Our newest CALI Award goes to not one but two inspiring recipients, Annabelle Chauncy and David Everett. At age 21 this power duo founded the School for Life Foundation and are passionate about helping the people of Katuuso in Uganda.
Q: Tell us about School for Life Foundation
Annabelle: School for Life Foundation (prev. United Future Foundation) was founded in 2008 by my co-founder David Everett and I. We share the same belief that education is a key factor in mobilising communities and inciting positive development in Uganda.
After spending considerable periods of time in Africa, specifically Kenya and Uganda, we were moved by the lack of access to education in rural areas of Uganda and the number of children falling through the cracks of the education system. So at the age of 21, and both university students, we formed the foundation and began building a following of supporters.
Five years on, the foundation is responsible for the construction and running of Katuuso Primary and Vocational School, which today educates 160 young children from the rural community of Mpigi. Each student receives a high quality education, with access to modern learning environments and resources, as well as uniforms and three meals a day.
The foundation also employs over 30 local adults as teachers, builders, security, cooks and maintenance staff, who have to date built 8 classrooms, a deep set borehole servicing the entire community, 2 outdoor shade shelters, 10 pit latrines, a kitchen, library, health rooms and staffroom. Our employment base will continue to expand as we grow annually.
The children who attend Katuuso are chosen from some of the poorest families in the community and who may have otherwise not had the opportunity to go to school. Katuuso Primary boasts brightly painted murals on its walls and is stocked with toys such as balls and hula-hoops.
Two cooks from the community cook three meals a day for the students, ensuring that hunger does not distract from their education. Their nutrition, overall health and growth have improved out of sight! On top of giving the children a quality primary school education following the Ugandan curriculum, we also provide the children extra curricular classes such as drama, art, sport and music.
We aim to grow annually, enrolling 40 students annually until we reach a capacity of 320 students from pre-Primary to Primary 7. In the future, School for Life plans to develop the school, with more buildings to come and plans for multiple campuses, including a secondary school.
We also provide the entire community with access to healthcare camps every 3 months. We have a team of doctors, lab technicians, nurses and counsellors who visit the school and provide free medical support and HIV testing.
In the future we will also mobilise adults in Katuuso through the Vocational School, and plan to teach valuable employment skills, including tailoring and agricultural courses for the local community.
Traditionally, families in the region raise goats and cattle to earn an income, or farm crops such as tomatoes, onions, cabbages, and maize. Women make handicrafts and sew clothing to supplement their incomes.
Agriculture lessons will teach local people how to reap greater yields from their crops and grow enough food to sell for an income. A demonstration plot on site will also teach children how to farm from a young age and animal husbandry programs will teach farmers best practice techniques.
Q: What inspired you to start so young?
Annabelle: In 2007, we both travelled to Africa for the very first time. We were 20 years old and still studying at Universities in Sydney at the time. It was in Kenya that we met both working on education and construction projects in rural villages with an organisation called World Youth International.
We were both moved by experiences and a part of Africa had got under our skins! We came back to Australia with a resolution to 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 different 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 amazed by how far money can go towards making positive, long-lasting change in Africa.
We 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 changes 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.
Q: What are you aiming to achieve?
Annabelle: Ultimately our school is a model, which we aim to replicate in different areas of Uganda and the developing world. We have found that the Ugandans have a strong sense of ownership over the school and are highly supportive of the project. We provide a hand up not a hand out making our program sustainable for the long term.
Our next project is in the pipeline – purchasing 30 acres of land nearby Katuuso on which to build a larger primary school and a boarding secondary school for all the Katuuso and new primary school’s graduates to attend. We want to create the next leaders in Uganda and teach the next generation to be strong, skilled and compassionate people.
We hope that School for Life becomes an internationally recognisable brand in the not for profit industry. We aim to set a high standard of practice and continue to provide much needed education to those in need.
Q: What is something you are particularly proud of?
