Gemma Sisia, a former Australian teacher and founder of the renowned School of St Jude in Tanzania, was back on home soil this month to thank the donors who help her educate poor families in her adopted country. Gemma’s achievements are well known through the Archdiocese, documented in regular reports in The Catholic Leader.
Her Catholic school continues to grow after it started 15 years ago with just three students. There are now 1900 students thanks to the support of donors, including strong support from Queensland.
On her recent visit, the mother of four took part in a quick question-and-answer session.
Is intelligence born or made?
It is born. I think students have it, however they have to have the matched work ethic. We had over 7,000 students sit the aptitude tests for less than 70 scholarships in 2016. It’s very competitive. There are kids in government schools who are clearly very bright but lack the necessary drive. We have a student heading off to study aeronautical engineering in the U.S. Her mother was a tailor and sadly died, but before that happened she took her daughter to work. She worked in the homes of private school students and her daughter asked for notes and papers from the students and taught herself.
Who do you most admire?
I used to have a picture of Mother Teresa in my bedroom. I also admire my parents because I grew up in a home where helping people are normal. We lived on farm in Glen Innes in NSW. There were 10 to 20 mattresses on the veranda at times for people who were having business or family issues. It didn’t matter where you were; you never missed Mass on Sunday. I’m a bit lazier now, but I try to get to Mass most Sundays. I learnt that whatever you do, you do it to the best of your ability. While our kids are poor, I want them to learning in the best facilities.
What is your proudest moment?
Being a mother of four. We have two boys, 15 and 13 and two girls, eight and four. Being able to build the School of St Jude while having a growing family and having my sanity still in tact.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I would look to be known by my kids as being a good mum and the kids that go through the school to have good moral values. I still think the Ten Commandments are very relevant. Our core values are respect, responsibility, honesty and kindness.
What would you be if you weren’t running the School of St Jude?
I would be a full time mum, which I would love.
Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Barnes.
This too shall pass.
To donate contact www.schoolofstjude.org