TYLER — Cynthia Rogers of Tyler journeyed halfway around the world to witness firsthand and education success story.
She went to Tanzania in southern Africa earlier this year as part of a Rotary International contingent. Its destination was The School of St. Jude. an academy for students who show substantial academic aptitude. She shared details of her experience this month at a meeting of Marshall’s Noon Rotary Club.
St. Jude was started in 2000 through the efforts of Gemma Simia, a Rotarian from Australia. It began with just three students and a volunteer teacher.
The enrollment now includes 1,800 students in grades K-12 spread out over three campuses. There have been 60,000 students altogether, all of whom spend a year teaching in a Tanzanian state school after they graduate.
Rotary chapters throughout the world provide the funding, which equals out to $2,600 per child to cover all expenses including books, uniforms, food and transportation.
Families are selected based on each student’s scores on aptitude tests. They’re also given a poverty assessment to verify that they lack the financial resources to pay for education.
“They only take one child per family,” Rogers said. “The idea is that each child will take knowledge home, and that all family members will benefit.”
Rogers has worked as a Marshall based real estate agent since 1999. She’s been a member of the Sunrise Rotary Club since its inception and is a recent past president.
Her year as club president in 2018-19 included hosting a group of Rotarians from Australia. The experience reinforced her interest in world travel.
“I’ve wanted to visit six continents,” Rogers said. “When the Tanzania trip came up, it was a step toward that goal. I saw it as a good opportunity.”
She said The School of St. Jude is very welcoming toward visitors. Organizers are happy that the number of visitors has gone up in the past year after dwindling because of the COVID pandemic.
When visiting the school, she was impressed by the high amount of dedication shown by students at every grade level.
“They take perfect notes,” she said. “They’re always very engaged. That’s the standard even though they have rock hard chairs and a kitchen with a dirt floor. I was taken back when I compared those conditions to ours.”
The group visited the home of one of the students, a one room house that shared a courtyard with four other similar homes. The house had a dirt floor, no running water, and no electricity.
She said food served at typical Tanzania meals includes red beans and rice, maize, collard greens, watermelon and liquid porridge.
“In developed countries everyone’s basic needs can be met,” she said. “Countries like Tanzania don’t have the resources. It’s amazing how The School of St. Jude does so much with so little.”
Rick Bot of Minneota, a Sunrise Rotarian who has contributed to The School of St. Jude, gets emails from one of the recent graduates. His education has enabled his family to give its home some modern conveniences.
Bot said he and his wife Ruth have learned many details about Tanzanian culture, such as the tradition to give all children their father’s name as a middle name. It applies to both boys and girls.
He said investments in The School of St. Jude went a long way toward creating better lives for residents who live near the school.
“They do a great job with academics, and what they teach eventually benefits entire families, and communities,” Bots said. “It’s really paid off over the last 20 years.”
Jim Tully, a Noon Rotarian who heard Rogers’ presentation, said he’s impressed with the dedication shown by the directors and teachers at St. Jude.
“It’s an interesting story,” Tully said. “She (Gemma Simia) saw a need, went back home and began to raise money for it. She’s made a tremendous difference.”