The first day of school is a big day for every child in the world but for children in Uganda it is truly a life changing day.
Taryn and her husband Brad hail from Victoria and together joined forces to tick Kilimanjaro off Tayrn's bucket list. They were looking for more than just an exciting adventure challenge - they wanted their climb up Kilimanjaro to count for something good. They found their cause in School for Life's mission.
WHAT DOES GOING TO SCHOOL MEAN FOR OUR GIRLS?
In Uganda a girl’s education is not considered a priority. Girls come up against barriers such as traditional gender roles and poverty in wanting to receive an education. Girls as young as 6 years old can miss out on going to school because they are needed for full time work. 52% of girls have to drop out of school as they are unable to sustain the financial burden of education. Girls are often forced to marry young and pregnancy rates are high with 35% of girls dropping out of school because of early marriage and 23% dropping out due to pregnancy.*
Education makes a significant change not only to girls and women in their own right, but to their children, families and communities. When you empower a girl with education, a whole community benefits. When women earn an income and are empowered to make educated decisions within their families and communities, they create more peaceful societies and sustainable economies.
On International Day of the Girl Child we are celebrating some of the amazing girls who attend School for Life. Their dedication to receiving an education and creating change within their communities is inspiring and deserves to be recognised today and every day!
12 years old in Primary 4
I am energetic and sporty and I can’t wait to play netball at lunch time with my friends every day! Last year my family home burnt down in a fire which took all of our possessions. I now live with my mother, my grandmother, my uncle and his three children. I love to eat matooke (mashed bananas) and rice. At school my favourite subject is English, especially reading stories. I study hard at school because I want to go to University and study to become a doctor.
10 years old in Primary 5
I am happy at school and enjoy learning all subjects but I really love spending time reading - it teaches me so much about the world! At lunch time I enjoy any meals that include rice and after this I play netball with my friends. At the end of the school day I walk to my house where I live with my mother and 3 siblings. My father used to live with us but he passed away last year. This means that I have to help my mother more now, and my chores each day include fetching water and firewood, cooking and washing utensils. I hope that when I am older I can be a teacher and continue to help children get an education.
7 Years old in Primary 2
My teachers praise me for being confident in class and I love to show them my understanding by writing answers on the board when I can. My favourite lessons are reading and learning English. At the end of the day I return to my village where I live with my aunty who is a hairdresser and my father who is a teacher. My father helps me with my homework to ensure I am doing well at school. My job is to wash my uniform so that it stays clean and looks nice each day. I am so proud to wear my School for Life uniform! I also wash utensils after each meal. I work really hard in class so that I do well at school. I want to be a pilot when I grow up so I must continue to study and be the best that I can.
10 years old in Primary 2
I live at home with my mother and father who are farmers. My 5 siblings live with us too so home life is very busy! We all help our parents by doing chores before and after school. My job is to wash the utensils after each meal. I am happy when I'm at school and really like reading books. The library is my favourite place and I like to visit at lunch times with my friend Margaret.
11 years old in Primary 5
I am new to Katuuso school but am enjoying my new friends and my teachers. My teachers praise me for being a good listener and for being helpful to my peers. I love the way we sing lots in class and my English is already improving because of our lessons here. I enjoy reading and spend my lunch times either at the library with books or playing netball with my friends. I live with my aunt and grandmother who are both farmers and I help them by fetching water each day and mopping the house. When I grow up I would like to be a nurse as I like helping others and it is horrible being sick without help.
Be part of the change this International day of the Girl and sign up to sponsor a child NoW!
Your sponsorship provides quality education, healthcare, clean water, 3 nutritious meals per day and all educational materials required. Educating a girl can break cycles of poverty in just one generation. You can find out more and sign up HERE
* statistics UNICEF, 2008-2012
Last week, 72 of our Primary 5 and 6 children arrived at school bright and early, piled into buses with our teachers, and set off for the beautiful city of Jinja, Eastern Uganda. For most of our students (and some teachers), this was their first time visiting Jinja, an area best known for being the source of the Nile River, the longest river in the world.
