In 2007, 19 year old law student Annabelle Chauncey was evacuated from Kenya amidst an eruption of civil conflict. A controversial election held mid-way through her 3-month volunteering trip teaching in a rural school, saw two local tribes at loggerheads with each other and the local community in disarray.
Eight years later and this event is not just an interesting travel story, it is the defining moment that saw this vivacious young woman put aside ambitions of becoming an international lawyer with the United Nations and instead dedicate her life to ensuring that children in rural Uganda have access to education.
There is no doubting that Annabelle is audacious. For a 19-year old’s response to a visit to the School of St Jude in Tanzania to be “If she (founder, Gemma Sisia) can do it, so can I!” is almost laughable – but Annabelle gets the joke.
Annabelle has proven she can do it. She established the School for Life Foundation in Uganda, clocking up six tough years of “professional begging” to fund the project. She took numerous trips to Africa to oversee the set up and worked on the side as a babysitter to pay for her time on the all-consuming project.
There was no wasting time either – the business plan for the School for Life Foundation was written on the plane trip home from that life-changing event.
Fate intervened somewhat when Annabelle met Dave Everett, a fellow Australian working in Africa. They have a shared dream of building a school. The two decided to work together, combining their different strengths to balance the challenge.
These days, Dave oversees the day-to-day operations in Uganda while Annabelle runs the Australian office – an office that, until recently, consisted of herself along with boxes of donated goods stacked in her car and apartment, and a very busy schedule.
The school she co-founded in Uganda now teaches 180 children, employs 10 teachers and 20 other staff members. It also provides adult literacy classes and regular health clinics with free treatment for the local community. The school runs a 10-acre farm that provides food for the children and crops to fund the project.
Annabelle’s new challenge is growing the Australian component of the Foundation. This year sees her stepping up from being an impressive hands-on all-rounder to entrusting other people with some of the core tasks while she focuses on more strategic issues. It’s sure to be an interesting transition but after talking to Annabelle, you are left with no doubt she will be successful.
She is one of those people with a rare mix of big dreams, gritty pragmatism and realistic positivity.
On the surface, she takes everything in her stride and appears to be one of those people who just have things come easy. She is almost flippant when recounting her history, skimming over the details about her decision to start the school and its impressive progress. When you dig a little deeper, you realise just how committed she has had to be to make this happen.
Annabelle shared the internal conflict of going from living in Sydney with all the luxuries of the world at her fingertips, to the poverty she was trying to alleviate in Uganda. There was also the struggle to ‘just be normal’ with her friends while being completely absorbed in the Foundation and the need to balance personal relationships with endless commitments. On top of that, Annabelle has to contend with suggestions that she should “get a real job” from well-meaning friends and family.
Annabelle Chauncy is certainly not just skating by, nor is she simply enjoying the high life as she meets high profile business people and speaks at fancy luncheons. She is working tirelessly, sometimes “lying awake at night with the realisation that these kids’ future depends on me.”
She withstands any questioning or criticism while those around her come to terms with what she is so certain of; that this is what she is meant to be doing.
“This is my whole life,” she says, without fear. “Everyone deserves an education,” she explains.
As Annabelle starts planning the next phase of the School for Life Foundation with additional campuses and higher education levels on the radar, there is real hope for the children of Uganda. Thanks to the tenacity of an inspiring young Australian woman, they will surely face a much brighter future.
To find out more about School for Life Foundation, visit www.schoolforlife.org.au.
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