Building futures from the ground up

In 2002, three shy yet hopeful young Tanzanians stepped through the doors of a small school built on hope, determination, and aching muscles. Today, that school is changing the lives of thousands of disadvantaged youths and the communities they call home.

Enock Ephrahim was a young student at a government school in Arusha, Tanzania, when he first noticed the School of St Jude’s colourful school buses driving through the streets.

“I grew up in a small Masai Boma and saw the struggles of life,” says Enock.

“My grandfather was a fortune teller and a traditional healer, and my father was his only son. So, my father never got access to education as he had to help my grandfather and care for the cows. When I was born, my father wanted me to have an education instead, but he didn’t have the means.

PICTURED: St Jude’s is a pioneering leader in charitable education within Africa, providing 100 per cent of its students with full scholarships.

“I just wanted an education that could help me help my people. I always felt like my people had given up on education; we had no role models at all. By the time I was starting Class 1, no one in our entire Boma had gone past primary school.”

Inspired by the opportunity St Jude’s offered, Enock successfully applied for a scholarship and went on to spend the next 12 years of his academic life at The School of St Jude.

Founded by Gemma Sisia from Guyra, NSW, with strong support from her local Rotary clubs and a generous donation of land from her father-in-law, Daniel Sisia, the school first opened its gates in 2002, with three students and one volunteer teacher.

Today, St Jude’s is a pioneering leader in charitable education within Africa, providing 100 per cent of its students with full scholarships. Since 2015, St Jude’s has celebrated over 1,000 graduates, in addition to the 1,800 currently studying at the school.

PICTURED: The School of St Jude founder Gemma Sisia and past student – now alumni and staff – Enock Ephrahim.

The school employs more than 350 staff – 98 per cent of whom are Tanzanian – provides safe and supportive boarding for all of its secondary school students, and serves up 29,000 hot and nutritious meals each week.

St Jude’s graduates are teaching over 13,000 students across 41 government secondary schools, while the school supports more than 350 tertiary scholars at 49 universities.

But St Jude’s is about more than providing free, quality education to Tanzanian students from disadvantaged backgrounds; it aims to instil its students with a strong moral compass and values to support and build them into community focused leaders of Tanzania.

“Here at St Jude’s, we encourage Tanzanian youth to do more than just succeed – we empower them to transform their community, challenge the status quo, and find solutions for the challenges they see in society,” Gemma says.

PICTURED: More than 300 Rotary clubs from all over the world have contributed to make St Jude’s the success story it is today. Pictured with Gemma, second from left, and students are members of the Rotary Club of Brisbane High Rise, Qld, who have been huge supporters of the school, including raising significant funds to purchase water tanks and donating solar water heaters – just to name a few!

An ambitious goal that would not be possible without the support of Rotary. More than 300 Rotary clubs from around the world – many from Australia and New Zealand – have contributed to make St Jude’s the school it is today.

From the first building ever built – led by the Rotary Club of Armidale Central, NSW – to water tanks, buses, furniture, power, playgrounds, and hot water, Rotary plays an integral role in the school’s continued success.

“St Jude’s wouldn’t exist if I didn’t have Rotarians behind me from the start,” Gemma says.

“When I first started with this idea, most people were very sceptical, but the local Rotary club believed in me whole heartedly from the get-go. They helped me when most people didn’t.

“Many of our students continue to be sponsored by loyal Rotarians, supporting them in their individual growth and building their own futures.

“The impact of the events and spreading of the word by our Rotarian supporters is unmatched – we call it the ‘Rotarian network effect’.”

PICTURED: The School of St Jude celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2022. Since 2015, more than 1,000 students have graduated successfully, in addition to the 1,800 currently studying at the school. Seventy-six per cent of graduates’ families overcome extreme poverty.

As for young Enock, he graduated from St Jude’s in 2015 and joined the Beyond St Jude’s Scholarship Program, where he spent the following year volunteering at the school. He then won a scholarship to study Business, Finance, and Statistics at the University of Rochester in New York, US, and later, went on to secure internships with international companies in Tanzania and Ghana.

While at university, Enock co-founded the Alumni Diaspora, an initiative that brings together St Jude’s alumni from all over the world to share opportunities and support the school. He became an active member of the alumni community, helping fellow alumni find and apply for international scholarships and raising awareness about St Jude’s around the world.

Today, Enock is back at The School of St Jude, where he works with the Alumni team helping hundreds of alumni reach their potential beyond the school gates. He is inspired to establish a strong Alumni Association so they can remain connected as a community and thrive.

“The way my journey has panned out at St Jude’s is more than I could have ever imagined,” says Enock.

“I usually tell Gemma it feels like my whole family attended St Jude’s. We have all benefited and grown in ways we can’t describe. We are super grateful.

“Even when I was little, I always believed I could do more. I just needed someone to believe in me and give me the opportunity and space to learn, make mistakes, and explore my talents. That’s everything St Jude’s did for me, and that’s what I want to do for my community – enable access.”

St Jude’s East Coast Tour
The School That Hope Built, written by Madeleine Kelly, is an extraordinary account of Gemma Sisia’s 20 years as the founder of St Jude’s, a school that is changing the lives of children in Tanzania. To celebrate the launch of the book, Gemma, Madeleine and Enock will share their incredible journey during their East Coast Tour of Australia in May/June 2023. This will be Gemma’s first tour since 2019 to help fundraise for the school and spread the word. Find out more about the tour at