Our first stop along the way was the Mandela National Stadium in Kampala, where our students were able to tour the grounds of their national soccer team and race around the tracks. As football is the most popular sport in Uganda, the students were particularly excited to see where the Cranes (our national team) compete. Their eyes were wide as they looked at the impressive buildings surrounding them; some asked the teachers how apartment buildings didn’t collapse even though they were, “houses stacked on top of each other." The bustling city of Kampala is far different to that of the peaceful village from which they live.
From there, we jumped back onto the buses and drove a further hour and half east, passing rolling hills, beautiful tea plantations and picture perfect landscapes. Our second stop was Bujagali Falls, where our students were able to take their first ever trip on a boat. Albeit a little nervously, all 72 children and 10 teachers dressed in life vests and boarded the boats; within seconds everyone was giggling and enjoying the beautiful scenery of Lake Victoria.
From there we drove to the Source of the River Nile for a picnic lunch and historical tour of the grounds, before heading to our accommodation for the night. As it was one of our student’s birthdays, we celebrated with cake, sparklers and happy birthday songs before the children closed their eyes from a long day’s journey.
The next morning, the children awoke early - some as early as 3 am (they’re used to waking up so early in the village to do chores before school!) After their morning bucket showers, we had breakfast and tea before setting off for the Kakira Sugar Factory. We had a guided tour of the grounds and the students were able to see the manufacturing and packaging of one of the country’s largest sugar producers. After sampling some sweets, we ventured to our last stop, Nytil Textiles. It was in this impressive factory that we were able to see cotton seeds turn to cotton, then to threads, then to fabrics before being dyed and turned into clothes! It was a remarkable factory and the highlight of the field trip for many of our students.
After two magical days, we boarded the busses and started the journey back to Katuuso village. Words can’t describe how happy our Primary 5 and 6 students were to have had this wonderful opportunity to explore their country.
Thanks for all your support and lots of love from Katuuso Primary School!
Recently we welcomed our Ambassador Channel 9's Georgie Gardner and her 12-year-old daughter Bronte to visit our schools in Uganda. You can watch the full story here and read below in Georgie's own words why she wanted to take her daughter to Uganda and how this trip has changed both of their lives forever.
I am staring at my 12-year-old daughter, mystified by how she’s leapt from childhood to adolescence in what feels like the blink of an eye.
So confident and capable, so independent, intelligent and so incredibly strong-willed and determined to carve her own path.
She frustrates me and amazes me in equal measure. We have much in common and yet we're very different.
Is it normal that at times I already at times feel somewhat redundant as her mother?
I decide to extract her from her comfortable world and thrust her into an environment is confronting and challenging, but also hopefully enlightening and uplifting.
Uganda is an African nation of roughly 40 million people, where poverty is common place and electricity and running water are luxuries.
As ambassador for School for Life – an organisation that builds schools in rural Uganda – it’s been a dream of mine to go and see the schools and students for myself and get a better understanding of how they are run and the impact they are having.
Taking my daughter with me would make the experience even more valuable.
"Brontë," I ask casually, unsure of how my request will be received. "How would you like to come on an adventure, to Uganda?"
Her response was immediate and enthusiastic.
"Yes please," she said.
“Could we take skipping ropes to teach the kids to skip?”
I could not have been more heartened by her excitement and knew we had a golden opportunity that was impossible to turn down.
Flights were booked, vaccinations were had and we read up as much as we could.
Through Brontë's school, we disseminated a wish list of education items most needed in Uganda and classmates were quick to come onboard and donate.
It was an amazing show of support and Brontë was proud to play a part in getting her school community involved.
Leaving day finally arrived and I'd be lying if I said I had no concerns; some trepidation about safety, contracting malaria and how Brontë would cope in such a foreign and confronting environment.
I had to trust my instincts that this would be an enriching experience that she would carry with her forever.
