Maddie Kelly arrived at the School of St Jude in Tanzania only two months ago as a marketing volunteer but the 23-year-old’s journey to Tanzania had humble beginnings seven years earlier in her classroom at St Aloysius College in Adelaide.
“In Year 11, our teacher showed us the ‘Africa Calling’ – Australian Story episode, about a woman named Gemma Sisia who started a school for the poorest, brightest kids in Tanzania,” said Maddie.
Now in its 15th year, the School of St Jude is a free, private school for 1800 children funded by generous sponsors and donors from around the world.
“Mum and Dad raised me with a strong faith and solid work ethic, they always encouraged me to believe one person could make a difference,” said Maddie.
“Learning about the School of St Jude as a teenager brought that message home to me.
“I was taken by the story of everyday Aussies rolling up their sleeves and giving something a go.
“They did it without knowing what would happen years down the track or whose lives they’d change.”
Maddie’s Year 11 teacher Elizabeth Boylan, couldn’t be prouder of her journey.
“I remember that Maddie really enjoyed the Spiritual Searching topic we did in Religious Education. We talked about the beliefs and values that underpinned Gemma Sisia’s determination to open a school in Tanzania. I see now that a seed had been sown,” said Elizabeth.
“I think that perhaps some of the same beliefs and values which inspire Gemma also inspire Maddie.”
With the story of the School of St Jude firmly planted at the back of her mind, Maddie set about making a difference however she could to young people in Australia.
While completing university, Maddie worked part-time for the Sisters of Mercy and at St Aloysius College, facilitating their social justice program.
Recently, students at St Aloysius raised $5210 for St Jude’s to maintain a school bus for one year.
“Passion propels me,” said Maddie.
“There’s nothing more inspiring than a resilient attitude – gritting your teeth and getting an important job done, even if it’s hard.
“That’s what’s so amazing about St Jude’s: the students know what it is to stare a challenge squarely in the face and say defiantly, ‘you can’t stop me.’”
Maddie’s mum encouraged her to apply for the job of communications officer with St Jude’s after she saw it advertised.
Within a few days she had sent in her application and soon she was on her way to Tanzania.
“It’s a blessing to be here,” said Maddie.
“People speak about the School of St Jude with a twinkle in their eye and a burning passion that warms my spirit.
“Everyone, regardless of age, race or religion, is united by a shared vision of ‘Fighting Poverty Through Education’.”
The woman who inspired that vision is thrilled to have Maddie on the team.
“Maddie is doing a wonderful job here at St Jude’s. Her head of department can’t stop raving about her! It’s great to know that this is such a win-win,” said Gemma.
“Coming to the School of St Jude was a leap of faith that sent me soaring,” said Maddie. “I believe St Jude was guiding me here all along.”
To donate or find out more about the School of St Jude and Gemma Sisia, visit the school’s website.
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