Mums on a Mission – Return from Kilimanjaro

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Our ‘Mums On A Mission’ have recently returned from Africa. They visited Australian Story’s Gemma Sisia at The School Of St Jude. Lynda Lynch gives us an insight into Gemma’s amazing work with children and the mums’ climb of Mt Kilimanjaro.

Remind us, who went on the trip to Africa and why?

Myself, Catherine McCann, Anthea Fagan, Gemma Gallagher-Meehan, Gail Schaefer – all Armidale mums, along with Gemma’s sister, Julie Furlan, who lives in Darwin. Our main aim was to raise money for the School of St Jude in Tanzania, to help the families living in poverty in giving their kids an education.

We also decided to raise awareness for the cause by challenging ourselves to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. We formed the group, Mums on a Mission. The name of our group depicted drive and determination.

We raised $20,000 and donated it to The School of St Jude, which is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. To see the building actually taking place – that is going to be where our money is going. It was really amazing. Fundraising is something we are going to do on a regular basis for the School of St Jude as a bi annual event.

How did the mums go on the Mount Kilimanjaro climb?

Our experience of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro exceeded all expectations. All of us had to challenge ourselves physically and mentally to achieve the goal of summiting. We had an unbelievable group of guides that work so hard for so little.

During our ascent, all the mums were placed in situations way beyond our normal comfort zones. Lack of sleep, the cold, change in diet and limited food, along with high altitude sickness were some of the issues the group had to deal with.

But physically and mentally, we all looked after and encouraged each other, and finally, we all summited and made it to the top. It was an amazing achievement for the mums, to get to the top together.

How was Gemma Sisia?

Seeing what Gemma has achieved and what she has done for the people of Tanzania is mind blowing. The emotional effect that it had on all the mums is something we will never forget. The school not only caters for the children living in poverty, but it greatly assists the local economy by employing so many people and helps the businesses supplying items to the school.

Gemma is a saint! Gemma was thrilled to see the Mums on a Mission and hear news from Armidale … thrilled to hear that the season is a good one, as the farmers deserve a break.

St Jude’s is going well – exhausting as ever, but continuing to grow. In 2011, approx 1,500 students will be getting a quality free education, with over 400 Tanzanian staff employed. One thousand students will also be in boarding.

Gemma always says that without the help of the people from Armidale giving her a boost at the beginning, St Jude’s would not have existed. I feel that we can learn so much from what Gemma has done, and see that you can do anything you set your mind to do. Anything is possible to achieve.

Describe her remarkable work?

Further to what I mentioned before, the whole operation that Gemma has set up at the school is unbelievable. From the schooling the children receive, to the meals and transport to and from the school, to looking after the children who board at the school, she has everything covered.

She also watches for children who may be at risk or are malnourished, and she takes them in and looks after them. The locals all love Gemma and what she is doing, because without her, there would many families suffering dire consequences.

How are African children different to Aussie kids?

The African kids are absolutely beautiful. They have so little, but are so happy in their special way.

They never complain and have real goals. I remember going to visit a school child at her house. To be eligible to be considered for the school, the house where the family lives must not have any electricity or running water.

The little girl walked miles from her house in her school uniform to meet us at the road. Upon meeting her family, we gave them gift packs of rice, sugar, soap and other items we would refer to as basic, but luxury to them.

The appreciation expressed by the family was very moving. The father offered us two chickens in return as gifts, being an essential item to them; we politely had to decline the offer, although very touching.

The children at the school welcomed us with open arms. They put on a concert for us,and it was just great to speak and play with them.

Did you find the trip life changing?

I think all the mums had a life changing experience. To see what we have and what we take for granted as opposed to how many of the families in Tanzania live, really puts a different outlook on life.

With regards to the successful climb of Mt Kilimanjaro, all the mums showed that they were able to deal with and overcome numerous challenges, totally against their normal thought and physical processes. I am proud of them all.

Are any of you planning to return?

The Mums on a Mission are definitely considering a return in the next two years. It would be great to take our families along with us, as it is an emotional and rewarding trip that should be experienced by others – and it is one that will not be forgotten.

I think our children can learn a lot from our experience, and we would love them to see firsthand the School of St Jude.

How can we contribute to Gemma’s cause?

Tax deductible donations can be made through the website at                    

Also, people can ring Robin, our Australian coordinator on 9817 6245. Thanks to the Armidale community for their generous support.

Thank you Lynda.

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