Good afternoon lovelies! Hope everyone around the world is enjoying the weekend, especially over here in the UAE where we have been treated to an extra day off! This month has been particularly busy at work which resulted in this post being published so late. Nevertheless, I am absolutely thrilled to share this month’s power lady, who is doing her bit to change the world.

Gemma Sisia is the founder of The School of St. Jude in Tanzania which provides a free high quality education to underprivileged children in Tanzania. Gemma’s humble beginnings started in Australia where education was always a strong part of her life. It is through her belief that children from poor families should also have access to education that The School of St. Jude was created. Gemma’s fascination with helping African children started when she witnessed the news coverage of the Ethiopian famine, which led her to volunteer in Uganda and eventually set her life path to Tanzania. Gemma overcame all obstacles which tried to falter with her goals, especially being a white woman trying to set up a school in a small closed society which she was not a native of. Through these hardships, she has established a successful school which has provided an education to over 1,800 students who may never have had the opportunity. She is currently working on building a girls only school in order to encourage Muslim girls to get a proper education, as she noticed that most families do not allow a co-educational environment.

You must be wondering how this ties back to My Pink Diary? Well, although I have never met Gemma, I was inspired by her story having spent half of my life in Africa and witnessing first hand how much poverty affects children. This topic is very close to my heart as I had the opportunity to work with different organisations to help the youngsters whose lives were so different from mine in Nigeria. While it is difficult to change governmental systems and corrupt politicians, I strongly support and respect women like Gemma who take a stand and create a platform which encourages and empowers children to realise their full potential and to give them a future. Enjoy her story!

Quick facts:

  • Name: Gemma Sisia
  • Profession: Teacher, CEO, Founder of The School of St. Jude
  • Favourite destination: Home with my family in Australia and Tanzania
  • Horoscope sign: Scorpio
  • Loves: Being with my family, travelling, watching our alumni grow
  • Hates: Not having enough hours in the day, racism

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. 
I have never been one to reflect, so find it difficult to describe myself. My priorities in life are being a good wife and mother. My family is the most important aspect of my life. I love establishing things, being involved in start-ups and am always willing to help others who, in turn, are working towards helping those less fortunate than themselves.

2. How do you handle difficult times in your life? 
“This too will pass” – no matter how bad something appears, ride it out. I count it down – just get to noon, just get to 5pm – everything passes, you just need to be patient and wait it out.

3. What is your secret to achieving the right balance between your career, family, friends and doing what you really love?
I say ‘NO’. There are things that I know I would enjoy – like going out more – but I can’t. So, I say ‘NO’.

4. What are your hobbies?
I love organising family trips and adventures like going camping on a Saturday night, or going on safari with my husband and kids. It’s magic away from the bustle – just quiet time with my family and the sounds of the animals in the dark. Getting away with family is a hobby, a passion and my idea of complete happiness.

5. What are your tips for happiness?
Enjoy the little things – they are the most precious. It makes me happy to listen to the next student who walks in and tells me what he/she is doing with their life since leaving St Jude’s. It makes me happy to attend a formal event, which has been completely organised by my staff and like other guests, I learn what is happening as the evening progresses, without having zero input into the organisation. The best time of the day is an evening walk with my kids and our dogs. All little things, but all so precious in the scheme of life.

6. Who is your role model or someone you look up to?
As a young girl, I kept a picture of Mother Teresa on my wall. Now, as an adult, I know my true heroes were my parents. They instilled in me the importance of education, faith and a willingness to help others. They were always counselling or helping others, doing things for the community. We had a pile of mattresses stored at home for extra people who needed somewhere to stay. When my father died, there was an honour guard formed by so many people who society had turned their backs on and my father helped them. It was a real lesson on how much a little can mean to a lot.

7. What have been the most exciting milestones in your life?
Getting married and having my four wonderful children; the first day of school when we opened the gates of The School of St Jude and the first day of every school term as we welcome more and more children of all faiths and tribes, giving them a future their parents never dreamed possible. Watching our first set of graduates go into community service and then onward to university – and my next exciting milestone will be 2019 when our first students begin graduating from university going into the world as tertiary educated young men and women forging their way in the world.

8. If you could change one thing in the world right now, what would it be?
I’d do away with the need for bureaucracy! If people acted ethically and honestly, there would be no need to have myriads of rules and contracts, but sadly, that is not the world we currently live in.

9. There are still a lot of cultures and societies who frown upon successful women. Why do you think that is, and how can it change?
Fortunately, that has never been an issue for me in Tanzania and I have never been disadvantaged by being a woman. I have always been respected here. I grew up in an old-fashioned household where my father was always the head and with seven brothers, I am used to living and working with men. However, some men simply don’t like change and in fact have an irrational fear of change. At The School of St Jude, we have many male teachers and they are always encouraging the young female students to succeed, to seize their power and be a force in the world – after all, women are the first teachers in the home.

In Africa, girls are often considered second-class citizens and many families believe that it is a waste of time educating them, putting a lot of pressure on girls to drop out of school, but we are facilitating changes in traditional community mind-sets. St Jude’s firmly believes in the education of girls. The school does not discriminate when selecting students although over the years St Jude’s has educated more female than male students. Our female teachers and leaders are strong role models, and the school’s welfare team works through any issues of discrimination, both with the students and their families.

10. What advice can you offer for men and women, trying to balance a career, family and personal life?
Don’t measure yourself against others. Do what works for you and your situation. Don’t conform to social pressure. I need to work to be a happy mum – happy mum equals happy husband and kids. Create a family lifestyle that, as a woman, makes you happy.   Set realistic expectations and be content – content and thankful for what you have.

The School of St Jude is a special project of UAE Lions Clubs. For more information please contact: augusto.dipietro@internationallionsclub.com

For more information about The School of St. Jude  and to find out how YOU can help, please click here.

Disclaimer: Thank you to Leonie who coordinated this wonderful interview, and to Gemma for being a shining beacon of hope for so many people.