Touch down at Entebbe International Airport and immediately we are confronted with foreign faces, everywhere, and so many. Our fair skin and blond hair almost feel like neon lights and we have never felt more conspicuous.
We are in the minority among a sea of people.
We hit the road to drive to the capital, Kampala, and the traffic is insane. Bumper to bumper and for long stretches, barely moving.
We traverse a so-called sealed road sitting in endless traffic as locals go about their day. Thousands of people walking, doing business, tending to their children. On a journey that should 45 minutes, we drive for well over two hours and we sit and we watch and we ponder.
It is sensory overload.
The buildings, the landscape and the goings on could not be more different from Sydney. It is vibrant and colourful and exciting and Brontë - who's usually never lost for words - is quiet and reserved as she takes it all in.
Our hotel is comfortable and offers respite from the heat. That night we sleep soundly, anticipating what the next day would bring.
We rise early to the din of traffic and pull back the curtains to look outside. Below is full view of a main road, jam-packed with vehicles of every description and people walking to work or school or university.
No-one is going for a jog or walking a dog. No-one is carrying a takeaway coffee.
We dress quickly, devour breakfast and hit the road, arriving at what is a typical Ugandan school.
It is a huge eye-opener.
The building is run down and decayed. The classroom concrete floors have potholes and there are torn and faded posters pasted to graffitied walls.
Classroom resources don't exist and the teacher is writing on a decrepit blackboard with a tiny piece of old chalk.
The children are engaged but distant. They look at us with curiosity or is it confusion? They are very focused on Brontë, who I sense is uneasy and stays close to my side.
After observing class for a while we thank them and I gift them a large packet of balloons.
There is a probability they won't know what a balloon is and I worry my gesture might have missed the mark.
Next stop Katuuso School, built and run by School for Life, and the contrast is stark.
It's lunchtime and children are everywhere - running, playing, laughing. A group of pre-schoolers descend on us, reaching for hugs, stroking our skin and vying for our attention.
They are adorable and happy and by all accounts healthy.
Here, the gift of balloons is a hit.
I am seeing for myself how the program is providing so much more than an education and it is as remarkable as it is uplifting.
The afternoon is spent observing lessons and interacting with students and teachers. The appetite to learn is obvious as is the gratitude.
Every student is so happy to be there and you get the sense they don't want to waste a moment. We pull out skipping ropes and they go nuts with excitement and it's the ice-breaker I was hoping for.
Brontë is among them, no language is required, just jumping and giggling and it's making my heart sing!
The following day we're invited to a student's home. Her name is Esther and we are told she is 13. She lives with her parents and six siblings.
Esther is reserved yet friendly, with a cheeky laugh. English is her favourite subject and her dream is to become a nurse so she can help other people.
Their home is considered one of the best in the area as it has some rendering and glass windows. It consists of four small rooms with minimal furniture and there is no electricity or running water.
We ask Esther to show us where she collects water from. She hands Brontë an empty container and we set off along a dirt path with the girls ahead of us chatting to the extent of Esther's English.
Her mother Rose doesn’t speak any English so we walk together in silence.
Then, she takes my hand.
Motherhood. The universal leveller. Nothing needs to be said. Our connection is cemented.
I walk, smile and wipe away tears, immensely grateful for this moment.
And so to life back in Sydney where we quickly immerse ourselves into work and school and our busy lives. Our challenge is to hold onto the amazing experience we’ve had together, and to never lose sight of what’s important in life.
As a tween Bronte’s journey has only just begun and I know there is still time and opportunity to guide her and hopefully set her on track to lead a happy and fulfilling life.
One that has a purpose bigger than herself.
If you would like to embark on a similar life-changing adventure with your child, we are now taking applications for our first TRAVEL4GOOD trip to visit our schools and fundraise for girls education in July 2018. Click below for more details
One of the biggest challenges for our children in Katuuso is a lack of exposure to the world beyond their village. Our students don’t have laptops, televisions or smartphones. The life they know is the life they live, a peaceful one, but one which doesn’t allow for much interaction with the world outside of the village. We aim to change that, and this weekend, we did.
