MY STORY: I'm changing the lives of kids in Uganda
MY name is Annabelle Chauncy and in 2008, Dave Everett and I founded School For Life to provide quality education to some of the world's poorest kids in rural Uganda.
I grew up on a sheep and cattle farm in the NSW country town of Canyonleigh and went to a tiny primary school - we had just four kids in my year and 26 kids in the whole school.
Mum was also my teacher and so from a very young age, I was well aware of the power of education.
Throughout high school, giving back to the community was strongly valued. It felt good to do something to give back to others, which ignited in me a desire to do more.
I went on to study Arts/Law at Sydney Uni and all of a sudden I felt like a tiny fish in a big sea. I wasn't sure how I could contribute to society and use my skills to give back.
I knew wanted to take part in community service projects but just wasn't sure how. So halfway through my studies, I decided to take six months off and travel to Kenya to teach English to children.
I was so excited. When I landed in Africa, something shifted in me and I knew this is exactly where I should be; I felt at home.
Sadly, as often happens during elections in Kenya, there was a violent political clash between tribes and I was evacuated across the border to Uganda, but I wasn't going to let anything stop me from doing what I was there to do.
I taught English to children from the floor of a mud hut. There were no desks, the kids didn't have books, pens, pencils, uniforms or shoes on their feet. They had plastic bags as school bags.
But each day, they would get up at sunrise, do their household chores and then walk 5-10 kilometres on an empty stomach to get to the mud hut they called school, with resilience, determination and smiles on their faces.
They knew that education would break them free from the cycle of poverty.
I couldn't believe that something as simple as where you are born could have such an impact on the path a person's life will take.
The lotto of life can be so unfair, but it takes so very little to make a difference. Education is a gift that just cannot be taken away and so I resolved to build a school; this is how I was going to use my law degree.
During my travels I met Dave and united in our belief that education changes everything, the idea for School For Life was born.
Thanks to the generosity of our amazing supporters, School For Life has now built two schools and has a third under construction. We have 560 students, 42 teachers, we provide vocational training programs, solar electricity, access to clean water and health care for thousands of people.
We've created ecosystems that lift entire communities out of poverty. And we're not done yet.
Every day I'm blown away by the stories of our students and teachers.
Steven, whose father passed away and at age 12 has become the caretaker for the family.
Our head teacher Janepher, who overcame the death of both her parents and waitressed to save enough money to put herself through secondary school.
Pauline, who has Down Syndrome and due to stigma would never have had the opportunity to get an education without School For Life as children with disabilities are often hidden away and shunned by society, ostracised and seen unworthy of an education.
Each member of the School For Life family has a remarkable tale of overcoming adversity and it is so inspiring.
We might not be saving the world, but we are changing the lives of many individuals by giving them an education.
Education is a gift that must not be taken away. Education equals freedom for children living in Uganda; freedom from disease, from poverty and from war.
I feel no greater joy than seeing a child come to school for the very first time. A child who otherwise would have never had an opportunity.
It still brings tears to my eyes and fills me with energy every time I go back to the schools and see how much their lives are being changed.
School For Life believes all children have the right to an education.
We are stoked to be supporting and working with AIME as the program makes it's way to Uganda. One by one we'll get it done.
You can find out more or donate to support our work at schoolforlife.org.au