Fighting Poverty Through Education



Gemma Sisia, an Australian humanitarian, has travelled the world spreading the word about The School of St Jude; from the International Rotary Convention to the TEDx stage, she has inspired people of all ages and from all walks of life with her story.

St Jude’s was built on her belief that everyone has the right to an education and the understanding that education is a powerful means to fight poverty. After building the school from the ground up in 2002, Gemma has changed the lives of thousands of students and their families forever. In 17 years St Jude's has grown from one teacher and three students to providing 1,800 students with a free, high-quality education - as well as pathways to university and future employment.

Gemma will speak about how she came to find herself in Africa, and went on to establish St Jude’s, just outside Arusha, in Tanzania. She will explain how a high-quality education was out of reach for most Tanzanian children and the reality of life without an education in East Africa. 

Join us for this inspiring event to hear the achievements of St Jude’s and its students, and to appreciate how this pioneering leader in charitable education is achieving its mission by 'fighting poverty through education'. Gemma will also describe some of the challenges she faced in building St Jude’s up to be the success it is today.


In 2007 Gemma’s achievements were honoured by an Order of Australia medal.

Her story has been featured twice in the ABC TV documentary program Australian Story, in 2005 and a follow-up in 2009. In 2012 Gemma was named one of The Australian Financial Review and Westpac’s 100 Women of Influence, nominated in the Global category and was also a finalist in New South Wales for Australian of the Year.

At 22 years old, with a passion and zeal inherited from her ancestor, Edmund Rice (founder of the Christian Brothers movement), Gemma devoted her time to helping some of Africa's poorest communities. She travelled to Uganda, East Africa to volunteer for three years as a teacher. This experience fostered a fervent belief that a free, high-quality education should be the right of all children, and that education is the strongest weapon in fighting poverty, corruption and political instability. On returning to Australia, Gemma began fundraising to help underprivileged children in Uganda complete their schooling. Overwhelmed with support and donations, Gemma raised enough to open an official fund to invest in the education of East Africa’s poorest children.

While working in Uganda, Gemma travelled to neighbouring Tanzania and met Richard Sisia, a safari driver, who later became her husband.  Richard’s father Daniel Sisia, a village chairman, gifted them a small plot of land that became home to The School of St Jude.


Joining Gemma on a trip of a lifetime is 2018 graduate Godwin, who cannot wait to tell you about how receiving a free, high-quality education at St Jude’s has changed his life.

The aspiring electrical engineer graduated last year, topping his class in both maths and science and is currently completing his Beyond St Jude’s Community Service Year as a volunteer teacher in an under-resourced, local government school. His sense of community spirit, determination and aptitude has certainly paid off; in addition to being invited by Gemma to join her for St Jude’s 2019 international promotional tour, Godwin recently found out he has successfully earned a full scholarship to study a Bachelor of Engineering in the United States.

“It has been a great year for me so far! I have so many opportunities in my hands, and it is all thanks to The School of St Jude. It is my great pleasure and honour to meet so many St Jude’s supporters, the people who have helped me become the young man I am, and thank them for what they have done, what they have given me,” Godwin said.

Like so many of St Jude’s students, Godwin, who was raised by a single mother, has faced significant obstacles and challenges along the road to success.

“I did not start at St Jude’s until secondary school, in 2012. I attended a government primary school and we did not have enough seats, teachers or textbooks. I remember each day around lunch time, I was so hungry that all I could do was daydream about drinking the porridge my mum would cook in the afternoon. It was all we would eat for the day,” he shared.

“Sometimes, we had to skip meals. When I came to St Jude’s, it was like paradise. We had three meals a day and everything a student needs to study hard. We were encouraged by our teachers. Thanks to St Jude’s, I had chances to enter essay competitions and was fortunate to even win some of them. These small victories gave me confidence when I was applying for university scholarships. I have had a golden chance and the sky is the limit!”

Godwin’s educational journey has come full-circle. He is completing his Community Service Year at the secondary school he would have attended, had he not been accepted into St Jude’s.

“I look at my students and see in comparison how tough it is for them. The government school has only two physics teachers for 1,500 students. There is no doubt that education is the most important weapon to fight poverty, and St Jude’s supporters are helping us do this every day.”

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to meet Godwin and find out more about how St Jude’s is changing lives. More information on Godwin.


St Jude’s provides a free, high-quality education to children who – due to poverty and social pressures – would otherwise be unlikely to complete their schooling. Drawn from families who often live on less than US$1.90 per day, the pupils of St Jude’s are shining examples of what students can achieve when they are given the opportunity to receive a quality education.

Through hard work and determination, the school has expanded to approximately 1,800 students across a primary and secondary campus that include boarding facilities. St Jude’s also provides employment to more than 280 local Tanzanian staff, including academic leadership and their teams, ensuring a sustainable and self-determining future for St Jude’s.

In 2015 St Jude’s celebrated its first ever Form 6 (year 12) graduating class, which placed in the top 10% in Tanzania. Currently, there are nearly 400 graduates, many of whom are supported by the Beyond St Jude’s program – designed to extend a graduates’ academic scholarship to tertiary education.

Through Beyond St Jude’s students have completed a Community Service Year Internship teaching in under-resourced and understaffed government schools, helping to educate over 30,000 government school students who otherwise would not have had a teacher for core subjects like maths and science.

Now these graduates are enrolled in universities across Tanzania and East Africa and one step closer to becoming the next generation of Tanzanian leaders.


More Information

Website: The School of St Jude's
YouTube Channel: School of St Jude
Australian Story (2009)Africa Calling
The Sydney Morning Herald: 'We call this heaven': Gemma Sisia's Tanzanian story
Facebook: @schoolofstjude

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Presented by The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre

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