School for Life kicked off in 2008, when 21-year-old Sydneysider Annabelle Chauncy was visiting the country, keen to gain experience in international development.
She saw first-hand just how desperate things were – seven out of 10 children don’t finish primary school in Uganda – and resolved to do what she could to help.
“I was just so blown away when I got there about the number of kids who don’t have access to education, and ... watching these kids every day walking 10, 15 kilometres on an empty stomach with no shoes on their feet, to arrive at a classroom that’s a mud hut...
“... but there are these huge smiles on their faces, and a determination to learn, to be educated, because they know that education makes a difference to them and is going to free them from the cycle of poverty...”
But even with the best of intentions, you can’t just start erecting schools – you need to have licenses, registrations, a charity, plus tax and legal structures.
Despite the naysayers and the many obstructions, over the past nine years Chauncy and her School for Life foundation have built two schools – Katuuso, which has 360 students from primary through to Year 7, and Mbazzi, with its 200 young students.
The foundation has employed dozens of staff, with 25 on-site “teacher houses” established as an incentive to draw quality teachers from all over Uganda.
A secondary school opens its gates for the first time in January, with capacity for 800 students.
In 2016, a clinic was also opened on site at Katuuso, where nursing staff provide basic check-ups, sexual and reproductive health outreach programs, malaria testing and first aid to staff and students.
Twenty different types of crops and vegetables are grown at the school’s hybrid farm to feed the kids, while a demonstration plot helps to educate local farmers on how to achieve better yields.
The foundation has so far raised $3.5 million and with the help of Australian educators, is determined to continue to provide a quality education for its kids.
“I believe strongly in professional development and capacity development, so if I use westerners, it’s in a skills transfer and upskilling capacity,” Chauncy, who won the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2015, says.
“Teachers can come over during the holidays and help conduct professional development training, so [I’d] be very interested in getting some teachers across during the holidays to help with training our teachers better.
“I’m actually currently recruiting for an education specialist to be living there on the grounds for 12 months minimum, so there’s a role up on the website.
“We’re also doing a parent-child troupe next year (Travel4Good), so parents can give their kids an opportunity to come over to the school and be a part of the community and give back and experience Uganda.
"And then, of course, people can sign up to sponsor children and donate.”
Chauncy says there have been many highlights over the journey.
“I think the day that the classroom opened for the first time and 80 kids came to school for the first time was extremely satisfying.
“There’s nothing like seeing kids come to school for the first time who’ve never even seen a pen or pencil, never done up a button on a shirt because they’ve never owned a new shirt before, never done up a shoelace because they’ve never owned a pair of shoes...”