Lent has had a special meaning for staff and students at Our Lady Help of Christians Parish Primary School, Rosemeadow this year, where the school community has focused its efforts on raising money for a non-profit school in Tanzania. Two of its teachers are travelling to the African nation in the upcoming school holidays to personally deliver the funds.
What began as a possible idea for a Wakakirri performance has led Our Lady Help of Christians teachers, Natasha Ferderer and Alana Stroligo on a much bigger venture.
They were inspired by the story of Gemma Sisia: an Australian Catholic and education activist from Armidale who founded The School of St Jude in 2002 to raise the standards of education in Tanzania and break the cycle of poverty, especially for underprivileged girls.
St Jude may be the patron saint of hopeless causes, but this school is anything but: it successfully provides a free, high-quality education to nearly 2000 children, mainly girls who - due to poverty and social pressures - would otherwise be unlikely to complete their schooling.
Watch Gemma Sisia’s TEDTalk about her story and building what is now one of the biggest nonprofit schools in Africa, here:
Miss Ferderer was captured by the story, and wanted to engage with the students about it in a meaningful way - at first, she thought, by telling the story on stage.
“I wanted our students to see that people can actually go out there and do something to make a difference rather than just say ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to do something about such and such’,” she said.
“Gemma saw a need to change the cycle of poverty in Africa and actually changed it. She’s doing it through education, which is what we all do too.”
Miss Stroligo had also heard Gemma’s story, through reading her book and researching her school online. It didn’t take long for the two to start talking about their shared interest.
“I was inspired by what Tash was talking about. I told her a friend of mine went to Africa last year and told me all about her time working at a school and said that it changed her outlook on life.”
So instead, the two teachers planned a trip together to visit Tanzania and see the school for themselves.
“I am looking forward to doing a home visit and immersing myself into their lives and culture,” Miss Stroligo said.
They contacted Gemma to see how they could best help. She told them St Jude’s relies on donations from Australia to keep the school running. That’s where the fundraising efforts began.
The Rosemeadow school community has embraced Bishop Brian’s Lenten message to not just give up something, but take up something - “a challenge, perhaps some radical form of kindness or deliberately going above and beyond in the service of each other” as the Bishop said.
Principal, Michelle Rolfe, said families, students and staff had enthusiastically and “in typical OLHC fashion, got behind the project”. This has included baking and selling cupcakes, holding raffles, running guessing competitions, and people making personal donations across Lent. The fundraising culminated in a recent mufti day [pictured above] bringing the total to around $2,000.
“Our community at Our Lady Help of Christians doesn’t have a great deal of money but there is always someone worse off than we are, and the generosity and enthusiasm of parents, students and staff towards this community in Tanzania has been heartwarming,” Ms Rolfe said.
“The community is very much looking forward to watching the trip these two young teachers take to deliver money, goods and love to a school on the other side of the world.”
Parish Priest Fr Chris Sarkis has also supported the project. He said he was very keen for the students to see exactly how much their contributions can improve the lives of those less fortunate. He believed it would also help teach the children “how important it is to put into practice our Lord’s words about ‘loving one another’ and ‘whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me’”.
Well done Our Lady Help of Christians! We wish Miss Ferderer and Miss Stroligo a wonderful trip.