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