By: John Kubal, The Brookings Register

BROOKINGS – When Brookings Rotarian Gregg Jongeling and his wife Vi had an opportunity this past May to join a safari to view and photograph the wildlife of the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania, Africa, they took it.

Additionally, they knew they would attend a graduation ceremony at one of the most successful educational projects that Rotary supports: The School of St. Jude, in the city of Arusha, in the Northern Region of Tanzania.

“In my case, I went for the safari; but I came back with the enthusiasm for the school,” Gregg said.

“We love to travel, so it was just an opportunity to go with a group,” Vi added.

The Jongelings paid their own way and joined Rotary Club members who had been sponsoring a student and were going over for the school’s third high school graduation ceremony.

The school was founded in 2002 by Australian Gemma Sisia and named in honor of St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes. From its opening with three students and one teacher, the school has grown to almost 2,000 students spread over three campuses. More than 1,000 of the students are boarded on two of the campuses. St. Jude’s is totally funded through charitable donations and receives no government funding.

While the school is named after a Catholic patron saint, it is per se ecumenical, and religious instruction is not part of the curriculum.


Passing the ‘poverty test’

One of the most unique aspects of St. Jude’s is its process for selecting students.

“The students that they select here are the brightest they can find. There are a lot of students trying to get in and they test them,” Gregg explained.

He noted that gender and religion are not issues in the selection process. Affluence, however, is. The students selected must also pass a “poverty test.”

“They must be very poor,” Gregg said. “And they only take one student from a family, with the idea that one student will be able to bring the entire family up out of poverty.”

Comparing and contrasting St. Jude’s with Tanzania’s government-sponsored schools, Gregg noted that in the latter schools, Swahili is the primary language through the primary grades. Then a test determines which quarter of the students will move on to middle school and beyond.

“Only the top quarter (of all students) will go beyond primary school,” he added.

Meanwhile, at St. Jude’s, all instruction is in English.

“They (St. Jude’s) have a different attitude,” Gregg explained. “At a school like this, it’s more of the Australian/American teaching, with the idea that the students participate, the students can question, the students can be involved in the teaching.

“Whereas in the government schools, it’s pretty much they might write the lesson on the board and the teacher might leave for that hour; or they can never question authority.”

Citing the value of fluency in English, he noted such skills would enable one having them “to work in the tourism industry, which is the big industry in Tanzania, and make four to 10 times what a regular laborer who doesn’t have an education could make.”


Aid from Rotary

St. Jude’s prepares its students for going on in such fields as science, engineering and medicine.

“A lot of them are looking toward medicine and being doctors. A number are going to be in the engineering field,” Gregg said.

Virtually 100 percent of St. Jude’s graduates will go on to college following high school graduation. And most of the students do an internship before starting college. Many of them will assist at St. Jude’s. “A number of them also go out and assist or teach in government schools because they’re so much better prepared,” he said.

However, there are very few opportunities for higher education in Tanzania; so St. Jude’s high school graduates are helped with scholarships to attend colleges and universities in Kenya and the Union of South Africa.

Gregg noted that Rotary International is a key financial supporter of St. Jude’s, with major contributions coming from its clubs in the Syndney, Australia, area.

Additionally, Pat and Willis Sutliff of the Rushmore chapter of Rotary in Rapid City have helped create “The American Friends of the School of St. Jude,” a 501(c)(3) corporation as a vehicle for Americans to make tax-exempt contributions to the school.

In U.S. dollars, it costs $4 million annually to operate St. Jude’s. The Brookings Rotary Club has approved the use of its scholarship fund to support half the annual $2,640 cost for a student; and the Jongelings are providing the remaining half.


St. Jude’s in action

The Jongelings had the opportunity to visit the school and also to visit one of the students at home.

Vi especially enjoyed meeting and interacting with St. Jude’s students.

“They were so open and so loving and just beautiful children. We participated in a lot of their classes. And you didn’t just sit and watch them do things,” she said.

First- and second-graders were eager to demonstrate their reading skills for the Jongelings.

“We were delighted to meet Glory, a third-grade student sponsored by Rotary District 5610,” Gregg added. (The district encompasses all of South Dakota and parts of Iowa, Minnsota and Nebraska.) “We traveled to her home to meet her mother and learn of the obstacles Glory must overcome to continue her education.”

Glory’s mother does not speak English. Her young daughter is teaching her.

“That’s the idea, that she can teach her mother English and maybe basic math and things that might help her to get a job working in the tourism industry, which will probably quadruple her income and put her into a whole different situation for life,” Gregg added.

“And that’s what they hope that they’re doing with every one of the students. By raising up 2,000 students, you hope you’re raising up 2,000 families.”

St. Jude’s goal is that after completing their education, its students “will come back and work through the country,” he said.

The Jongelings were able to visit St. Jude’s three campuses: Sisia has the primary students, who are bused in at 6 a.m. and returned home at 5 p.m.; Moivaro has the middle school students, who come in on Monday and return to their homes on Friday; and Smith has the high schools students who stay the entire semester on campus.

All students are fed three meals a day. And all receive an annual physical examination.

Geography plays a big role; being on the equator, St. Jude’s days are all equally 12 hours of daylight, 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and 12 hours of darkness, 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.

Having seen St. Jude’s in action, Gregg, 32 years a Rotarian and retired Brookings city engineer, had a takeaway lesson of his own: “I like to say the school accepts the brightest students they can find and the poorest students they can find, with the idea of giving them an education so that they can become leaders in their country to try to bring the entire country of Tanzania forward and to help everybody in the country. That’s the goal of the school.”

And St. Jude’s founder has her own vision for the future of the school.

“Gemma’s stated goal is to have the prime minister of Tanzania come from her school some day,” Gregg said.

Perhaps prayers to St. Jude will again be answered.