In 2007, I travelled to Africa for the very first time. I was 21 years old and still studying Arts/Law at Sydney University at the time. It was in Uganda that I met my co-founder David Everett. He was also working there and was moved by his experiences there. We came back to Australia with a resolution to do make positive change over there. So for two years, until 2009, we volunteered in orphanages, helped build schools and worked as teachers to gain experience working with various organisations, including World Youth International and Hands of Help. We were inspired by the African people’s upbeat nature, positivity and resilience to the hardships they face on a daily basis. We were also astounded by how far money can go towards making positive, long-lasting change in Africa. I found it astounding that we are living in a world where children cannot attend school because they live too far away or cannot afford the fees.
Our experiences in Kenya and Uganda deeply affected us, leading us to co-found an Australian non-profit organisation called School for Life Foundation in 2008, dedicated to building schools to benefit entire communities in rural Uganda. Our programs focus on general education, vocational training, healthcare, and clean water. The overarching vision of our organisation is clear: ‘education is everything.’
In Uganda, only half of all children make it to Grade 5, and the adult population has an illiteracy rate of over 25 percent. One barrier to education is the cost. While the Ugandan Government has recently declared education is free, it requires students to buy their own uniforms, pencils, paper and other materials. The average household annual income for a Ugandan family is only about US$460, which makes it difficult for children to attend school. Schools in Uganda are typically a mud hut structure, with little ventilation or light, and supplies are often limited to a blackboard and worn furnishings. Children frequently do not have access to clean drinking water or food, and many have to walk long distances to and from school each day.
Founding School for Life Foundation has been the most incredible journey. We took a massive risk and had faith making the impossible, possible. People ask me on a daily basis why I ‘threw away my career’ in law, my answer to them is simple, I haven’t thrown away a career, I have created one and pursuing that ambition is the most rewarding and worthwhile thing I have ever done! Words can hardly describe the magical feeling of walking into Katuuso and seeing it alive with children for the very first time in 2011. I had braced myself for lots of tears (Dave was certainly ready for them), but I was just so blown away that shock set in! To see the dream we had been working towards for over 3 years become a reality was truly something special: 80 children running around in uniforms, playing, smiling and learning. This feeling of pride never wears off as the school is such a positive and happy place. We have now increased our enrolment to 120 students and the feeling of community, warmth and happiness at Katuuso is difficult to encapsulate with words.
The school is no longer a dream but a reality and most importantly, a responsibility. We are now responsible for upholding the education of these children and community members as we continue to grow in the future. I have never felt so proud and energised as I watch the organisation grow, construction continue and enrolment increase.
Words and Photos by Annabelle Chauncy, Co-founder of School For Life.