Recently on a Saturday, seven incredible dancers, artists and educators travelled from the capital city of Kampala all the way to our school in Katuuso. These dancers are not just any dancers – they've travelled the world, sharing their talents and spreading their inspirational message. They are members of Breakdance Project Uganda (BPU), an organisation whose members have dedicated their lives to using art and dance as an expression to inspire and motivate disadvantaged youth across the country.
BPU was founded in 2006 by Abraham, aka ‘Abramz’ Tekya. His mission is simple: to use breakdance and other elements of hip hop culture as outlets for underprivileged children to build leadership skills and promote positive social change. Now, more than a decade later, BPU has over a thousand members, has educated people across Africa, Europe, Asia and America, and has given hope to thousands of children through their programs.
During their visit, BPU brought hope to 150 of our students in Katuuso. The day began with introductions and jaw-dropping breakdance, popping and beatboxing demonstrations. As the demonstrations ensued, our teachers emerged from their classes, support staff and tailors looked on in disbelief, a crowd of people from the community gathered and the students clapped and cheered as they watched these entertainers do things they had never before seen or heard. Imagine the children’s surprise, when these talented artists told the children that they too would be given the chance to learn!
With much excitement, the children were then split into groups and rotated through various workshops (our littlest babies even had their own workshop) with ‘Bboy Flower’ teaching acrobatics, posing and dance. Mama Flavia, our head cook, the support staff, our nurse, and many teachers also partook in the workshops – for hours and hours the school was filled with dance, laughter and joy. BPU members, Abramz, Key, Fahadhi, Flower, Esther, Sanyu and Eric were just as enthused about the sessions as we were, and our sessions ran well over schedule. The smiles on our students’ faces (and the staffs!) were priceless.
As night began to fall, BPU wrapped up the day by sharing their gratitude to our school for the invitation, and our children for their enthusiasm. Throughout the day, our students learned how to breakdance, ‘pop’ and beatbox, but most importantly they learned what it felt like to be empowered.
They had been given a talent, something tangible which could be passed on to others, something which allows them to become educators and leaders amongst their peers. This is the mission of BPU – to share their knowledge, teach others to lead, and let disadvantaged youth know that they have the power to shape the future.
A huge thank you to Breakdance Project Uganda for committing to continuously helping our children through outreaches with School for Life Foundation.
To learn more about Breakdance Project Uganda, check out this documentary on YouTube.
At School for Life we believe it takes community to build a community and last Wednesday, 21st of June our Ugandan and Australian communities came together to celebrate the official opening of our Secondary school in Mbazzi.
Attended by nearly 1000 supporters, it was a day full of laughter, happiness, tears and lots of dancing with performances from our students, teachers and construction workers.
Our students have been practising their performances for months and had every one up and dancing too!
Proud mothers, dressed in their finest attire to support the opening and enjoyed the festivities.
The school was officially opened by the Honourable Amelia Kyambadde, Minister of Trade, Industry & Cooperatives,here with our Uganda Country Director, Angela, our CEO, Annabelle and Director of Studies, Janepher.
Our incredible team have completed the construction of our Secondary School in just 12 months. This amazing, 16 classroom school, alongside our primary schools will allow us to provide quality education to 1600 students and impact over 5000 lives within our communities through initiatives such as community outreach programs, vocational training, employment opportunities and access to clean water and health clinics.
In January 2018, our first Primary graduates will come to Secondary School for the first time. We will also enroll additional students from other Primary Schools in the local area. We are beyond excited to welcome the next chapter of education for these students!
Thank you to all of our loyal supporters for your generous donations. We couldn’t have done this without you. You are helping to change the lives of thousands of Ugandans through the gift of quality education - thank you.
To support the build of our next primary school and make a tax deductible donation before EOFY, please click here
Our group of 20 ventured into the wilderness excited at the prospect of climbing Kilimanjaro.