Annabelle: To give you an example of the impact that we are all making, on even just one child’s life, let me tell you the story of Asuman. We quickly filled the school to 77 students and our Ugandan team had decided we were already beyond the enrolment limit. But then we met Asuman.
He turned up with his Grandmother wanting a place at Katuuso. As you can see, Asuman was not only born into a poor background, he also suffers physical disabilities. Asuman was injured in a house fire as a baby.As a special needs child, our Head Teacher Janepher made the executive decision that he could not be turned away. She saw something special in Asuman regardless of the fact that he was disabled.
Like any child entering a school that was different, we were concerned for his wellbeing. Children can be so harsh to each other, would he be teased for his physical differences?
When I met Asuman in March I knew I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had discovered the class clown. Asuman epitomises all that is School for Life. He is energetic, cheeky, learning to read and write, has access to clean water and 3 nutritious meals a day, and is rapidly learning English.
Asuman’s amazing story is just one of many children in our school who benefit from our vision of equal access to education. We have geniuses, remedial, trouble makers, and teachers’ pets… ultimately at the core, children are the same across all nations and cultures.
Q: What drives you?
Annabelle: It’s hard to say really! We have both always been high achievers and focused on achieving good results. Annabelle is an extreme perfectionist which makes for high standards and Dave is very structured and knowledgeable in his understanding and implementation of successful development.
I don’t think Dave and I ever thought that founding a non-profit organisation and building a school in Uganda would be easy. We have had to overcome some obstacles and make decisions that we never thought we would have to face or make in our lifetime.
The challenges of founding the organisation were varied – mustering support from sponsors who thought that our idea was optimistic and questioned our lasting commitment, building a support base and advisory Board of Directors, as well as all the logistical difficulties associated with purchasing land and constructing a school in a foreign country where there are different laws and few people speak English fluently!
The struggles act as motivation and help drive on the passion to achieve our goal of educating children in the developing world.
In addition, our 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. We have never felt so proud and energised as I watch the organisation grow, construction continue and enrolment increase.
Q: Do you feel there is reward in your efforts?
Annabelle: The rewards in our efforts are endless and ongoing. Words can hardly describe the magical feeling of walking into Katuuso and seeing it alive with children. To see the dream we had been working towards for over many years become a reality is truly something special: 160 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.The feeling of community, warmth and happiness at Katuuso is difficult to encapsulate with words!
The reward for us is seeing that we are making a really significant difference to so many people far less fortunate than us. It is also in mobilizing other people to get involved in our project, whether by financial donations, volunteering time or just understanding and hearing more about our work, it is amazing to be able to inspire and energise other people to think outside the square.
Q: If you had your way, everyone in the world would spend 5 minutes a day…
Annabelle: Reflecting on their lives, happiness and sense of fulfillment. 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!
I don’t know many people who jump out of bed at 5:30am every morning excited to go to work but I certainly do! It would be amazing for people to have the same excitement, energy and passion about their careers as we do!’
Annabelle is a country girl who grew up on a sheep and cattle farm in Canyonleigh in the Southern Highlands of NSW. Having completed her undergraduate Arts/Law degree, gaining some professional experience and meeting Dave, she made the decision to invest her legal knowledge in the non-profit sector.
School for Life Foundation’s man on the ground, Dave, graduated from a degree in Development Studies. He is currently undertaking his Masters in Development studies to gain a greater knowledge of issues affecting developing countries. Born in South Africa, Dave lived in Botswana until he was two years old before moving to Sydney.
Connect with Annabelle and Dave through School for Life Foundation:
Want more inspiration?
- FEATURE VIDEO: Inspiring stories of womens rights
- CALI Award Winner: Matt Napier
- Volunteering overseas? How to plan your volunteer experience
- Frank Weijand – Winner of the CALI Award - January 1, 2019
- Camilo Buitrago Hernandez – Winner of the CALI Award - July 13, 2015
- Jay Jaboneta – Winner of the CALI Award - July 6, 2015