, and she was impressed that Andrew could reach the monkey bars with his feet still on the ground. I played a game with her and her friends which was similar to dodgeball, except it was played with a rolled up pair of socks. The playground is a very busy and special place, as these facilities are very uncommon in Tanzania. When the bell rang however, all the students
hurried back to class, excited to learn something new.
After school, we were invited to meet Sabha’s family at their home. We were taken there by school bus and accompanied by a translator/chaperone from the school. Sabha lives with her mother, Rhadia, her father, Hussein, and her younger sister, Shadia. The family moved last year to a larger home as the children are getting older. They now live in a cement block home in a compound with other families with shared bath room and water. Their home has two small rooms (before they lived in a one room home); which combined are about the size of our living room or perhaps a little smaller, and a curtain covering the entrance to their home. Sabha is one of the more fortunate students at the school as her family can afford a cement home with electricity, but the neighbourhood they live in is quite impoverished. As we reached her home, we were greeted by Hussein’s friendly Karibu! meaning welcome. We had seen photos of Rhadia and Shadia provided by the school but didn’t have much information about her father, so we were happy to meet him as well. We
had been slightly anxious about the meeting as we were unsure of what to expect or that it may be awkward; however it couldn’t have gone better. The family was very welcoming and kind and served us delicious tea and biscuits. They wanted to know a lot about us and were eager to share about their family. We had expected they might be uncomfortable with our meeting, but they couldn’t have been more genuinely gracious and thankful for our contribution to Sabha’s education. Her parents weren’t much older than ourselves and we really felt we connected with them; we could tell they enjoyed spending time with friends and having fun and worked hard to provide the best life for their family that they could. They shared a very tattered, but very cherished photo album with us, which contained the few photos that represented the memories from their lives. Sabha told us about each photo – who was in it and what they were doing at the time - with some help from her mother. Before leaving their house we were very happy to give them a few gifts. We had a care package for the family with needed everyday items
such as flour, sugar, a mosquito net, and other household items that the school had put together for us; and we had brought some things from home as well that we had bought or been given by family and friends, such as books, clothing and games. Sabha’s family was very grateful and we were happy to be able to show our appreciation for being invited into their home.
We experienced so much in our short time at St. Jude’s; it was both heart-warming and heart-breaking. After our experience, we truly believe that the school is making a difference in the community, and that the ripple effect of this will continue to grow as students begin to graduate. While our contribution is minimal when looking at the big picture, we are so happy to be a small part of the St. Jude’s community!
Anyone interested in learning more about St. Jude’s can visit their website at: http://www.schoolofstjude.org/
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