For the majority, this was to be their first experience climbing at altitude, and the toughest challenge we've all embarked on so far. Here's a brief take on the 7 days that followed.
Day 1, Saturday 10th of June
Climbing Kilimanjaro presents a number of routes to choose from with one being the Rongai route. Today saw us set off taking this northern approach to the summit.
This commenced at 2,000m among the wilderness of a pine forest and past farms growing produce before meeting rockier terrain. 4 hours later, our slow but sensible ascent brought us to our destination for the night - Simba Camp, altitude 2,600m.
Along with dinner, so began the first night of Kili awards with winners each receiving a small handicraft prize.
Day 2, Sunday 11th of June
This would be our first full day of climbing properly. We felt the cold overnight and awoke to a light covering of frost on the grass outside our tents. This was a small price to pay for the blue skies above and warm sun which followed a short time later! Plus, our first spectacular views of Kilimanjaro. The warmth of the day had each of us consuming 3-4 litres of water which we were able to replenish at lunch.
Altitude symptoms also started coming into play affecting most of our group with headaches, nausea and dizziness.
After a solid 8 hours of hiking, we arrived at camp taking in spectacular views of the surrounds of Moshi, Mawenzi peak and Kilimanjaro. As the moon rose over Moshi, our camp doctor, Dr Jon Messing treated a few of the team ensuring they'd be good to go the next morning.
Day 3, Monday 12th June
Our team started out in bright spirits on what would be the steepest ascent so far climbing from 3,600m to 4,330m. Old school tunes kept up these spirits as the effects of altitude returned. We made it to camp by 2 pm ravenous and devoured coleslaw, soggy chips and cucumber. Our campsite at the base of one of Kilimanjaro's volcanic cones and the accompanying lake was beautiful - above the clouds we could see the sun set and the moon rise. Tuesday would be a day of rest and allowed us to further acclimatise.
Day 4, Tuesday 13th June
Our day of rest allowed for a later than normal start. The only activity scheduled was an acclimatisation walk around a crater rim which presented spectacular views back to our camp. Back at camp, Dr Jon Messing demonstrated how to use a Gamow bag, a portable altitude chamber which can provide stabilisation in the event of proper altitude sickness.
Over dinner, Antipas, the head guide outlined what was ahead in the days to come: Summit night (a really long day) would have us arising in the early hours of the morning and subsequently minimal sleep over 24 hours, 12 hours hiking, steep climbs, unpredictable weather including subzero temperatures, and lots of darkness.
Day 5, Wednesday 14th June and Day 6, Thursday 15th June
We began our day walking to Kibo base camp. Kibo is the Kilimanjaro's highest peak and the summit. Walking from our camp of the past 36 hours to Kibo base camp we were told to expect rains and high wind but got lucky with mainly sunshine. After lunch, we had a pre-summit night briefing and set about resting ahead of a 10 pm wake-up call.
Awaking at 10 pm we layered up like marshmallows with headlamps and set off at 11.30 pm in the cold and wind.
The next 8 hours would be a slog uphill with many affected by altitude sickness, the cold and general fatigue. As the sun started rising, we arrived at the crater rim and then began the 2 hour trek across the crater to the Summit.
Yes, we had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro!
3 hours later we'd completed our descent back to base camp with a widespread agreement this physical challenge was the most difficult anyone in our group had ever completed. Some likened it to being harder than childbirth!
However, base camp was not to be our final stop for the day. We set off for 4 more hours, the weather eased off and walking became easier as we made our way back down the mountain. By the time we reached Horombo camp, we'd been awake for 24 hours and walked for 18 of these.
Day 7, Friday 15th of June
Our final day. Despite sore feet and fatigue, we rose at 5.30am for a relatively 18-20km long walk out of the gate. The freshness of the morning was overcome by the sun and the alpine dessert soon turned to low scrub, forest and jungle.
