Tanzanian man thanks Australians who helped him get unlikely education

15May 2019
The Guardian
Tanzanian man thanks Australians who helped him get unlikely education

PEERING over his laptop and flashing a radiant smile, Godwin Silayo is preparing to speak to a packed hall in Sydney.

Godwin Silayo is a recent graduate of an Australian-founded school providing free education to Tanzania’s poorest children


It’s the first time he's been out of his home country - Tanzania - and the bright lights of Australia are proving to be an eye-opener.

“Actually it was pretty amazing to me. I firstly entered the Melbourne city and so many places have so many lights, electricity, it was amazing to me. Actually, everything here is organised, the cities are cleaned. So everything is quite organised compared to my country,” he says.

This well-spoken 21-year-old, who stands before us at a speaking event in March at the North Sydney Community Centre, is garnering sponsor support for the school which changed his life. It’s a stark contrast to the shy boy of a decade earlier, who didn’t know a word of English.

He now finds himself half a world away thanking Australians he’d never met before, for their huge generosity.

Godwin was among the brightest in his junior school, but like so many children in Tanzania, the price of a good secondary education was out of reach.

Raised by a single mum in Arusha, Godwin is the firstborn in his family and has a younger sister.

“Life was really tough, mum was selling onions and tomatoes in the marketplace and it was really tough for me to go to school. She couldn’t support me very much but at least she did,” he says.

After growing up without electricity, an issue still affecting many in rural areas, it ignited a determination in Godwin to get his country out of the dark.

“I’ve been raised in a family where we had no electricity so it really bothered me to see what I can do to help my country and so I decided to find the means to acquire the skills to help my country get electricity.”

He excelled in his early education at a government school and his grades would soon bring him to the attention of an Australian woman, Gemma Sisia.

Ms Sisia started the School of St Jude, in the city of Arusha, in 2002 with just three students and it’s now grown to more than 1,800 boys and girls. It would transform Godwin’s life as it had for hundreds of Tanzanians before him.

“So I applied for a scholarship and luckily I got a chance to study at St Jude so that’s how my life turned, it was very good for me”.

When the School of St Jude opened in 2002, it was a truly grassroots project started with just a ten dollar donation to Ms Sisia from one of her friends.

The former child soldier motivating students to believe in themselves

Ms Sisia, raised in northern NSW, was just Godwin’s age when she went to Tanzania to teach and noticed the huge gap of quality secondary education that locals could afford. It would be the catalyst to start St Jude’s - providing free education to Tanzania’s poorest children.

“In Tanzania, we have over 16,000 primary schools but only 500 high schools,” she tells SBS News.

“So I came back home to Australia and told mum and dad that I was going to build a private school that would be free of charge, and you can imagine how that went down.”

The dream is still far from over; Ms Sisia plans to open a new girls secondary school next year. And in the coming months, there’ll be another significant milestone, the very first of Gemma’s school students will be graduating from university in November.

“To think this is all made possible by donations from Australia is remarkable. We started the school with 10 dollars and now our budget is a bit over $5 million (US) and 90 per cent of our funding is Australian - so nobody can tell me that Australians are not philanthropic, my goodness.”

Back in Tanzania, the end of each school year sees young girls and boys dancing on stage, their smiles beaming from ear to ear. The graduation ceremonies at St Jude’s are a joyous celebration because quality education is still a privilege not afforded to everyone.

Tanzania is a country of more than 60 million people and has one of the world’s largest young populations according to Human Rights Watch. Education has been a national priority for successive governments since the country’s independence.

Godwin has recently completed a year of volunteering as a teacher at an under-resourced government school in Tanzania – part of the St Jude’s program designed to give back to the community.

And in July, Godwin will embark on his next overseas trip, to begin his full scholarship studying a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering in New York.

His ambitions for Tanzania continue to burn brightly.

“My dream is to start my own electrical power generating centre whereby I can provide electricity to those areas that do not have electricity," he says.

"But also my other aim is to see how I can help my family because my family is still not able to do well financially so my plan is to see what I can do to help my mum and my younger sister to escape the poverty.”

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