We made it to the gate for lunch by midday celebrating with lunch, beer, champagne and even cake.
An hours drive later we reached our hotel and rushed to the pool, bar and showers before sitting down to dinner and reflected on the sense of achievement we each felt, after what was generally agreed to be the most challenging experience that most people had ever felt.
What about joining us in 2018?
As you've just read, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is a fun opportunity to challenge yourself in ways you never thought possible, all while raising funds helping School for Life.
Whether you've already made your mind up, or, are just curious pre-register now and we'll be in touch with more information once dates are confirmed.
No question, the past year has flown by.
We want to pause and thank you for your generosity advancing our goal to make sure as many children as possible have access to a high quality education. As well, we also want to reflect on some of the highlights achieved.
With your support, we can continue changing children's lives and transforming developing communities in emerging countries.
There's now less than 30 days until EOFY.
Reduce your tax bill, make a donation now and enable our communities to continue to thrive.
Check out some of the highlights achieved over the past twelve months:
Teopista's teachers say she is a sweet, affectionate child and a joy to be around.
She is almost 10, and hasn't yet been able to go to school for a reason that's hard to comprehend in Australia.
She is deaf.
Because of her profound deafness, Teopista hasn't been able to communicate with her family.
In Uganda it is estimated there are two million Ugandan children who have been excluded from Uganda’s education system simply because they have special needs.
Because the illiteracy rate amongst adults is at 78%, parents of special needs children simply don’t understand why their children are developmentally or physically delayed. Instead of fighting for their children’s rights, children with special needs are often hidden away out of sight - for fear of stigmatization, shame and rejection from the community.
Even though Teopista lives within 2kms of our school grounds, her parents haven't sent her to school because she isn't able to communicate with them.
At School for Life, we have trained teachers who cater for a variety of our special needs children.
Our special needs teacher Joseph is himself deaf, and is therefore perfectly suited to educate Teopista, and to teach her and her parents how to sign so that Teopista is able to communicate with her family, her friends and our teachers.
We have been able to find all the Lugandan (the local Ugandan language) sign language tools in Uganda so that we can provide signing charts to Teopista's parents to also help her learn at home. We are also teaching all students and teachers how to sign, so that the entire school community is able to communicate with Teopista.
The video below shows Teopista communicating good morning in Lugandan sign language.
Christine Alice is a teacher at School for Life's Mbazzi campus, where she teaches Primary 1.
Christine Alice first heard about School for Life when she was studying at Teacher's College, saying her first impression of the school was that the students were so happy.
Christine Alice is the fourth-born child from six siblings, and the only child who has received a tertiary education. Her father had another two children and tragically their mother died, leaving the family with eight mouths to feed.
“My brothers and my parents work together selling many things: cabbages, carrots, potatoes and whatever else they can find to sell. My brother Fred buys vegetables from those who grow them and brings them home to sell. My brothers and parents support our family. It meant I could go to school.”
Her two youngest brothers are still in primary school, and Christine Alice says she will fight for them to be educated as it is the only way to break the cycle of poverty.
“My older brothers will do anything for work,” she explained. "Because they worked I was able to receive my training as a teacher, and my full-time salary will also help my family and I will be able to repay them," she said.
Growing up in a big family is typical in Uganda.
“I was the only girl with lots of brothers who looked after me. They gave me lots of care, like the princess in the family.”
Luckily for Christine Alice, she had been able to maintain her studies without having any time off.
“I love being with young kids and I can’t wait to teach literacy. I love storytelling. Early Childhood Development and music are my areas of expertise. I just love teaching so much!”
We know Christine Alice will create many happy memories with her students throughout the year and look forward to seeing all that she achieves with School for Life.
Completing homework is a problem in developing countries like Uganda, where only 1% of the population has access to electricity. Children complete chores, fetch water or work for their families after school, leaving no time for study. After a student at School for Life was seriously burnt by a kerosene lamp when studying, we found a solution to this complex problem which is surprisingly simple.